Is China’s Population Really 1.3 Billion?

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Sept. 1 – The population figure promoted for China that is accepted by the international community and acknowledged by Beijing is 1.3 billion.

This figure has been promoted for some years now. In assessing the reliability of this statistic, we need to look at other factors. The only way Beijing can calculate for this figure accurately is by undertaking a national population census. The last one was undertaken was in 2000/2001. This census was abandoned halfway through as the census takers could not obtain accurate responses, mainly because of distrust as to the actual purpose of the poll.

China’s population therefore continues to be based on the last complete census carried out in the country, which was 19 years ago in 1988/89. The 1.3 billion figure then, as far as we can ascertain, dates back from this census.

We will take an educated guess as to the likely trend that has happened since then. Taking the annual average global population growth figure of about 2.2 to 2.3 percent over a period of 19 years, this may add about 200-300 million Chinese. However, we are unsure how the annual death rate – statistics of which seem to not be available– would affect this estimation. The population growth for countries like Kenya and Philippines is about 4.3 percent, and for most developed countries in Europe about 1.4 percent.

Since 1976, China has adopted a one child policy. Traditionally, the Chinese rural population relies on parents supported by many children to ensure that the family can survive and prosper. Although in recent years, this one child policy has been relaxed in certain areas, it is still in force by legislation in China. This means that parents in rural areas who have more than one child can only legally register the first one. This creates a vast number of unregistered children, who have no legal registration or what is known as a hukou and cannot receive state benefits.

The majority of the illegal migrant population in China’s major cities are known to be unregistered, hence the mobile phone numbers spray painted around cities by dubious agencies and individuals that offer fake documentation to illegal migrants.Although no actual statistics exist, we could surmise a guess and estimate that unregistered post-1976 children amount to as much as 200 – 300 million people.

Therefore if you take the population figure of 1.3 billion, add in the growth since the last full census, plus the possible additional figures for unregistered children – then it could be possible that the population for China today could be anything between 1.8 to 2 billion people.

We would like to emphasize that these figures are from various personal observations and have not been formally evaluated. We accept that some of the factors above may be inaccurate. However, the main point here is that nobody, least of all the Chinese government, knows what the real population of China is today which is most probably higher than the published figure of 1.3 billion.

We are grateful to Bob Shead for bringing the question of China population to our attention and would welcome additional comments concerning this issue on these pages.