A Mirror to China’s makeup

With more than 8 billion yuan invested and an army of over six million census workers visiting 400 million households in 31 provinces, 330 cities, 2,800 counties, and 680,000 villages in order to count about 1.33 billion people, China’s 2010 census, which was the largest national activity since the birth of the country, aroused the attention of the whole world.

Now, half a year on from census, we already have some answers to satisfy people’s curiosity. Looking back at the census, it’s hard to remember the public’s concerns prior to its commencement. Today, few people or administrations talk about it, which makes me wonder what exactly the census means to them.

The census data is a treasure vault for the whole country and even for the world, as China is rising on the world stage.

“The accurate population data will provide reference to the overall development of the population, including how long will the demographic dividend last and whether we should continuously maintain the one-child policy or not,” said Lu Chunheng, Deputy Commissioner, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), China.

At the same time, the data are critical for developing accurate assessments of China’s economic well-being as a whole, as well as for different racial, ethnic, and regional populations. For instance, the data can clearly explain the reason why our government set an annual GDP growth target of 7 percent. With a 0.57 percent annual population growth rate, according to the census data — which means more than 7 million people are born each year — if we set a lower target, as many developed countries do, then the per capital living standard will fall significantly.

The influence of the census even penetrates into every aspect of people’s lives. The results of the census classified by age shows how many kids are supposed to go to kindergarten or school, which will help the authorities plan the location of schools in order to resolve difficulties in admission.

The importance of the census results is their direct influence on social development. As Zhai Zhenwu, dean of the social and demographic school of the, Renmin University of China, pointed out: after gaining a comprehensive knowledge of its vast amount of migrants through China’s 2000 census, the central government introduced a series of relevant policies to help solve the some of the problems migrant workers faced. Migrant workers were also discovered to be an important part of the social makeup in particular regions and the local governments began to take them into consideration in their city planning and social security.

After each census, the National Bureau of Statistics will offer the government the specific data for further analysis, at the same time handing some tasks to research institutes, but few other organizations and individuals have ever taken the initiative to make use of the valuable data.

Instead, foreign investors are eager to glean insights from the census. With some 13 million new urban residents every year, the census is expected to reveal that about 45 percent of Chinese people live in cities, up from 36 percent in 2000. Even more interesting will be data likely confirming that most of China’s fastest-growing cities are smaller ones in the interior.

“To the extent the census gives more information on regional and local differences, that is interesting for anyone doing business in China,” says Christian Murck, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

Yet the truth is that even for those who do gain access to the census data, their exploitation is usually limited to the macro numbers and there is rarely any deeper analysis.

But as Lu Chunheng said, “The census data is a huge treasury vault with high application values. It needs further and more comprehensive exploitation.”

Li Ying is an intern of M4.cn and can be reached at liying.aby@gmail.com

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