torsdag 12. november 2020

For China, a Census That Really Counts

Tracking down more than one billion Chinese citizens is no easy task, but China’s government is about to try. From November 1 to 15, more than five million census-takers will visit China’s estimated 350 million households to conduct the fifth national census since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. The reliability of the data will be a question, to be sure, especially since local officials pay a price if births in their bailiwick exceed targets. Even so, the final tally will be viewed in Beijing as a report card on the government’s population stabilization program, possibly leading to a tightening of birth restrictions even as family planning services continue to expand.

The official goal is to be under 1.3 billion. If the census total (due in February) surpasses that figure, some experts believe the government will step up pressure on families to limit births. “I don’t think they’ll change the rules, but they could get tougher on enforcement,” says Susan Greenhalgh, a China population specialist at the University of California-Irvine. Current rules limit most urban couples to one child — two if both parents are only children — while rural residents may have two children. These limits are widely evaded, however, and implemented unevenly throughout China, making enforcement a key issue. The 1990 Census revealed higher than expected fertility levels and was followed by a draconian toughening of enforcement, though no clear-cut connection between the two has been documented.