Census-takers begin visiting China's 400 million households

MORE THAN six million census-takers headed out across China yesterday to issue questionnaires to 400 million households as the…

MORE THAN six million census-takers headed out across China yesterday to issue questionnaires to 400 million households as the country’s sixth national census began.

Since the last census in 2000, China has changed beyond recognition in many places, and keeping tabs on millions of migrant workers is going to prove a major challenge. Many Chinese worry about privacy and are uneasy about answering questions on education, family history, employment situation and resident status.

There are big colourful posters all over, draped outside apartment blocks and in the subways. “Care about the census, care about our own life” reads one. “The census of the present day helps us plan for a beautiful future” and “the census needs your support” are other messages.

China’s economic boom means people now work harder than ever. One young man surnamed Guo said he was happy enough to fill out the form, but his working habits meant he might be hard to track down. “I just don’t when I will encounter them,” he said, laughing. “Every day I go out to work before 9am, and come back home after nine at night. I think it’s better if people like me who are never home can mail the list somewhere.”

This census is the first to count where people actually live and not where their residency certificate, or hukou, is registered. Demographers believe the new approach will give a better indication of the real size of China’s cities.

“People are worried about their personal privacy being compromised, since there have been plenty of instances in recent years of people having their contact details, bank account numbers, real estate situation stolen and sold on. People are afraid to give out their personal information,” online commentator Yao Wenhui wrote on sina.com.

Many people were also worried about the “old reliables”, problems of having more than one child they haven’t declared, or some real estate they haven’t declared, or grey income.

The 2000 census put China’s official population at 1.295 billion people, but appeared to miss out on migrant workers living in cities for less than six months.

“When migrant workers were asked in the 2000 census if they have spent more than half a year as a migrant worker, most of them responded by saying just one week or two weeks, even if they had been working in the city more than six months,” Zhai Zhenwu, a demographics professor at Renmin University, told the Beijing News.

Census-takers are expected to visit universities, factories and construction sites where migrant workers are living in temporary housing.

In all, every census-taker covers about 80 to 100 households, where about 90 per cent have to answer 18 questions about home ownership, jobs and family members.

The other 10 per cent, randomly selected, take an extended 45-question survey that seeks further information. Statistics will be calculated next month, with the key data to be released by the end of April 2011.

For the first time, foreigners will figure in the tally, including Taiwanese, Hong Kongers and people from Macau. The census forms are available in both Chinese and English – the English version is much simpler, with just eight questions.

There have been no published predictions on how much China’s population has grown in the last decade, but if it grew by just 1 per cent a year, that would be an addition of 130 million people in just 10 years.