6th National Census: A Call To Be Counted
For the first time in ten years the world's most populated nation has called upon its hundreds of millions of residents to participate in a national census. Drastic measures have been designed to include as many citizens as possible, including President Wen Jai Bao. By no means a simple task, the tedious endeavor is intended not only to document the nation’s urban and rural populations, but the millions upon millions of migrant workers that have come to constitute a significant percentage of the population.
With more than 6 million workers appointed by the government blanketing the country with surveys intended for more than 400 million households, the census intends also to document those living in temporary dormitories and shanty towns housing scores of men who flood urban areas for work in construction.
Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, five official national censuses have been conducted, each one documenting migrant workers as legal residents of the place in which their official home is registered. This has in effect provided an inaccurate distribution of rural and city dwellers. The census conducted in 2000 generated an estimated population of 1.265 billion Mainland Chinese residents, with approximately 806 million residing in rural areas. Poles conducted in the last few years by the United Nations expect that the population has grown by nearly 175 million, with the number of residents split almost equally between the nation’s cities and rural areas.
This year's head count contains a number of motives that delve deep into the understanding of China's current demographic composition in hopes to shed light on the dramatic shifts that have occurred in recent decades. Such areas include a rapid decline in the youth population, a sharp increase among the elderly, and shrinking numbers among the work force. While many of these predicted demographic shifts may serve to alleviate some of the nation’s strained social concerns related to job creation, a whole host of problems are bound to arise in affiliation, such as significant structural changes within the economy and rising costs for social services, especially those related to the elderly.
Universal cooperation has been a particular concern of census officials for this year's count, noting that social reforms over the past decade have altered a general willingness among the population to divulge too much personal information. In a gesture of encouragement officials have assured citizens that all survey results are confidential. In order to encourage participation among a wavering number of citizens who have in some form or another violated state law - be they undocumented migrant workers, those who have unlawfully cheated on their taxes, or those who have violated the 30-year old one child policy by having unregistered children – census officials have significantly lowered penalties for such offenses in the hopes of achieving a more accurate count. The 18-question survey includes typically generic questions relating to age, gender, literacy, and education, intentionally avoiding topics related to religion and income, which could deter participation. A more detailed 45-question survey was handed out to every tenth citizen in an attempt to further uncover information about the current demographic status.
The official census came to a close on November 10, with the results slated for release in April 2011.