POPULATION OF CHINA: STATISTICS, REGIONS AND RESULTS OF THE 2020 CENSUS

POPULATION OF CHINA

rightChina is the world's most populous country, with around 1.4 billion people (2020 census), but the birthrate has been falling significantly from more than 20 per 1,000 people in 1990 to about 11.3 today. There is an old joke that goes: “In China when they say you are one in a million there are a thousand just like you." About 18 percent of the world's population lives in China (it was around 22 percent in 1982). There are almost twice as many people in China as there are in European Union and the United States combined. India is the only other country that has reached the one billion mark. Together China and India account for a third of the world’s population and 60 percent of Asia's population. India is expected to have more people than China by the year 2030 at least partly as a result of having a less successful family planning policy than China.

The population of mainland China was 1,411,778,724 as of November 2020 according to 2020 census in China. However the CIA World Factbook listed China’s population at 1,397,897,720 in July 2021. In addition, according to the 2020 Chinese census, Hong Kong's population was 7,474,200 and Macau's population was 683,218 at the end of 2020 (Wikipedia). China’s population surpassed 1.34 billion in 2010 according to the 2010 census. This was 5.9 percent more people than the 1.27 billion counted in the 2000 census but was lower than the 1.4 billion population predicted by some demographers. Growth was slower in 2010 than the previous year, leading some experts to suggest that the one-child policy might be eased. The 2000 census counted 1.295 billion people. Between 1990 and 2000 the total population increased by 11.7 percent.

About 94 percent of China's population lives on approximately 46 percent of land. The majority of China's people live in the fertile, humid lowlands of the east, with about a third of China’s people living along China's coast. The major population centers include the North China Plain and Shandong Peninsula (an area smaller than Texas with more people than the U.S.); the Sichuan basin, (a Michigan-size area with 100 million people); and the Yangtze River area (where 150 million people live). The deserts and highlands in the west make up half of China's territory but are home to only 6 percent of the population. . Based on 2000 census data, the provinces with the largest populations were Henan (91.2 million), Shandong (89.9 million), Sichuan (82.3 million, not including Chongqing municipality, which was formerly part of Sichuan Province), and Guangdong (85.2 million). The smallest were Qinghai (4.8 million) and Tibet (2.6 million). In the long term, China faces increasing urbanization; according to predictions, nearly 70 percent of the population will live in urban areas by 2035.

The population of the People's Republic of China, according to Chinese censuses, was 1,419,993,000 in 2020, 1,347,339,000 in 2010, 1,273,050,000 in 2000, 1,160,017,381 in 1990, 1,031,882,511 in 1982, 723,070,269 in 1964 and 601,938,035 in 1954. The population of the Republic of China was 461,983,000 in 1947, 469,203,000 in 1936-37, 464,904,000 in 1928 and 410,143,000 in 1912. [Source: Wikipedia]

Good Websites and Sources: National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China stats.gov.cn;
United Nations Population Fund unescap.org ; Trends in Chinese Demography afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Institute of Population and Labor Economics cass.cn

Is the Population of China Already Shrinking?

India is set track to overtake China as the world's most populous in the mid 2000s according to the United Nations. In April 2021, China’s state run Global Times said that China's population may peak in 2022, much earlier than previously estimated. In April 2021, before the results of the 2020 census was released, the Financial Times reported that according to sources knowledgeable about the census data, China’s population in 2020 was below 1.4 billion. Chinese state media had earlier reported that Chinese mainland population in 2019 was 1.40005 billion, indicating, if true, that China experienced its first population decline between 2019 and 2020 since the Great Leap Forward and the Great Famine in the 1950s. [Source: Kevin Yao and Ryan Woo, Reuters, May 11, 2021]

From 2016 to 2019, the annual birth rate mostly declined with the exception of 2016. In 2016, China set a target of increasing its population to about 1.42 billion by 2020, from 1.34 billion in 2010. With the one-child policy eased, 17.9 million babies were born in 2016, an increase of 1.3 million over the previous year, but only half of what was expected. In 2017, the birth rate fell to 17.2 million, far below the official forecast of more than 20 million. [Source: VOA News, Wikipedia]

Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu of the Associated Press wrote: The 2020 census data from China “put China closer to be overtaken by India as the most populous country, which is expected to happen by 2025. India’s population in 2020 was estimated by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs at 1.38 billion, or 1.5 percent behind China. The agency says India should grow by 0.9 percent annually through 2025. [Source: Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu, Associated Press, May 11, 2021]

“Already, populations likely are shrinking in “a few pockets around China,” said Sabu Padmadas, a demographer at Britain’s University of Southampton who consulted on China for the U.N. Population Fund.” The May 2021 census “announcement said 25 of 31 provinces and regions in China showed population growth between 2010 and 2020 but gave no indication whether numbers in the other areas declined or held steady. “In Wenzhou, a coastal business center south of Shanghai, the number of new births reported last year fell 19 percent from 2019. “Eventually, what will happen is, it will spread,” said Padmadas.

“Some researchers argue China’s population already is shrinking. “Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the population started to fall in 2018. He is the author of the book “Big Country With An Empty Nest”. “China’s economic, social, educational, tech, defense and foreign policies are built on the foundation of wrong numbers,” said Yi.

If fertility rates remain unchanged, the “unstoppable” decline could reduce China’s population to 1.36 billion by 2050 and 1.17 billion people by 2065, according to the China Academy of Social Sciences. [Source: Anthony Fensom, National Interest, September 16, 2019]

Main Results from the 2020 Chinese Census

China conducted a census in 2020, the first since 2010. China's population reached 1.41 billion in 2020, rising 5.38 percent from 2010, according to a census conducted in 2020. Official, the population of Mainland China grew from 1,339,724,852 in 2010 ro 1,411,778,724 in 2020. This was the smallest increase since modern population census taking began in China in the 1950s. China's three most-populous provinces remained unchanged: with Guangdong near Hong Kong at No.1 with a population of 126 million, followed by Shandong, a coastal province near Beijing, and Henan near Beijing. Jiangsu, near Shanghai, previously the fifth-most populous province, overtook Sichuan to claim the No.4 spot. [Source: Ryan Woo and Raju Gopalakrishnan, Reuters, May 11, 2021]

Guangdong's population rose 21 percent, the highest among major provinces and municipalities, followed by Zhejiang, due primarily to migration inflows. Populations in Tibet and Xinjiang 22 percent and 19 percent, respectively. A total of six provinces and autonomous regions saw their population’s fall, with Heilongjiang and Jilin in northeastern China showing the sharpest declines.

Ethnic Population: The population of Han Chinese in 2020 was 1.29 billion, accounting for 91.11 percent of the total population. The population of ethnic minorities was 125.5 million, or 8.89 percent. Compared with the 2010 census, the Han Chinese population increased by 4.93 percent, while that of ethnic minorities increased by 10.26 percent.

Urban Versus Rural: The number of people living in urban areas — cities and towns — was 901.99 million, accounting for 63.89 percent of the total population, while 509.79 million people (36.11 percent) lived in rural areas. Compared to 2010, the urban population grew 236.42 million and the rural population decreased by 164.36 million. The proportion of urban population rose by 14.2 percent. Floating Population and Migration: The number of people who didn't live where they were registered stood at 492.76 million, up 88.52 percent from 2010, accounting for roughly a third of the entire population.

Population by Household Types According to China’s 2020 census and the National Bureau of Statistics of China: There were 494.16 million family households with 1,292.81 million persons and 28.53 million collective households with 118.97 million persons. The average size of a family household was 2.62 persons, or 0.48 person less than the 3.10 persons in 2010. The family households continued to downsize because of increasing population mobility and the fact that young people after marriage lived separately from parents with improved housing conditions. [Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, May 11, 2021]



Age Distribution Statistics in China

According to the 2020 census in China, the number of people aged 0-14 was 253.4 million, accounting for about 18 percent of the total. Those aged 15-59 was 894 million, or 63.4 percent, while those aged 60 and above was 264.02 million, or 18.7 percent. Compared with 2010, the proportion of the population aged 0-14 increased by 1.35 percentage points while that of the population aged 15-59 fell 6.79 percentage points, and those 60 and above rose 5.44 percentage points. [Source: Ryan Woo and Raju Gopalakrishnan, Reuters, May 11, 2021]

According to China’s 2020 census and the National Bureau of Statistics of China: Compared with 2010, the shares of people in the age groups of 0 to 14, 15 to 59, and 60 and above were up by 1.35 percentage points, down by 6.79 percentage points, and up by 5.44 percentage points respectively. The share of children rose again, proving that the adjustment of China’s fertility policy has achieved positive results. Meanwhile, the further aging of the population imposed continued pressure on the long-term balanced development of the population in the coming period. [Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, May 11, 2021]

Age structure
0-14 years: 17.29 percent (male 129,296,339/female 111,782,427)
15-24 years: 11.48 percent (male 86,129,841/female 73,876,148)
25-54 years: 46.81 percent (male 333,789,731/female 318,711,557)
55-64 years: 12.08 percent (male 84,827,645/female 83,557,507)
65 years and over: 12.34 percent (male 81,586,490/female 90,458,292) (2020 est.)[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2021 =]

Median age
total: 38.4 years
male: 37.5 years
female: 39.4 years (2020 est.); rank compared to 225 countries and territories in the world: 62 =

Population 14 and under: 18 percent (compared to 40 percent in Kenya, 19 percent in the United States and 13 percent in Japan). Population 65 and above: 12 percent (compared to 3 percent in Kenya, 15 percent in the United States and 27 percent in Japan). [Source: World Bank data.worldbank.org; data.worldbank.org ]

Dependency ratios
total dependency ratio: 42.2
youth dependency ratio: 25.2
elderly dependency ratio: 17
potential support ratio: 5.9 (2020 est.)
data does not include Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan
Dependency ratios are a measure of the age structure of a population. They relate the number of individuals that are likely to be economically "dependent" on the support of others. Dependency ratios contrast the ratio of youths (ages 0-14) and the elderly (ages 65+) to the number of those in the working-age group (ages 15-64). =

According to the 2010 census, the number of people over 60 grew to 13.26 percent of the population, up 2.98 percent from 2000, and the number of people under 14 declined to 16 percent of the population, down 6.29 percent from 2000. A census report issued by Beijing attributed the change in age composition to improved health and medicine, low fertility levels and rapid economic development.

Population Growth and Fertility in China

Population growth rate: 0.26 percent (2021 est.); rank compared to 225 countries and territories in the world: 175. Birth rate: 11.3 births/1,000 population (2021 est.); rank compared to other countries and territories in the world: 169; Death rate 8.26 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.); rank compared to other countries and territories in the world: 77; Net migration rate: -0.43 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.); rank compared to other countries and territories in the world: 122. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2021]

According to China’s 2020 census and the National Bureau of Statistics of China: The average annual growth rate was 0.53 percent, down by 0.04 percentage point compared with the average annual growth rate of 0.57 percent from 2000 to 2010. The data showed that the population of China maintained a mild growth momentum in the past decade. The share of children rose again, proving that the adjustment of China’s fertility policy has achieved positive results. Meanwhile, the further aging of the population imposed continued pressure on the long-term balanced development of the population in the coming period. [Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, May 11, 2021]

Population growth in 2007 was 0.59 percent. At that time China accounts for 11.4 percent of the world's population increase. The population of China is greater than the entire world 150 years ago. Every year the population of China increases by 14 million people (the number of people in Texas or Chile). Each decade it increases by about 130 million (more than the population of Japan). About 39,000 new people are added everyday.

Total fertility rate: 1.6 children born/woman (2021 est.). Rank compared to 225 countries and territories in the world: 185. The average number of children per woman was 1.75 in the 2000s (compared to 1.5 in Germany and 7.0 in Ethiopia). The average fertility rate in rural areas at that time was 1.98; in urban area it was 1.22. As a result of that policy, China successfully achieved its goal of a more stable and much-reduced fertility rate. In 1971 women had an average of 5.4 children versus an estimated 1.7 children in 2004. Nevertheless, the population continues to grow, and people want more children. There is also a serious gender imbalance. Census data obtained in 2000 revealed that 119 boys were born for every 100 girls, and among China’s “floating population” the ratio was as high as 128:100. These situations led Beijing in July 2004 to ban selective abortions of female fetuses. Ultrasound tests cost as little as $15.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in the 2000s the population of China was expected to reach its peak of 1.4 billion around 2026 and begin shrinking after that. According to a model by Wang Fend, a demographer at the University of California at Irvine, if current populations trend hold China’s population could shrink by almost half to 750 million. Others think the population of China is expected to peak at around 1.5 billion around 2033 when China is expected to be overtaken by India as the world’s most populous country. Others say the population is expected to start declining around 2042.

20080222-china_population_83.jpg
Population density in 1983

History of China’s Population Policy

The Chinese have made great strides in reducing their population through birth control. But that has not always been the case. Mao did nothing to reduce China's expanding population, which doubled under his leadership. He believed that birth control was a capitalist plot to weaken the country and make it vulnerable to attack. He also liked to say, "every mouth comes with two hands attached." For a while Mao urged Chinese to have lots of children to support his “human wave” defense policy when he feared attack from the United States and the Soviet Union.

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Immediately after the 1949 revolution the Chinese government encouraged its people to have large families in order to increase the work force depleted by years of war. However, production and modernization could not keep up with the growing population, thereby forcing a change in government policy. An extensive birth control program has been in effect since the late 1970s. Nowadays, city-dwellers are required to adhere to the one-child policy, and even in the countryside families rarely have more than two or three children. Population control propaganda posters reads "Control population growth, improve our human race." [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv]

In 1979, three years after Mao’s death, a one-child policy was introduced to control China’s exploding population, help raise living standards and reduce the strain on scarce resources. Under the one-child program, a sophisticated system rewarded those who observed the policy and penalized those who did not. The policy is officially credited with preventing 400 million births and keeping China’s population down to its current 1.4 billion. In 2016 the One-Child Policy was ended and now in many cases having three kids is acceptable

Population Density and Distribution in China

Population density of China: 153 people per square kilometer (compared to 2 per square kilometer in Mongolia, 35 per square kilometer in the United States, and 511 in South Korea), or 387 people per square mile (compared to 5 per square mile in Mongolia, 93 per square mile in the United States, and 2,889 in Bangladesh). The population density of China is about four times the world average of 91 people per square mile but only about one-third that of Japan and less than many other countries in Asia and in Europe. In Shanghai, China's largest city, there are almost 100,000 people per square mile. Only twelve cities on earth, including China's Shenyang, Tianjin and Chengdu, have higher population densities. [Source: World Population Review]

Population distribution: Thee overwhelming majority of the population is found in the eastern half of the country; the west, with its vast mountainous and desert areas, remains sparsely populated. Though ranked first in the world in total population, overall density is less than that of many other countries in Asia and Europe. High population density is found along the Yangtze and Yellow River valleys, the Xi Jiang River delta, the Sichuan Basin (around Chengdu), in and around Beijing, and the industrial area around Shenyang. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2021]

China’s overall population density was was 135 persons per square kilometer in 2003. The most densely populated provinces are in the east: Jiangsu (712 persons per square kilometer in 2003), Shangdong (587 persons per square kilometer), and Henan (546 persons per square kilometer). Shanghai was the most densely populated municipality at 2,646 persons per square kilometer. The least densely populated areas are in the west, with Tibet having the lowest density at only 2 persons per square kilometer. Sixty-two percent of the population lived in rural areas in 2004, while 38 percent lived in urban settings.

The overall population density figure conceals major regional variations and the high person-land ratio in densely populated areas. Regional variations are dramatic. Over 90 percent of the Chinese population live on less than 40 percent of the land. In the 11 provinces, special municipalities, and autonomous regions along the southeast coast, population density is much higher than elsewhere. Broadly speaking, the population is concentrated in China Proper, east of the mountains and south of the Great Wall. The most densely populated areas includes the Yangtze Valley (of which the delta region was the most populous), Sichuan Basin, North China Plain, Pearl River Delta, and the industrial area around the city of Shenyang in the northeast. [Source: Library of Congress; Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington]

Population is most sparse in the mountainous, desert, and grassland regions of the northwest and southwest. In Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, portions are completely uninhabited, and only a few sections have populations more dense than ten people per square kilometer. The Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet autonomous regions and Gansu and Qinghai provinces comprise 55 percent of the country's land area but contain only about five percent of its population.

According to China’s 2020 census and the National Bureau of Statistics of China: The population in the eastern region accounted for 39.93 percent of the total, that in the central areas accounted for 25.83 percent, that in the western region accounted for 27.12 percent and that in the northeast China accounted for 6.98 percent. Compared with data in 2010, the proportion of the population in the eastern region increased by 2.15 percentage points, that in the central areas decreased by 0.79 percentage point, that in the western region increased by 0.22 percentage point, and that in the northeast China decreased by 1.20 percentage points. The population further congregated in economically developed regions and city clusters. [Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, May 11, 2021]

Populations of China’s Provinces and Municipalities (2020 and 2010)

Chinese Province or Municipality — population in 2020 — in 2010 — percent change
Beijing — 21,893,095 — 19,612,368 — 12 percent
Tianjin — 13,866,009 — 12,938,224 — 7 percent
Hebei — 74,610,235 — 71,854,202 — 4 percent
Shanxi — 34,915,616 — 35,712,111 — minus 2 percent
Inner Mongolia — 24,049,155 — 24,706,321 — minus 3 percent
Liaoning — 42,591,407 — 43,746,323 — minus 3 percent
Jilin — 24,073,453 — 27,462,297 — minus 12 percent
[Source: Reuters, National Bureau of Statistics of China, May 11, 2021]

Heilongjiang — 31,850,088 — 38,312,224 — minus 17 percent
Shanghai — 24,870,895 — 23,019,148 — 8 percent
Jiangsu — 84,748,016 — 78,659,903 — 8 percent
Zhejiang — 64,567,588 — 54,426,891 — 19 percent
Anhui — 61,027,171 — 59,500,510 — 3 percent
Fujian — 41,540,086 — 36,894,216 — 13 percent
Jiangxi — 45,188,635 — 44,567,475 — 1 percent
Shandong — 101,527,453 — 95,793,065 — 6 percent
Henan — 99,365,519 — 94,023,567 — 6 percent
Hubei — 57,752,557 — 57,237,740 — 1 percent
Hunan — 66,444,864 — 65,683,722 — 1 percent
Guangdong — 126,012,510 104,303,132 — 21 percent
Guangxi — 50,126,804 — 46,026,629 — 9 percent
Hainan — 10,081,232 — 8,671,518 — 16 percent

Chongqing — 32,054,159 — 28,846,170 — 11 percent
Sichuan — 83,674,866 — 80,418,200 — 4 percent
Guizhou — 38,562,148 — 34,746,468 — 11 percent
Yunnan — 47,209,277 — 45,966,239 — 3 percent
Tibet — 3,648,100 — 3,002,166 — 22 percent
Shaanxi — 39,528,999 — 37,327,378 — 6 percent
Gansu — 25,019,831 — 25,575,254 — minus 2 percent
Qinghai — 5,923,957 — 5,626,722 — 5 percent
Ningxia — 7,202,654 — 6,301,350 — 14 percent
Xinjiang — 25,852,345 — 21,813,334 — 19 percent

Most Populous and Densely Populated Provinces of China

Guangdong near Hong Kong is China’s most populous province. According to the 2020 census it is home to 126 million people, more than all but a dozen or so countries in the world. But even that doesn’t tell the whole picture. Today it is estimated Guangdong is home to over 100 million permanent residents plus between 50 million and 100 million migrants from other provinces who have come to Guangdong to work. Guangdong Province covers 179,800 square kilometers (69,400 square miles) and has a population density of 630 people per square kilometer. About 57 percent of the population lives in rural areas. [Source: Wikipedia, China Census]

Jiangsu province is the fifth most populous province and most densely populated region of China. Located near Shanghai and encompassing much of the Yangtze River Delta, it occupies a small fraction of China's territory yet it is home to a large portion of its population. Jiangsu Province is home to about 85 million people and has a population density of 820 people per square kilometer. About 70 percent of the population lives in urban areas.

Shandong Province on the east coast northeast of Shanghai and southeast of Beijing is the second most populous province in China. covers 157,100 square kilometers (60,700 square miles), is home to more than 100 million people and has a population density of 640 people per square kilometer. About 61 percent of the population lives in urban areas

Zhejiang Province is the coastal province located south of Shanghai. Zhejiang Province is one of the smallest but most densely-packed provinces in China. It covers 101,800 square kilometers (39,300 square miles), is home to about 57.5 million people and has a population density of 560 people per square kilometer. About 69 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Hangzhou is the capital and largest city, with about 9 million people in the city and 22.6 million in the metro area.

Henan Province is the third most populous province in China. It covers square 167,000 kilometers (64,000 square miles), is home to about 97 million people and has a population density of 570 people per square kilometer. About 48 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Zhengzhou is the capital and largest city, with about 6 million people.

Sichuan Province is the fourth most populous province in China. It is located in the central southwest part of China. It covers 485,000 square kilometers (187,000 (square miles), is home to about 81 million people and has a population density of 170 people per square kilometer. About 52 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Chengdu is the capital and largest city, with about 6.8 million people in the city and 18 million in the Metro area.

Least Populous and Least Densely Populated Provinces of China

Tibet Autonomous Region is the second largest province-level division after Xinjiang and the least densely populated one. It covers 1,228,400 square kilometers (474,300 square miles), is home to about 3.1 million people and has a population density of 2.59 people per square kilometer. About 31 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Lhasa is the capital and largest city, with about 900,000 people. Ethnic Tibetans make up 90 percent of the population of Tibet

Qinghai Province north of Tibet covers 720,000 square kilometers (280,000 square miles), is home to about 5,7 million people and has a population density of 7.8 people per square kilometer. About 54 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Xining is the capital and largest city, with about 1.5 million people.

Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Nei Mongol Autonomous Region) is the third largest province-like area in China after Xinjiang and Tibet. It covers 1,183,000 square kilometers (457,000 square miles), Inner Mongolia is inhabited by about 25 million people (2011) and has a population density of about 20 people per square kilometer.

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region is one of the smallest and least populated province-like divisions of China. It covers 66,400 square kilometers (25,637 square miles), is home to about 6.6 million people and has a population density of 89 people per square kilometer. About 59 percent of the population lives in urban areas.



Provinces with the Fastest Growing and Fastest Shrinking Populations

Heilongjiang Province is China's northernmost province and the sixth largest province in China, covering 454,800 square kilometers (175,600 square miles) and has a population density of around 70 people per square kilometer. Its population shrunk from 38 million in 2010 to 31 million in 2020. The population of nearby Jilin Province near North Korea shrink from about 27.5 million people in 2010 to 24 million in 2020.

The population of Guangdong near Hong Kong rose from 104 million in 2010 to 126 million in 2020. The population of traditionally rural Guizhou in southern China rose from 35.8 million in 2010 to 38.6 million in 2020. The population of Fujian province also in the south rose from 36.9 million in 2010 to 41.8 million in 2020.

The population of Zhejiang province near Shanghai rose from 54.4 million in 2010 to 64.5 million in 2020. The population of Jiangsu province also near Shanghai rose from 78.7 million in 2010 to 84.7 million in 2020. The population of Henan province near Beijing Kong rose from 94 million in 2010 to 99.3 million in 2020.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region covers 1,664,897 square kilometers (642,820 square miles) and has a population density of only 15 people per square kilometer. It is the home of the Uyghurs. Its population rose from 21.8 million in 2010 to 25.8 million in 2020. During the same time population of Tibet rose 17 percent from 3 million in 2010 to 3.6 million in 2020.

Migration and China’s Floating Population of Nearly 500 Million

According to the 2020 census in China, the number of people who didn't live where they were registered stood at 492.76 million, up 88.52 percent from 2010, accounting for roughly a third of the entire population. [Source: Ryan Woo and Raju Gopalakrishnan, Reuters, May 11, 2021

According to China’s 2020 census and the National Bureau of Statistics of China: The population who lived in places other than their household registration but still in the same city totaled 116.94 million and the floating population — people that lived outside their home city or area — numbered 375.82 million. Of the floating population, the population moving to other provinces reached 124.84 million. Compared with 2010, the population who lived in places other than their household registration areas went up by 88.52 percent, the population who lived in places other than their household registration but still in the same city up by 192.66 percent, and the floating population up by 69.73 percent. China’s continued economic and social development has facilitated the population migration and mobility, the trends of which have become increasingly evident, and the size of floating population has further grown. [Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, May 11, 2021]

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia: “After the 1950s there was a steady migration of Chinese to growing industrial areas in outlying regions such as Xinjiang, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Qinghai, which at times has resulted in ethnic tensions and violence. In addition, there has been increased movement to urban areas since the late 1970s; urban dwellers outnumbered rural ones for the first time in 2011. Millions of workers who migrated from rural areas since the late 1990s were unable to obtain permanent jobs or government services in the cities because of the restrictions of the residency registration system, often called hukou. In 2001, under pressure from businesses, the government announced a gradual reform of the hukou system, but most aspects of it remain in place. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”:“During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, more than 60 million students, officials, peasant migrants, and unemployed were sent "down to the countryside" in a gigantic rustication movement.” Among other things “the the goals of this program were to settle borderlands for economic and defense reasons, and, as has been the policy since the 1940s, to increase the proportion of Han Chinese in ethnic minority areas. Another purpose of this migration policy was to relieve urban shortages of food, housing , and services, and to reduce future urban population growth by removing large numbers of those 16–30 years of age. However, most relocated youths eventually returned to the cities. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

“Efforts to stimulate "decentralized urbanization" have characterized government policy since the late 1970s. Decentralized urbanization and the related relocation of industries away from established centers has also been promoted as a way for China to absorb the increasing surplus labor of rural areas, estimated at 100 million in 2000. However, China's economic boom of the 2000s led to rapid growth of coastal provinces attracting inland rural males for construction and females to work in factories. This contrast extends to how children are perceived. Urban parents call their only child "little sun" (as in "center of the universe"), compared with rural parents, who call their child or children "left behind," (with their grandparents, as parents travel distances for work). For rural areas another split has developed: migrant work for the young and farming for the old.

Image Sources: Maps, University of Texas and Wikipedia; Census poster, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/;

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021


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