China’s sixth population census will go underway in the next 4 months. A clear set of census rules, “Regulations for the Nationwide Population Census,” has already been put in place.
The population census is conducted once every ten years, and primarily surveys the population status and householder situation. The survey’s contents include name and surname, age, ethnic group, nationality, educational attainment level, industry, profession, migration and floating [population], social security, marital status, births, deaths, housing, and so forth.
As compared to past censuses, this particular population census has two important points meriting attention: one is that it is the first time [the census] will explicitly survey Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and long-term non-national residents. Secondly, the Ministry of Public Security has published clear regulations titled “The Sixth Population Census Work Plan for the Reorganization of Household Registers,” which call for those who were born in violation of the family planning policy to promptly register as residents (登记落户). This signifies that long-existing “black household register (hukou)” [i.e., unregistered households] communities will come to the surface and enter statistical census data. Some have called this a wise act on the part of the government. Others believe this may signal tolerance of exceeding birth limits, and suspect the family planning policy will loosen.
Where lie the difficulties in this census? What kind of effect will occur from allowing “black hukou” to settle down? We interview the director of the Institute of Sociology and Population in Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, researcher Zheng Zizhen [to weigh in on these questions].
1. Currently, what are China’s population numbers and distribution like right now? Do we still have a demographic dividend?
Zheng Zizhen: First, China’s population is growing. Population migration continues to increase, as does the migration radius.
Next, China’s population structure is aging. Aging is a necessary stage for societies. However, China’s has aged more rapidly due to the family planning policy’s implementation. This is manifest in our growing old before getting rich (未富先老) — China has already begun aging as its economic strength and elderly care social security are not well-established. However, generally speaking, China’s population is still very big, the labor force is still quite large, and the demographic dividend still remains.
2. Where do the difficulties lie in this census?
Zheng Zizhen: Our management is still not in place because the frequency of migration is greater than ever before. This has brought a degree of difficulty [to conducting] the population census.
3. How can [census takers] protect the census’s truth and accuracy?
Zhen Zizhen: There are three points: careful planning, financial support, and making sure everything links up. These will uphold truthful ideals.
4. This population census “allows those born in contrivance to the policy to become residents.” How do you regard this?
Zheng Zizhen: The policy did not appear for the first time in this census. The last census (the year 2000 population census) also had this policy, which also allowed “black individuals” and “black hukou” to settle down.
Zheng Zizhen: This is something the government had to do. According to family planning regulations, those born in contrivance to the policy could not legally be registered in the hukou. However, people are born with the right to exist. In accordance with past requirements, the margin of error for China’s population census had to come within 2%. If “black individuals” and “black hukou” were not counted, the discrepancy would be fairly large. As a result, it was necessary to let people register, to enter the hukou system. If you didn’t allow people to register, then people would not support the work of the census.
6. Does this indicate that the family planning policy will slacken?
Zheng Zizhen: This is unrelated to the family planning policy; it is simply something that cannot be helped under the difficult conditions of this policy.
7. How can these difficult conditions be resolved?
Zheng Zizhen: If the family planning policy is not changed, the phenomenon of births violating the policy cannot be checked. Black hukou don’t have a problem, because at any rate, the census can turn them into “white hukou” once every ten years.
8. How do you think China’s family planning policy will develop in the future?
Zheng Zizhen: In the future, the “one-child policy” will change. The population and birth planning policy will loosen, and will be more in accordance with the country’s state of affairs, taking a more humane direction of development.
9. In the past, you suggested implementing a “two-child policy.” What considerations was this based on?
Zheng Zizhen: China’s population figures are increasing at an excessively fast rate and need to be controlled. However, when looking at the past 30 years of using family planning policies to restrict the population, I believe implementing a two-child policy would have still achieved the same goals, but at a low cost to society. In the past, administration of the policy carried too heavy a cost, and the government had to invest a great deal of manpower, physical resources, and financial resources to resolve the family planning problem. All work at the grassroots level needed to be invested in family planning.
10. Do you have any other thoughts?
Zheng Zizhen: “One-child per household” is something that has never been experienced the whole world around, and is very difficult to conceptualize. A family with no brothers or sisters, no uncles or aunts — this kind of societal structure runs contrary to society’s natural way of order. We already know the ramifications of what happens when humans violate the environment’s ecology. Will we be able to forecast what happens when we violate society’s ecology?
Indeed, implementing a “two-child policy” also follows family planning’s path, though at a slower pace.