, BEIJING, Nov 1 – China on Monday kicked off its national census, with more than six million counters fanning out nationwide to tally the world\’s biggest population, estimated last year to be over 1.3 billion.
They will gather key data on everyone living and working in the country — information that will paint a picture of China\’s unprecedented urbanisation and offer a new view of its controversial "one child" family planning policy.
The government has promised complete confidentiality during the month-long count, although census takers will be able to call for police assistance if people refuse to take part, the official China Daily newspaper said.
Officials have acknowledged that the once-in-a-decade count will be a difficult task due in part to the nation\’s huge migrant population, which is wary of giving away information that could land them in trouble with the law.
"Many people are refusing to cooperate compared to earlier censuses, maybe because the pace of life is faster now and the awareness of privacy is increasing," census official Feng Nailin told a press conference.
An estimated 211 million people make up China\’s "floating population" — an army of labourers descending on cities and towns seeking work and a better life.
Besides making a shambles of China\’s strict "household registration system" that for decades has registered one person in one particular area, many migrant workers have also violated the "one child" policy.
"It will be hard to avoid the census takers when they come. I\’m still not sure what I will do," Tan Jianguo, a 35-year-old migrant handyman who lives with his wife and two children in a Beijing suburb, told AFP.
"I can either stay here and report my situation or I can take my family home and let the census takers count us there… or we can just hide."
To encourage people to report all their children, the central government has called on local officials to reduce fines to couples who admit to having more children than is allowed.
The count will also provide a snapshot of China\’s growing gender imbalance — often linked to the "one child" policy and a preference for boys — which has resulted in millions of men of marrying age without wives.
The huge undertaking will also gather fresh data on China\’s quickly ageing population.
In the 2000 census, China\’s population was calculated at 1.29 billion, compared to 594 million in the first census in 1953.
China\’s population was estimated to be 1.3347 billion people at the end of 2009, according to the census official.
Most people will be asked to fill out an 18-item questionnaire. Ten percent of those surveyed, chosen at random, will be asked to fill out a more extensive form.
This census marks the first time China will count the number of foreigners living and working in the country.
Foreigners will only be asked eight questions, and forms will be available in English, French and German.
The main results are expected by the end of April 2011.