China began its once-a-decade census on November 1st.  About seven million community workers and volunteers will help to count the world’s largest population.  It is expected to take two months to complete, with the results released in April 2021.  Over 400,000,000 households will be included, from the country’s largest cities to its most remote villages.  Though there will be door-to-door visits, most citizens are expected to enter their information via a smartphone app.

No doubt, the Chinese government will be interested to see whether the move to a two-child policy in 2016 has helped to bolster a future working-age population that continues to sharply contract.  There were nearly one million fewer Chinese people of working-age in 2019 than the year before.  It seems unlikely when, despite the change, the absolute number of babies born continues to fall.  Last year the absolute number of Chinese births hit the lowest number since 1961, the last year of the Great Chinese Famine. 

It is hard to reverse years of government propaganda that smaller families are best.  Many Chinese couples now feel unable to adequately support a second or third child.

With the worrying consequences of forced population control becoming ever more apparent, it seems that China may now move to abolish population restrictions altogether and even introduce further measures to actively encourage births.  The South China Morning Post reported last week:

The phrase “family planning” has been dropped from China’s 14th five-year plan and its 2035 vision, according to details of the policy blueprint released by the ruling Communist Party this week. Instead, China will “improve birth policy” to make it more “inclusive”.

The omission sends a clear message that the policy, which was a fundamental part of previous five-year plans, is on the way out and Chinese couples will soon have the right to decide how many children to have, analysts said.

Demographer, Yi Fuxian, the author of Big Country with an Empty Nest, predicts that next year will be:

“a historic turning point”, after which “the state’s hand in restricting births will be withdrawn… In the future, the government’s role will be to protect the right to have babies, not to infringe on that human right.”

It is wonderful to see the end of this long-time abuse of Chinese human rights in sight and the ability of Chinese couples to choose their own family size restored.  It will hopefully also mark the end of the many atrocities committed in the name of population control.  Enforced differently from province to province, Chinese family planning officials were historically given birth targets and almost free rein to enforce them with actions such as fines, forced contraception, jailing elderly parents, and forcing abortions. 

According to Yi, China’s official population figures could be currently overstated by as many as 115 million people (nearly 10 per cent).  Rural counties are incentivized to overreport population to receive more benefits from higher levels of government, while city districts may report lower figures to meet population control targets. Let’s wait and see what the census result in April 2021 is.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...