The Data Base
The People's Republic conducted censuses in 1953, 1964, and
1982. In 1987 the government announced that the fourth national
census would take place in 1990 and that there would be one every
ten years thereafter. The 1982 census, which reported a total
population of 1,008,180,738, is generally accepted as significantly
more reliable, accurate, and thorough than the previous two.
Various international organizations eagerly assisted the Chinese in
conducting the 1982 census, including the United Nations Fund for
Population Activities which donated US$15.6 million for the
preparation and execution of the census.
The nation began preparing for the 1982 census in late 1976.
Chinese census workers were sent to the United States and Japan to
study modern census-taking techniques and automation. Computers
were installed in every provincial-level unit except Xizang and
were connected to a central processing system in the Beijing
headquarters of the State Statistical Bureau. Pretests and smallscale trial runs were conducted and checked for accuracy between
1980 and 1981 in twenty-four provincial-level units. Census
stations were opened in rural
production brigades (see Glossary)
and urban neighborhoods. Beginning July 1, 1982, each household
sent a representative to a census station to be enumerated. The
census required about a month to complete and employed
approximately 5 million census takers.
The 1982 census collected data in nineteen demographic
categories relating to individuals and households. The thirteen
areas concerning individuals were name, relationship to head of
household, sex, age, nationality, registration status, educational
level, profession, occupation, status of nonworking persons,
marital status, number of children born and still living, and
number of births in 1981. The six items pertaining to households
were type (domestic or collective), serial number, number of
persons, number of births in 1981, number of deaths in 1981, and
number of registered persons absent for more than one year.
Information was gathered in a number of important areas for which
previous data were either extremely inaccurate or simply
nonexistent, including fertility, marital status, urban population,
minority ethnic groups, sex composition, age distribution, and
employment and unemployment (see
table 5, Appendix A).
A fundamental anomaly in the 1982 statistics was noted by some
Western analysts. They pointed out that although the birth and
death rates recorded by the census and those recorded through the
household registration system were different, the two systems
arrived at similar population totals
, ch. 3).
The discrepancies in the vital rates were the result of the underreporting of both births and deaths to the authorities under the
registration system; families would not report some births because
of the one-child policy and would not report some deaths so as to
hold on to the rations of the deceased. Nevertheless, the 1982
census was a watershed for both Chinese and world demographics.
After an eighteen-year gap, population specialists were given a
wealth of reliable, up-to-date figures on which to reconstruct past
demographic patterns, measure current population conditions, and
predict future population trends. For example, Chinese and foreign
demographers used the 1982 census age-sex structure as the base
population for forecasting and making assumptions about future
fertility trends. The data on age-specific fertility and mortality
rates provided the necessary base-line information for making
population projections. The census data also were useful for
estimating future manpower potential, consumer needs, and utility,
energy, and health-service requirements. The sudden abundance of
demographic data helped population specialists immeasurably in
their efforts to estimate world population. Previously, there had
been no accurate information on these 21 percent of the earth's
inhabitants. Demographers who had been conducting research on
global population without accurate data on the Chinese fifth of the
world's population were particularly thankful for the 1982 census.
Data as of July 1987