Puzzle of the population: China’s latest census data ‘full of loopholes’

2021.05.12
Puzzle of the population China s latest census data full of loopholes

China’s elderly population leapt by more than 60% in the course of a year, according to delayed census results released by the authorities that have left statistical analysts scratching their heads.

The dodgy data is just one of a number of figures that scholars and observers have challenged as failing to stand up to scrutiny. Yi Fuxian, a visiting academic in the United States, called the latest 10-yearly exercise one of the worst in Chinese history and said that the findings contained “a mighty amount of fishiness.”

Population pundits singled out loophole after loophole following the National Bureau of Statistics’ publication of its census results on Tuesday, a month behind schedule.

The Chinese population stood at 1.412 billion in 2020, up from 1.4 billion a year earlier, contrary to foreign media reports before the bureau’s release that claimed there was negative growth.

Controversially, 11.73 million people were added to the national population last year, “a jaw-dropping statistic that completely violates the law of population growth trends,” said a Chinese-language article posted on the website Cnvision News.

The article’s author explained that from 2000, fewer than 10 million people had been added to the population every year. The number dropped to 6.41 million in 2010 and further went south to 4.67 million in 2019.

It defied reason to record growth of 15.12% last year as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country, the author said.

Another obvious flaw in the official figures was about the jump in the senior population. The number who were aged above 65 rose by 14.61 million, which was more than 60% over 2019.

Last year, 14.27 million people died. Given that most deaths in today’s China were the elderly, at least 30 million people aged above 65 had to be joining this age group last year in order to yield such a big increase, the Cnvision author noted.

However, only 20.04 million people were born in 1955, the author pointed out after digging out old data. What this meant was that at least 10 million people had come out of nowhere and been included in the census, according to the article.

It also noted the bureau’s finding that 12 million babies were born in 2020. Subtracting this figure from last year’s net population growth, the death toll would be only 270,000, which was far lower than the 10 million deaths recorded in 2019.

Yi told Apple Daily on the phone that he believed the postponement in the census data publication indicated China’s population had registered negative growth. He estimated the actual number to be not even 1.38 billion.

The authorities were trying “to use figures to maintain stability” as the growth of the elderly and negative growth of the labor force had exceeded expectations, Yi said.

Kevin Tsui, an associate professor of economics at Clemson University in South Carolina, said that the inconsistencies in the data might be due to deliberate interference.

China was facing a crisis with its ageing population and low birth rate, political commentator Johnny Lau said.

It was hard to verify the bureau’s information, Professor Guo Yuhua from the school of social sciences at Tsinghua University told Radio Free Asia. Guo said that it was a matter of credibility, not just in the population numbers but also in other social problems in the country that were down to a lack of trust from the people.

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