In 2020, the 7th population census was conducted in China, which showed qualitative and quantitative data on the state of Chinese society. The census results show that for the next 10-15 years, the remaining share of the working-age population of China allows us to ensure the necessary GDP growth rates. Due to the long-term demographic policy of a one-child family in China, in the future there is such an age structure of the population that will not be able to provide replacement of the retiring able-bodied population at the expense of younger age groups aged 0-15 years. A similar situation is now observed in most European countries, in the countries of Eastern and part of Southeast Asia.

There are two ways to solve such a demographic problem – an increase in the birth rate and a migration increase. In European countries, they have taken the path of increasing migration from abroad, however, in East Asia – Japan, South Korea, Singapore have taken a different path – stimulating the birth rate.
The decision of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee indicates that China is also on the path of increasing the birth rate and stimulating the third child in the family. The People’s Republic of China came to this decision gradually: in 2012, there were signs of relaxation of the strict demographic policy that had been carried out since the late 70s of the twentieth century – “one family– one child”. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China decided that all married couples should have the right to have two children if one of the spouses was the only child in the family. At the 5th Plenum of the CPC Central Committee in September 2015 after discussing the issue of the 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), it was decided that all married couples should have the opportunity to have a second child, which was adopted at the beginning of 2016 at the regular session of the National People’s Congress and fixed by the decree of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

In May 2021, China officially abandoned the demographic policy of “one family– one child”, and at a meeting of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee, it was decided that “married couples can have three children.”
After the formation of the PRC, special attention was also paid to the country’s population censuses, since the Chinese leadership uses the population indicator when planning the main socio-economic indicators. It is this important indicator – the population – that was the decisive factor for achieving the objectives of accounting for the gross output of industry and agriculture from 1980 to 2000 and accounting for the gross domestic product from 2000 to 2020. This indicator remains the basic one for solving the tasks of socio-economic development of the country in the 14th five-year plan (2021-2025) and until 2035.

Since 1949, seven population censuses have been conducted in the People’s Republic of China – the 1st National Census in 1953, the 2nd National Census in 1964, the 3rd National Census in 1982, the 4th National Census in 1990, the 5th National Census in 2000, the 6th National Census in 2010 and, finally, the 7th National Census conducted in 2020.

The analysis of the data of the 7th National Census in combination with the results of previous censuses allows us to draw conclusions about the quantitative and qualitative state of the population of China.
As the data of all seven National censuses conducted show, over the years of the PRC, the demographic situation has undergone drastic changes. In particular, the indicators of fertility, mortality, natural growth have changed significantly, which has affected the age-sex structure, life expectancy, the qualitative characteristics of the population have changed, migration processes have noticeably increased.
As a result, in a relatively short time – seven decades – China has made a demographic transition from the state of the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America with high fertility and mortality to the state of the developed countries of the world, such as the countries of the European Union, the USA and Canada and East Asia – Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore with low fertility and low mortality.
In most of these countries, currently the main demographic problem is low birth rate, aging population and labor shortage, which can no longer be solved only by creating new jobs and additional labor resources.

The results of the 2020 Chinese population census show that in the last ten years there has been a steady increase in the population of the PRC with a predominance of the male population over the female, a decrease in family size, a slight increase in the proportion of the population in young ages from 0 to 14 years, a decrease in the proportion of the able-bodied population from 15 to 59 years and an increase in the proportion of the elderly population aged both over 60 years and over 65 years.
In Chinese society, there is a constant increase in the level of education with an increase in the share of higher and secondary specialized, a rapid decline in illiteracy – from 6% in 2000 to 2.67% in 2020, and the share of the urban population is noticeably increasing – up to 64% of the population with a decrease in rural.
According to the 2020 census , the total population was 1,411 .78 million people . as of November 1, 2020.
Compared with the results of the 1953 census (594.35 million people), the number of Chinese residents has more than doubled – by 2.37 times, and China has long held the title of the most populous country in the world (18% of the world population).

According to long-term forecasts, by the middle of the XXI century, the country’s population should reach a peak of no more than 1.6 billion people, and then gradually decrease; at the same time, the following tasks are set: significantly improve the quality characteristics and health of the population, higher and secondary education should acquire massive proportions; create a holistic and effective social security system throughout the country; make the structure of settlement and employment more rational, significantly increase the level of urbanization; to create conditions for a prosperous life of the people so that the average income of each citizen reaches the level of medium-developed countries, and society is more civilized. Practically achieve the goals of harmonious development of the population and economy, society, protection of resources and ecology and modernization of the country.

According to the National Censuses, the birth rate decreased from 22.28 ppm in 1982 to 21.06 ppm in 1990 and then to 14.03 ppm in 2000, 11.90 ppm in 2010 and 10.94 ppm in 2018. In general, during the period between the last two censuses, the number of births decreased from 18 million to 12 million people, while maintaining a low mortality rate over the past 20 years – 7.58-7.13 ppm per year.

All this had a serious impact on the size of the Chinese family. According to the 7th National Census of 2020, there were only 411.78 million nuclear families in China, in which there were 1,293 million people living in apartments, and 28.53 million families, where there were 118 million people living in dormitories. The average family size has significantly decreased since 1982 – from 4.41 people in a family to 2.62 people in a family in 2020. The average family size decreased especially sharply between the last two censuses – from 2010 to 2020 – from 3.10 people to 2.62 people, that is, by 0.48 people over 10 years.

The picture of changes in population distribution across China, which can be obtained from the results of the 7th National Census, is also of considerable interest. Currently, in two coastal provinces of China – Guangdong and Shandong – the population exceeds 100 million people, in nine provinces – from 50 to 100 million people, in 17 administrative units (provinces, cities of central subordination and autonomous regions) – from 10 to 50 million people, in three provinces and autonomous regions – less than 10 million people. At the same time, 35.09% of the population lives in the five most populated provinces of China – Guangdong, Shandong, Henan, Sichuan and Jiangsu.

As before, a significant part of the Chinese population lives in the coastal provinces and three cities of central subordination (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin), which have the highest gross regional product, foreign trade volumes and the number of higher and secondary specialized educational institutions. According to the census, the share of the population in the eastern (coastal) provinces was 39.93%, the central provinces – 25.83%, the western provinces – 27.12%, in the Northeast – 6.98%.

The predominance of the number of men over the number of women is still maintained. According to the results of the 7th National Census, the total number of men in 2020 was 723.3 million people (51.24%), and women – 688.4 million people (48.76%). Thus, in China, the number of men exceeds the number of women by 34.9 million people. This situation has been developing for many years, when there were more boys born than girls (the sex ratio from 1953 to 2020 was at the level of 105-107 per 100).
In just two provinces – Liaoning and Jilin in the Northeast – the proportion of women in the total population is higher than men – 50.08% each. In 17 administrative units, the proportion of boys at birth ranges from 100 to 105, in 19 administrative units – from 105 to 110, and in three administrative units – Hainan, Guangdong and Tibet – the proportion of boys significantly exceeds the proportion of girls – over 110. As a result, the proportion of men in Guangdong is 53.07%, in Hainan – 53.02%, in Tibet – 52.45%.

An analysis of the age structure of the Chinese population provides interesting data. It turned out that as a result of the “one family – one child” policy pursued in the country since the late 1970s, the proportion of the working-age population aged 15 to 60 years has begun to decline since the beginning of the XXI century. In 2010-2011, the optimal age structure of the country’s population was achieved in China, at which the share of the population at the working age of 15-64 years was 74.4-74.5% of the total population. In the future, the share of the elderly population aged over 60 and 65 years grew rapidly with a rapid decline in the share of the working-age population from 15 to 60 years, as shown in table 4 below.

Over the years of the PRC’s existence, the level of education of the population has significantly increased, which makes it possible to provide a sufficient number of highly qualified personnel for the next 10-15 years and partially solve the problem of labor shortage by improving its qualifications. According to the 7th National Population Census, in 2020 in China there were 218.4 million people with higher and secondary specialized education, 213.0 million people with full secondary education (grades 12), 487.2 million people with primary secondary education (grades 9), 349.7 million people with primary education (grades 6) and 10.9 million illiterate.

Compared with the data of the 6th National Census of 2010, the level of education of the population has increased markedly, as evidenced by the data on the level of education of the population per 100 thousand people. In particular, the number of people with higher and secondary specialized education has almost doubled, the number of people with full secondary education has increased, the proportion of people with only primary secondary and primary education has decreased.
The share of illiterates has also significantly decreased – from 4.08% to 2.67% of the total population over 15 years old.

After the formation of the PRC, urbanization developed rapidly. The main reason was the huge changes in the structure of employment of the population. If in the 50s of the twentieth century the vast majority of the population was employed in agriculture and lived in the countryside, then as industrialization developed and employment in the “third sphere” continued to grow, the urban population rapidly increased.

With the beginning of the economic reform and the development of non-agricultural industries, there was a sharp change in the employment structure at the first stage of the reform due to an increase in the need for labor in industry and capital construction. In the future, with the development of transport, services, information technology and other forms of employment, the rapid growth of the urban population began to occur.
From 1979 to 2000, the urban population increased from 184.95 million people to 459.06 million people (from 19.0% to 36.2%) – a total of 274 million people. However, at the beginning of the XXI century, with the development of non-agricultural industries and especially those of the “third sphere”, urbanization in China continued to grow rapidly, not only due to migration from the countryside to the city, but also as a result of the transformation of rural settlements into cities with a predominance of employment outside agriculture.
As a result, in 2011, the urban population equaled the rural population, and in 2020, the urban population exceeded 900 million people and amounted to 63.9%, which is comparable to the rate of urbanization in many developed countries.

In China, in recent years, the population has been increasing by an average of 5 million people per year – this limits the possibilities for reproduction of the population.
More and more people born in the 1950s and 1960s are retiring. At the same time, due to the one-child family policy that has been carried out for many years, it has become increasingly difficult to fill the emerging job vacancies. This especially affects the coastal areas. On the one hand, population growth seems to need to be further limited in order to stabilize the low birth rate achieved and improve the qualitative characteristics of the population. On the other hand, in the future, there may be an unprecedented problem for China of labor shortages and inviting migrants from abroad, as is the case in Europe and East Asia.

As the materials of population censuses since the 1990s show, as a result of the implementation of the demographic policy “one family – one child”, China managed to eliminate more than 400 million births in the country, but this caused new social and demographic problems – a shortage of labor in the economically developed coastal areas of the country, the aging of the population as a whole. In the mid-2010s. the main slogan of the demographic policy “one family – one child” was adjusted, and two new demographic policy slogans were proposed to the population of the country – “every family has a second child” and “everyone has two children”.
In 2010, China in its demographic development reached the maximum share of the working-age population – up to 65% of the population. Further, the share of the able-bodied population in the working ages from 15 to 59 years began to steadily decrease, and at the age of over 60 years it increased. Single-child families, which have become a consequence of China’s demographic policy since the late 70s, are not able to make up for the shortage of labor in the country in one or two decades. Therefore, at a meeting of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee, the Chinese population was urged to have three children in each family, and in June 2020 in general, the restriction on the number of children in the family was lifted, which, according to the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, will allow solving two problems at once in the future – the shortage of the working-age population and the growing aging of the population.

Summing up the results of China’s development over the first two decades of the XXI century, it should be noted that the first two tasks of demographic policy related to limiting the population and providing the necessary amount of labor were generally fulfilled in the country.
Since 2020, the leadership of the People’s Republic of China has begun to implement the third stage of demographic policy, which is largely associated with the successful implementation of building a welfare society (“xiaokan”). One of the main factors that will determine the development of China in the coming decades will be the further adjustment of the dynamics of the population of China and other demographic indicators.

According to forecasts, only if the population policy is successfully implemented, the structure is changed and the demographic goals set by the leadership of the PRC are achieved, the country will be able to solve the tasks facing it – food, environmental and others, achieve the social and economic indicators set by the XIX Congress of the CPC and the session of the National People’s Congress (March 2021), actively using the development of foreign economic relations and integration into the world economic system. In this regard , in May 2021 The Politburo of the CPC Central Committee decided to regulate the age structure of the population by stimulating the birth of a third child.

Thus, along with economic changes, the growing population of China is also changing, as well as its quality and behavioral characteristics. In the 1970s, poor China was threatened with overpopulation and famine: there were an average of 6 children per woman. Along with economic prosperity, the country acquires all the characteristics of developed Western states, which are characterized by a decrease in the birth rate and an aging population. This is happening all over the world: as the level of security and education increases, as well as with the development of the pension system, people change priorities and bet, for example, on a career, and not on producing more children who will feed in old age. In general, the demographic advantage that has driven China’s economy in recent decades is shrinking today and this requires new solutions from China to ensure long-term development.

Prepared on the basis of the publication “How many people live in China: the results of the 7th National Population Census 2020” in the journal “Far Eastern Studies” No. 4, 2021.

Center for the Study of China,

Nur-Sultan, 2021

Number of shows: 1830