By Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 1990 | Go to article overview
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Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

CHINA began the world's biggest census on Sunday, confronting vast geographic, logistical, and political obstacles in tallying its more than 1.1 billion people.

Traveling by foot, bicycle, yak, and horse, nearly 7 million census takers went door to door and hut to hut nationwide, collecting data from China's 200 million households.

In Tibet and parts of the country's rugged northwest, the count began a month early to give nomads trained as census takers time to complete their record gathering by the July 10 deadline, officials say.

"(Tibetan) herdsmen in some pastoral areas will be registered for the first time," said Zhang Weihua, an official in charge of the census in Tibet.

The census, China's fourth since the Communist Party took power in 1949, will cost an estimated $.21 per Chinese resident, or about $230 million.

A sample of the results will be published next May. But it will take until June 1992 to finish processing the data with more than 3,400 large computers, says Huang Hui, director of the computer center of the State Statistics Bureau. By that time, China will have another 22 million babies.

Aside from the logistical challenge, China's Orwellian regime faces a public relations problem: fear. Many Chinese are hesitant to complete the census forms honestly - or at all - out of fear of revealing aspects of their lives that could incur punishment by the government.

"There are some masses who have worries," says Wei Zhiming, a Beijing municipal census official. "We use propaganda to help them understand," Mr. Wei said at a census station in Beijing's Western District on Sunday.

One of the most sensitive issues involves the fate of China's growing population of "black" children - children born outside of the government's one-child policy who were never officially registered by their parents.

Census takers want to account for such children, who number more than 1 million, according to official estimates. But parents, who under existing regulations should pay stiff fines for additional children, seek to hide their illegitimate offspring.

China's army of statisticians has also targeted the migrant, or "floating," population. Migration has surged over the past decade, as peasants left idle by market-oriented rural reforms quit the fields in pursuit of more lucrative city jobs. Official estimates of the migrant force range from 20 million to 80 million.

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