Population: China’s population reached 1.3 billion on January 5, 2005. The annual population growth rate was estimated at 0.57. The nation’s overall population density was 135 persons per square kilometer in 2003. The most densely populated provinces are in the east: Jiangsu (712 persons per square kilometer), Shangdong (587 persons per square kilometer), and Henan (546 persons per square kilometer). Shanghai was the most densely populated municipality, with 2,646 persons per square kilometer. The least densely populated areas are in the west, with Tibet having the lowest density at only 2 persons per square kilometer. Sixty-two percent of the population lived in rural areas in 2004, while 38 percent lived in urban settings. About 94 percent of population lives on approximately 46 percent of land. Based on 2000 census data, the provinces with the largest populations were Henan (91.2 million), Shandong (89.9 million), Sichuan (82.3 million, not including Chongqing municipality, which was formerly part of Sichuan Province), and Guangdong (85.2 million). The smallest were Qinghai (4.8 million) and Tibet (2.6 million). In the long term, China faces increasing urbanization, with nearly 70 percent living in urban areas by 2035.
Demography: China has been the world’s most populous nation for many centuries. When China took its first post-1949 census in 1953, the population stood at 582 million; by the fifth census in 2000, the population had almost doubled, reaching 1.2 billion. China’s fast-growing population was a major policy matter for its leaders in the mid-twentieth century, and, in the early 1970s they implemented a stringent one-child birth-control policy. As a result of that policy, China successfully achieved its goal of a more stable and much-reduced fertility rate; in 1971 women had an average of 5.4 children versus an estimated 1.7 children in 2004. Nevertheless, the population continues to grow, and people want more children. There is also a serious gender imbalance. Census data obtained in 2000 revealed that there were 119 boys born for every 100 girls and, among China’s “floating population” (see Migration), the ratio is as high as 128:100. These situations led Beijing in July 2004 to ban selective abortions of female fetuses. Additionally, life expectancy has soared and China now has an increasingly aging population; it is projected that 11.8 percent of the population in 2020 will be 65 years of age and older. Based on 2004 estimates, China’s age structure is zero to 14 years of age—22.3 percent; 15 to 64 years—70.3 percent, and 65 years and older—7.5 percent. Estimates made in 2004 indicate a birthrate of nearly 12.9 births per 1,000 and a death rate of 6.9 per 1,000. In 2004 life expectancy at birth was estimated at 73.7 years for women and 70.4 for men, or 71.9 years for both. The infant mortality rate was estimated at 25.3 per 1,000 live births overall (29.2 per 1,000 for females and 21.8 for males).
Migration: In 2004 it was estimated that China was experiencing a –0.4 per 1,000 population net migration rate. Of major concern in China is its growing “floating population” (liudong renkou), a large number of people moving from the countryside to the city, from developed economic areas to underdeveloped areas, and from the central and western regions to the eastern coastal region, as a result of fast-paced reform-era economic development and modern agricultural practices that have reduced the need for a large agricultural labor force. Although residency requirements have been relaxed somewhat, the floating population does not have official permission for permanent residence in the receiving cities and towns. As early as 1994, it was estimated that China had a surplus of about 200 million agricultural workers, and it was expected the number would increase to 300 million in the early twenty-first century. Thus, it is expected that the floating population will expand further into the long-term future. It was reported in 2005 that the floating population had increased from 70 million in 1993 to 140 million in 2003, thus exceeding 10 percent of the national population and accounting for 30 percent of all rural laborers. According to the 2000 national census, population flow inside a province accounted for 65 percent of the total while that crossing provincial boundaries accounted for 35 percent. Young and middle-aged people account for the vast majority of this floating population, with those between 15 and 35 years of age accounting for more than 70 percent.
Other migration issues include the more than 2,000 Tibetans who cross into Nepal annually, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The government tries to prevent this out-migration from occurring and has pressured Nepalese authorities to repatriate illegal border-crossing Tibetans. Another activity seen as illegal is the influx of North Koreans into northeastern China. Some 1,850 North Koreans fled their country in 2004, but China views them as illegal economic migrants rather than refugees and sends many of them back. Some of those who succeed in reaching sanctuary in foreign diplomatic compounds or international schools have been allowed to depart for South Korea.
Ethnic Groups: Besides the majority Han Chinese, China recognizes 55 other nationality or ethnic groups, numbering about 105 million persons, mostly concentrated in the northwest, north, northeast, south, and southwest but with some in central interior areas. Based on the 2000 census, some 91.5 percent of the population was classified as Han Chinese (1.1 billion). The other major minority ethnic groups were Zhuang (16.1 million), Manchu (10.6 million), Hui (9.8 million), Miao (8.9 million), Uygur (8.3 million), Tujia (8 million), Yi (7.7 million), Mongol (5.8 million), Tibetan (5.4 million), Bouyei (2.9 million), Dong (2.9 million), Yao (2.6 million), Korean (1.9 million), Bai (1.8 million), Hani (1.4 million), Kazakh (1.2 million), Li (1.2 million), and Dai (1.1 million). Classifications are often based on self-identification, and it is sometimes and in some locations advantageous for political or economic reasons to identify with one group over another. All nationalities in China are equal according to the law. Official sources say that the state protects their lawful rights and interests and promotes equality, unity, and mutual help among them.
Languages: The official language of China is standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, which means standard speech, based on the Beijing dialect). Other major dialects are Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, and Hakka (Kejia). Because of the many ethnic groups in China, numerous minority languages also are spoken.
All of the Chinese dialects share a common written form that has evolved and been standardized during two millennia and serves as a unifying bond amongst the Han Chinese. The government has aggressively developed both shorthand Chinese and Pinyin (phonetic spelling) as ways to increase literacy and transliterate Chinese names. The Pinyin system was introduced in 1958 and was approved by the State Council in 1978 as the standard system for the romanization of Chinese personal and geographic names. In 2000 the Hanyu (Han language) Pinyin phonetic alphabet was written into law as the unified standard for spelling and phonetic notation of the national language.
Religion: The traditional religions of China are Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Confucianism is not a religion, although some have tried to imbue it with rituals and religious qualities. Rather, it is a philosophy and system of ethical conduct that since the fifth century B.C. has guided China’s society. Kong Fuzi (Confucius in Latinized form) is honored in China as a great sage of antiquity whose writings promoted peace and harmony and good morals in family life and society in general. Ritualized reverence for one’s ancestors, sometimes referred to as ancestor worship, has been a tradition in China since at least the Shang Dynasty (1750–1040 B.C.).
Estimates of the number of adherents of the various beliefs are difficult to establish; as a percentage of the population, institutionalized religions, such as Christianity and Islam, represent only about 4 percent and 2 percent of the population, respectively. In the late 1990s, there were some 100 million adherents to various sects of Buddhism and some 9,500 temples, many of which are maintained as cultural landmarks and tourist attractions. The Buddhist Association of China was established in 1953 to oversee officially sanctioned Buddhist activities. In 1998 there reportedly were 600 Daoist temples and an unknown number of adherents in China. Officially, the state acknowledges that there were some 10 million Protestants and about 4 million Catholics in 2000. However, both Protestants and Catholics also have large “underground” communities, possibly numbering as many as 90 million. In 1997 there reportedly were 18 million adherents of Islam in China, but unofficial estimates suggest the total is much higher. Most adherents are members of the Uygur and Hui nationality people. The Falun Dafa (Wheel of Law, also called Falun Gong) quasi-religious movement based on traditional Chinese qigong (deep-breathing exercises) and Daoist and Buddhist practices and beliefs was established in 1992 and claimed 70 million to 100 million practitioners in China in the late 1990s. Because of its perceived antigovernment activities, Falun Gong was outlawed in China in April 1999, and reportedly tens of thousands of its practitioners were arrested and sentenced to “reeducation through labor” or incarcerated in mental hospitals. The constitution grants citizens of the People’s Republic of China the freedom of religious belief and says that the state “protects normal religious activities” but that no one “may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.”
Education and Literacy: Education in China is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. The population has had on average only 6.2 years of schooling, but in 1986 the goal was established to achieve nine years of compulsory education by 2000. The education system provides free primary education for five years, starting at age seven, followed by five years of secondary education, from ages 12 to 17. At this level, there are three years of middle school and two years of high school. The Ministry of Education reports that there is a 99 percent attendance rate for primary school and an 80 percent rate for both primary and middle schools. Since free higher education was abolished in 1985, applicants to colleges and universities compete for scholarships based on academic ability. Private schools have been allowed since the early 1980s.
The United Nations Development Programme reported that in 2002 China had 111,752 kindergartens, with 571,000 teachers and 20.3 million students. At the same time, there were 456,903 primary schools with 5.8 million teachers and 121.5 million students. General secondary education had 80,067 institutions with 4.3 million teachers and 82.8 million students. There also were 2,523 secondary technical schools with 170,000 teachers and 3.9 million students. Among specialized institutions, there were 430 teacher-training schools with 38,000 teachers and 601,000 students; 7,402 agricultural and vocational schools with 310,000 teachers and 5.1 million students; and 1,540 special schools with 30,000 teachers and 9 million students. In 2002 there were 1,396 institutions of higher learning (colleges and universities) with 618,000 professors and 9 million students. There is intense competition for admission to China’s colleges and universities. Beijing and Qinghua universities and more than 100 other key universities are the most sought after by college entrants. The literacy rate in China in 2002 was 90 percent.
Health: Indicators of the status of China’s health sector can be found in the nation’s fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman (a 2004 estimate) and an under-five-years-of-age mortality rate of 39 per 1,000 live births (a 2001 estimate). In 2002 China had nearly 1.7 physicians per 1,000 persons and about 2.4 beds per 1,000 persons. Health expenditures on a purchasing parity power (PPP) basis were US$224 per capita in 2001, or 5.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Some 37.2 percent of public expenditures were devoted to health care in China in 2001. However, about 80 percent of the health and medical care services are concentrated in cities, and timely medical care is not available to more than 100 million people in rural areas.
In 2004 Beijing health officials stated that China had some 120 million hepatitis B virus carriers. Although not identified until later, China’s first case of a new, highly contagious disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), occurred in Guangdong in November 2002, and within three months the Ministry of Health reported 300 cases and 5 deaths in the province. Shortly thereafter, people were being treated for SARS in Hong Kong and then quickly in China and in other parts of the world to which people had traveled by air from Hong Kong. By May some 8,000 cases of SARS were reported worldwide, with about 66 percent of the cases and 349 deaths in China alone. By early summer 2003, the SARS epidemic had ceased and was less serious in the winter and spring of 2004. A vaccine was developed and first-round testing on human volunteers was completed in 2004.
China, like other nations with migrant and socially mobile populations, has experienced increased incidences of human immuno-deficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS). Based on 2003 estimates, China is believed to have a 0.1 percent adult prevalence rate for HIV/AIDS, one of the lowest rates in the world and especially in Asia. However, because of China’s large population, this figure converted in 2003 to some 840,000 cases (more than Russia but less than the United States, and second in Asia to India), of whom 44,000 died. About 80 percent of those infected live in rural areas. In November 2004, the head of the United Nations AIDS program (UNAIDS) cited China, along with India and Russia, as being on the “tipping point” of having small, localized AIDS epidemics that could turn into major ones capable of affecting the world’s response to the disease. In 2004 the Ministry of Health reported that its annual AIDS prevention funding had increased from US$1.8 million in 2001 to US$47.1 by 2003 and that, whereas treatment had been restricted to a few hospitals in major cities, treatment was becoming more widely available.
In the 1999–2001 period, China had one of the highest per capita caloric intakes in Asia. It was second only to South Korea and higher than countries such as Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. By 2000, 94 percent of the urban population and 66 percent of the rural population had access to an improved water supply. And, 69 percent of the urban population and 27 percent of the rural population had access to improved sanitation facilities.
Welfare: In pre-reform China, the needs of society were taken care of from cradle to grave by the socialist state. Child care, education, job placement, housing, subsistence, health care, and elder care were largely the responsibility of the work unit as administered through the state-owned enterprises and agricultural communes and collectives. As those systems disappeared or were reformed, the “iron rice bowl” approach to social security changed. Article 14 of the constitution stipulates that the state “builds and improves a social security system that corresponds with the level of economic development.” Social security reforms since the late 1990s have included unemployment insurance, medical insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, maternity benefits, communal pension funds, and individual pension accounts. Official statistics show that in 2003, 29 million people in China were living in absolute poverty (making the equivalent of US$76.93 or less per year) and the number was growing, mostly in rural areas as income gaps widened between the poor and other farmers.
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This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country’s historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. In addition to being featured in the front matter of published Country Studies, they are now being prepared as stand-alone reference aides for all countries in the series, as well as for a number of additional countries of interest. The profiles offer reasonably current country information independent of the existence of a recently published Country Study and will be updated annually or more frequently as events warrant.
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