Census extended amid fear and confusion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 12:00am

The national census has been extended for five days following concern it has been less than thorough.

The decision was made after an emergency meeting of the State Council on Tuesday.

'The census extension has nothing to do with us lacking enough personnel to count all the families,' Chen Zhongdong, of the Beijing Population and Census Group, said.

'We find that some people with busy schedules are very hard to find at home in the day or in the evening. Of course, many others are just avoiding us on purpose.'

The Census Bureau is posting announcements in the media requesting residents who have yet to be counted in the census, originally scheduled to end yesterday, to take the initiative and contact officials for registration.

But putting the onus on residents to make sure they comply with the census is unlikely to bring officials any closer to pinpointing the size of a vast migrant population estimated to number as many as 125 million.

As well as the many migrants living in big cities purposely avoiding census registration for fear of official reprisals, some people are confused about exactly where they should register.

In Beijing, migrants are expected to register with census officials in the capital, rather than in the province where they hold their residence permit. But many migrants report they have managed to register in their hometowns instead.

Also, while census personnel have tried to assure families the data will not be used against them, those families with children born in violation of family planning policies are unlikely to take the financial risks that might be involved by exposing themselves.

But Chen Shengli, a senior official with the State Family Planning Commission, said: 'There aren't going to be any surprises when it comes to the number of children people have, because population officials already know that information. You can't just hide a pregnant woman for nine months.'

Mr Chen also speculated there would be little difficulty in accounting for homeless people, saying the number of Chinese who really had no home was quite small. 'Most of the homeless have homes in another province, and they will just be counted there,' he said.

But how such a task can be achieved has yet to be detailed.

Irregularities of another sort have been reported in Sichuan province's Nanbu county, where census workers reportedly have been illegally paying residents as an incentive for their participation.

Even some people who are legally registered in Beijing and who have only one child are avoiding being counted because the detailed questions are perceived as trampling on a desire for personal privacy. This concern was less prevalent during the last census, the Beijing Youth Daily said.