Fears census flawed as tally falls short
Vivien Pik-Kwan Chan
The State Council has issued an emergency circular urging last-minute population counting after initial reports indicated one province may have under-estimated its number of inhabitants by 10 million people.
Census administration officials admitted that millions of people, especially migrant workers, have purposely avoided census interviewers - particularly in poor provinces like Hunan and Shaanxi.
The census is due to finish tomorrow and the circular urged that there should be 'not one less' counted. But it seems millions are being left out of the final tally. China extended the census by five days, to 15 days, amid concerns that the census would not give the full picture.
Officials said that compared to pre-census calculations, Hunan, with an estimated population of 65 million, had missed about 10 million people, while the population of Shaanxi province - usually 36 million - was down by two million.
Head-counts of some other provinces or municipalities, including Guangdong, Fujian and Shenyang in Liaoning province and Beijing, also were down by hundreds of thousands.
'The huge discrepancy might be due to the under-performance of certain census officials,' Yu Hongwen, an official of the fifth national census office, said in Beijing.
Some grassroots officials have also been unco-operative over fears they might be punished for their inability to carry out birth-control policies and some families are trying to hide children born outside government quotas. But Mr Yu said families exceeding the one-child quotas contributed to only a portion of the discrepancies. He attributed the problem to the floating population.
'Under-counting was more serious in poor provinces. People in these provinces moved from villages to better developed townships and moved again to the province's more prosperous cities,' Mr Yu said. 'Most of these migrants still live in the provinces but they avoid census officials because they fear they will be fined or asked to pay miscellaneous fees if their presence is revealed.'
Migrants who left their home provinces also dodged census workers because they feared they would be forced to return.
Police in some of these provinces helped census workers with the tally, especially in areas populated by migrant workers.
The State Council has issued an order forbidding local administrators from charging migrant workers in the name of the census.
'Local governments would be fined for such an act. All money charged should be immediately returned to workers,' Mr Yu said.
He added there were complaints from provinces like Liaoning, Hubei, Anhui and Sichuan about the collection of such fees.
'We hope for an accurate head-count to refine social and economic policies. We estimated the census result would be around 10 million people more than last year's estimated 1.26 billion people, well within the growth limit of our population policy,' Mr Yu said.