Six million get ready to knock on doors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am

There's a buzz at the Anzhen sub-district government office building in Beijing, as census staff busy themselves carrying boxes of brochures and reusable shopping bags to be transported to neighbourhoods and handed out to residents.

'The shopping bags are gifts for families. We hope they'll make it easier for our census takers to ask for co-operation,' said Zhao Jingbin logistics manager at the office.

From today, six million census takers across the mainland will knock on doors to determine how many people live in those homes, no matter where they are from.

The government has budgeted 8 billion yuan (HK$9.3 billion) for the project.

Dubbed 'the biggest social mobilisation in peace time', this mainland census will do two things for the first time: count foreigners and count people according to where they live, instead of where their residence certificate, or hukou, is registered.

On Thursday, vice-premier Li Keqiang gave an unusual televised speech to mobilise support for the census, asking census takers to keep personal information strictly confidential and households to provide true and complete data.

Migrants would be the worst headache for census takers, Feng Nailin, director of the National Bureau of Statistics population and employment statistics department, told reporters last month.

'The floating population is growing fast, and so is the frequency of migration. Migrants don't have a fixed residence, which makes it hard to include them in a census,' Feng said.

The first five censuses had all been based on the hukou system. But as the country became more urbanised, increasing numbers of people were living somewhere other than stated on their certificates.

Wang Caizhen, a census taker in Haining, Zhejiang said it was hard to get an accurate number of migrant workers in her neighbourhood, where hardware and garment factories thrived. 'Many of them are living here now, but will leave next month,' she said.

She said she had to ask her son for help to get information from the approximately 350 people in her neighbourhood. 'We have done several rounds of surveys as preparation, including things like address, job and acreage of housing,' she added.

According to Feng, there are currently five million communities across the mainland, and one census taker will be responsible for one community, which typically has 80 to 100 households. The remaining one million people involved in the census taking are instructors and reserves.

There are some doubts as to the accuracy of the census. Already in Beijing's Xicheng district, 40 per cent of the population were found to have their hukou elsewhere, according to the Beijing Times. And it is suspected families who breached the one-child policy will hide the extra children to escape fines, which, in the city, can be five to 10 times an annual income.

Privacy concerns were also a cause of poor co-operation according to preliminary surveys, said Feng. 'People's awareness about privacy is growing,' he said. 'Many have refused to accept the survey.'

One in 10 people will need to fill in a long form of 45 items, and the rest will be asked to fill in 18 items. Unlike before, income will not be included.

Leona Jin, a software engineer in Beijing, said she was uncomfortable with filling out the long form when two census takers came to her home for preliminary registration. 'When they saw my identity card - which shows my hukou is not in Beijing - they took out a bigger notebook. They didn't know how to fill out the form themselves,' she complained.

Zhang Xiaogang, a media worker in Beijing, said the census taker he met didn't even know how to write a common Chinese character. 'There's a ze in my son's name, the same character as in the middle of Mao Zedong. How could she possibly not know that?' he said.

According to Feng, half of the census takers were from government departments and half were newly recruited from the community.

Role responsibility

One census taker will handle one community of 80 to 100 households.

There are currently this number of communities which will be surveyed across the mainland: 5m