Guangdong has replaced the central province of Henan as the mainland's most populous region as a result of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation in the past decade.
The National Bureau of Statistics released more details of last year's national census yesterday, including a breakdown of regional demographic data. Shandong retained second place on the list of most populous regions, pushing Henan into third place. Sichuan remains fourth and Jiangsu fifth.
Guangdong had 104.3 million permanent residents last year - 7.79 per cent of the population of the world's most populous country. If it was a country it would rank as the 12th most populous in the world, behind Mexico.
Shandong had a population of 95.7 million and Henan 94 million.
For the first time, last year's census covered Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwanese residents living on the mainland. It found there were around 234,000 Hongkongers.
It also said there were 170,000 Taiwanese living on the mainland last year, but observers believe that number may be understated because the island's Straits Exchange Foundation said there were more than 800,000 Taiwanese businessmen living on the mainland by the end of 2008.
The once-a-decade census also found there were 593,832 expats, with South Koreans, Americans and Japanese the biggest groups. The most popular places for expats were Guangdong, Shanghai and Beijing.
The latest census found that farmers from inland provinces had continued their migration to manufacturing centres on the east and south coasts in the past decade, despite the government's efforts to shift growth to inland regions.
Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences researcher Peng Peng said Guangdong's population increase was driven by an influx of migrant workers into the Pearl River Delta and had little to do with the natural birth rate. With the delta experiencing robust economic growth, the Guangdong provincial government had foreseen years ago that population growth would follow suit and had implemented policies designed to manage an influx of migrants from other provinces.
However, Peng said those policies only focused on the Pearl River Delta region and were not implemented throughout the province.
Peng said the delta's population was likely to remain static or even decline because of a new emphasis on upgrading its economic structure. He said cities in western and eastern Guangdong, such as Zhanjiang and Shantou, would soon experience dramatic influxes of low-skilled migrant workers due to large economic development projects planned for the next five years.
'But so far we haven't seen Zhanjiang or Shantou drafting any policies to prepare for a sudden rush of workers,' he said.
Additional reporting by Mimi Lau
Guangdong had 104.3 million permanent residents last year
This number expressed as a proportion of the whole country's population: 7.79%
The position in global rankings Guangdong would occupy if it was a country: 12