China Population

Development and growth

Within the confines of today’s China, at the beginning of the Common Era about 70 million people lived (out of a world total estimated at 250 million), 60 of which in China proper. In the 7th century, when the Chinese state was the most populous political entity without comparison in the world, the residents had reduced almost by half: one of the basic characteristics of the Chinese demographic trend, up to the 20th century, was in fact the recurrence of conspicuous fluctuations, generally triggered by meteorological events (floods and droughts) and the consequent famines with the spread of epidemic diseases. This trend can be followed in the case of China with some detail, thanks to the fact that the Chinese state has kept a substantial continuity and thus its official records (archives, chronicles). An ever increasing diffusion of rice cultivation (which in the southern part of the country already gave two crops a year in the Middle Ages), the expansion of cultivated lands, the strengthening of irrigation practices allowed an increase which, in the 12th century. brought the population over 120 million residents. The invasion of the Mongols and the plague epidemics had disastrous effects: at the census carried out in 1393 the residents had again halved. The population began to increase under the Manchurian domination, and in 1796 it was approaching 300 million. In the 19th century, revolts and famines cost China millions of deaths: only during the Taiping revolt there were 30 million victims, while the famine of 1877-79 caused 9 million deaths; alongside these, other less disastrous events also weighed heavily on population numbers.

According to CANCERMATTERS, the next census was carried out in 1953, after 40 years of war: the population rose to 601 million, a hundred million beyond expectations based on demographic calculations. In the early 1960s, 700 million were exceeded, 800 million in 1972 and 900 million in 1979, up to the threshold of one billion residents. at the 1982 census. According to the 2000 census, China’s population amounted to 1.243 billion (a figure that further increased to 1.330 in 2008). The average annual rate of increase has therefore decreased considerably in recent decades: from 1.7% in the 1970s to 0.6% in the 1999-2008 period.

Despite the clichés, considering the last 50 years as a whole, the Chinese population has grown much less rapidly than the Indian or Pakistani, than the average of the Third World countries, and even less than the world average. However, it must be added that many observers believe that a large number (according to some, even 200 million people) may have escaped the count. The birth rate is currently around 12 ‰ and the mortality around 6 ‰. The slowdown in growth also occurred in conjunction with a sharp reduction in infant mortality, which in 1949 was 200 ‰, while in 2008 it was 21 ‰.

The slowdown in growth is therefore entirely due to the reduction in the birth rate, obtained at first with insistent and decisive demographic campaigns conducted by the authorities to obtain that the marriage age was postponed by about fifteen years (27 years for men, 25 for women) with respect to current traditions, and that each couple had a child or two at most. The spontaneous tendency of urbanized couples inserted in modern economic sectors, where both spouses often find employment, to have no children at all, was then added to the denatalist policies, as has occurred in all industrialized countries. At the same time, the practice, once common above all in the countryside, of the suppression of newborn girls, aimed at favoring a male offspring, seems drastically reduced; but it must be said that it has been largely replaced by selective abortion made possible by the early diagnosis of the sex of the unborn child: the fact is that for every 100 females there are about 120 males, a phenomenon that in a short time risks producing negative repercussions. Moreover, the sharp decline in the birth rate was accompanied by an increase in life expectancy (estimated in 2008 around 75 years for females and 71 for males: double that of 50 years earlier), so that the composition by age it is still relatively balanced. Even in China, however, the tendency towards senilization is looming immediately, to the point that some local administrations have changed the terms of the demographic policy followed up to now, starting to promote the systematic choice of a second child, to allow a more balanced generational change. In fact, in 2015 the China made official the possibility for married couples to have two children.

The other socio-demographic indicators have also improved considerably, starting with literacy (about 91%), the share of young people entering university studies and food availability (about 3000 kcal / day).


The average density (138.5 residents / km 2) has very little significance, given the differences in settlement potential. The China propria hosts about 95% of the total population, with an average density of around 500 residents / km 2, which clearly contrasts with the 2 residents / km 2 of Tibet, the 7 of Qinghai, the 12 of Xinjiang Uygur, the 20 of Inner Mongolia: these areas total about 4.7 million km 2, that is to say just under half of the Chinese territory, but are home to just about fifty million people, that is less than 4% of the total.

The densification in the eastern regions and especially in the coastal ones (to which the Sichuan basin must be added) is a constant in Chinese history, barely smoothed out by the resettlement and inland colonization policies attempted in the 1960s and 1970s; in the following decades the trend appears to be growing again due to the extraordinary internal migratory flows, directed towards urban areas in the expansion phase.

The influx to the coast is not well balanced by emigration abroad, although this is more intense and diversified than in the past; on the other hand there are even small immigrant contingents. The Chinese permanently residing in communities abroad (which have now become very important for expanding the economic and cultural contacts of China with other countries, and also as investors in the Chinese economy) would amount to over 50 million.

China Population