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China census aims to count floating migrant population

BEIJING (Reuters) - They are the face of China’s cities, building the skyscrapers and staffing the restaurants, but until now China’s census takers have counted migrant workers as if they were still planting rice on the farm.

Passengers rush to board a train at the Guangzhou railway station, Guangdong province February 19, 2010. REUTERS/Joe Tan/Files

That will change with the 2010 census, when China is for the first time counting people based on where they actually live, rather than where they are registered under the household registration, or ‘hukou’, system.

The results mean the current degree of China’s urbanisation, as well as previously uncounted children born in defiance of the one-child policy, can finally be measured.

China is mobilising 6 million census takers to count people door-to-door, beginning in early November, Feng Nailin, director-general of the department of population and employment statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics, told journalists on Wednesday.

“The migrant population is a rather big problem for our census,” said Feng, who is also vice director of the leading group coordinating the 2010 census.

China’s last census in 2000 showed the population at 1.295 billion. It placed 64 percent or about 800 million people as still in the countryside, even though migrant workers had been flooding to cities and coastal factories for a decade at least.

A less comprehensive annual survey by the National Bureau of Statistics estimated China’s population at 1.335 billion at the end of 2009.

Green banners encouraging people to cooperate with the census festoon Beijing, in a departure from the usual red public propaganda banners.

Counters have scoured neighbourhoods to identify makeshift residences, and would canvass worker and student dormitories for the first time, Feng said.

Counters still worry that migrants in particular, or people with unregistered children, may be reluctant to open their doors. They are offering assurances of privacy and a discount if couples register their uncounted children with the police during the period.

But some features of the Chinese population will still remain a mystery. Census designers considered but rejected suggestions to include questions about what language people speak at home, or their religion.

“Religion falls under the category of sensitive questions,” Feng said. “We were worried that would raise the rate of non-cooperation.”

Editing by Kim Coghill