Chinese Census Shows Success for Strict Birth Policy

CITING the results of a nationwide census, China has declared a great success its strict and controversial policy curbing population growth. Beijing has held the country's population to 1.13 billion, or 200 million fewer people than if it had not imposed rigid controls on the number of births a decade ago, census officials said last week.

The census ``demonstrates that we have effectively controlled population growth and improved the quality of our population,'' People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, said in an editorial entitled, ``A Great Accomplishment.''

But despite harsh controls restricting couples to one child, the population exceeds a target set in 1986 for this year by 20 million people.

And with a ``baby boom'' now annually producing 17 million births, China will find it difficult to hold to an official population ceiling of 1.25 billion by the year 2000, say foreign population experts and Chinese officials. ``When we talk about a long-term program, it is seldom that the plan will completely fit the actual situation,'' says Zhang Cai, deputy director of the 1990 census under the State Council, China's highest government body.

``In this sense it is normal that a long-term plan will be modified in the course of implementation.''

The 1.25 billion target has not yet been abandoned, he added.

Initial results from the 1990 census, the largest such undertaking in history, show that Chinese are leaving behind both the land and illiteracy.

The number of Chinese living in towns and cities has jumped from 21 to 26 percent of the population since the 1982 census, largely because of market-oriented economic reforms in the past decade, Zhang says.

Chinese flooded into the cities in the 1980s in response to loosened restrictions on travel and reforms that left millions of peasants idle by boosting productivity.

Rural migrants found comparatively lucrative opportunities in cities - ranging from self-employment in simple services like shoe repair to construction jobs.

Official newspapers have estimated that 50 million Chinese, or about 1 in 20 is a migrant. The census showed that 31 million Chinese are members of the ``floating population,'' either lacking a household registration or living in areas different from what is listed as their place of registration, Zhang says. Some migrants took to the road to evade family-planning officials, say Chinese officials. About 1 million babies are born each year outside the government's one-child policy and are never registered, according to official estimates.

Since 1982, the number of ``illiterate and semi-illiterate'' Chinese dropped from 23 percent to 16 percent of the population, although 3 million children quit primary schools in the countryside each year.

The number of people over 15 years who can't read or who can only read a little has fallen because of extensive grass-roots education, Zhang says.

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