Less than 1.4 billion people? China to report first population decline since Great Leap Forward

China’s total population is less than 1.4 billion, according to the latest census, the Financial Times said Tuesday (April 27), citing people familiar with the matter. This is the first population decline reported since the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s.

The source added that the population data is very sensitive and requires agreement among government departments on the data and its implications before it can be released.

Huang Wenzheng, a researcher at the Beijing-based China and Globalization think tank, said: “The census results will have a huge impact on how Chinese people view their country and how various government departments work. They need to be handled very carefully.”

China conducts a national census every 10 years, and the results of the seventh census were scheduled to be released in early April. China’s delay in releasing the census results has sparked controversy, with some speculating that the delay is due to a sharp drop in population numbers that has caused a crisis for those in power.

Liu Aihua, director of the National Bureau of Statistics’ Department of Comprehensive National Economic Statistics, had said on April 16 that the seventh national census was prepared to release more information on top of the information released in the sixth census, while significantly increasing the number of census bulletins. As a result, preparations for the census release have increased accordingly, and the Bureau of Statistics will speed up its work and “strive to release the final results of the census to the society as early as possible.”

The Financial Times also reports that analysts say the declining population means China’s population could soon be overtaken by India’s. “The speed and scale of China’s demographic crisis is faster and bigger than we thought,” Huang Wenzheng told the newspaper, “and it could have disastrous effects on the country.”

China has been encouraging childbirth in recent years because of the declining birth rate, and the communiqué of the fifth meeting of the 18th Communist Party Congress in 2015 even said it would fully implement the policy of allowing two children per couple. But the policy change doesn’t seem to have given much impetus to China to raise its birth rate.

According to China’s Ministry of Public Security, the number of newborns born in 2020 and already registered with public security organs will total 10.035 million, a drop of about 15 percent compared to 2019, a figure that is also nearly 680,000 less than the number of applicants for the 2020 college entrance exam.

Although China has abolished one-child rule, decades of family planning have changed people’s perception of fertility, said Yi Fuxian, a demography expert and author of the book “The Empty Nest in a Big Country. And couples of childbearing age, who are living under pressure and facing housing and education difficulties, have not been spawned by the liberalization of population policies.

Reuters reported that the declining birth rate and rapidly aging society will put pressure on the working-age population and hit productivity.

The report added that Capital Economics said in a report, “Our projections using data from the previous census already show that the working population will decline by 0.5 percent a year until 2030, with a similar impact on GDP, and that slower growth will make it harder for China to catch up with the U.S. in economic terms. There may also be an intangible impact on China’s global standing.”