Yi Fu Xian: The worst quality of this census

On May 11, the results of China’s seventh population census were finally released after several delays. Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and an expert in Chinese demographics, gave a detailed interpretation of the seventh census population data on several areas of concern, including fertility rate, sex ratio, and aging, and said that this census was the worst in terms of quality. Why did Professor Yi come to such a conclusion? The following is an interview with Yi Fu-hsien by our reporter Yi Bing.

Yi Fu-hsien has been engaged in population research for many years, combining sociology, physiology, psychoanalysis and other disciplines. In early November 2020, in his article “Simulation Analysis of the 2020 Census”, Yi pointed out that the actual population of China in 2020 would be less than 1.28 billion, the actual number of births would be less than 10 million, and the number of deaths would be around 10.6 million. The actual number of births should be less than 10 million, and the number of deaths should be around 10.6 million, and the total population will already have negative growth.

Reporter: Hello, Professor Yi! You said in a social media post earlier that “the 2020 census is the worst census in terms of quality” and that the delay in releasing the data was due to a “procedural crisis”. What do you think is so bad about this census?

Yi Fuxian: The 1982 and 1990 censuses did not have computers at that time, and it was not easy to modify the original data, so the data released was accurate. China published the data in 82 and 90 in more than three months, but this time it took more than half a year to publish. And the census program of the State Council Census Office last year clearly requires the publication in April this year, you are still afraid to publish the data equal to the entire census scope of the problem. Why so? It is to keep (this time) data and the previous (data) match.

This time, the hands are mainly in the lower age group, especially the 0-14 years old population, because the 0-14 years old group hands can only be seen after many years. The birth numbers published by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics are based on elementary school enrollment data, but the education data is highly watered down because compulsory education funding is distributed outward from the central government, giving educational institutions and local governments a strong incentive to misrepresent the number of students. The National Bureau of Statistics announced that 238 million people were born from 2006-2020, but some of the children will die, and by 2020 there will only be about 236 million people in the 0-14 age group, but the 2020 census is surprisingly high at 253 million people in the 0-14 age group.

Reporter: Does this mean that there are obvious problems with China’s fertility data in recent years? At what level do you think China’s true fertility rate should be maintained?

Yi Fuxian: There is no need to conceal the fertility rate of ethnic minorities in China without implementing the one-child policy. In 2000, the fertility rate was 1.66, and in 2010 it was only 1.47. Since the Han Chinese are more developed than the ethnic minorities, the national fertility rate is lower than the ethnic minorities. Even if the nationwide fertility policy is as lenient as that of ethnic minorities, the total fertility rate will be 1.34 in 2000, 1.25 in 2010, and about 0.94 in 2020. If we project this way, the actual population of China should only be 1.28 billion by 2020. The fertility rate of ethnic minorities was only 1.47 in 2010, and the average fertility rate from 2006 to 2020 was announced to be 1.6 to 1.7. It is impossible to have such a high fertility rate under the one-child policy.

Taiwan’s average fertility rate from 2006 to 2020 is 1.09, and South Korea’s is 1.11. They have such low fertility rates even though they encourage fertility. China’s fertility intentions are already lower than Taiwan’s and Korea’s, China’s divorce rate is 1.5 times higher than Taiwan’s and Korea’s, and China’s contraception rate is higher than Taiwan’s and Korea’s. If we judge it this way, China’s fertility rate in 2020 is likely to be lower than Taiwan’s, and should be similar to Korea’s, between 0.8 and 1.0, and not likely to exceed 1.1 at all. Then the number of births in 2020 is unlikely to exceed 10 million, and the exact number of deaths should be around 10.6 million, and China’s population has already started to grow negatively. How can the fertility rate be at 1.6 or 1.7 in 2006-2020 when China also implemented a strict family planning policy and even later started to implement a two-child policy, when family planning not only did not lower the fertility rate but also raised it? This is very funny. This announcement of 12 million births and a total fertility rate of about 1.25 is highly inconsistent with China’s current level of social development.

Reporter: The census data shows that the overall sex ratio of China’s male and female population is 105.07, which is basically the same as in 2010 and slightly lower. However, data from many sources show that there is a significant gender imbalance in China’s second and third births, and there is also a large gap between different regions.

Yi Fuxian: If we count the sex ratio of the total population, I think it is possible to change to about 105. This time, the sex ratio at birth has dropped to 111, which is a big improvement if it is the real data, because China is implementing two-child birth. The sex ratio in China is mainly due to family planning, if we have more children, we will have more children and there is no need to choose the sex. I think it is possible for the sex ratio to drop after the two-child policy, but as for the high sex ratio of the second and third children, the sex ratio of the previous census was higher, and many over-born families in the one-child era were trying to have sons, and they chose their sex by all means.

Reporter: Last month’s central bank’s working paper pointed out that China’s aging growth rate far exceeds the level of developed countries, and the paper predicted that China’s aging population will exceed 14% in 2022, entering a deeply aging society. What do you think this percentage represents, given that the population aged 65 and above accounts for 13.5% of the population in this release? Do you think China’s aging is in danger of increasing in speed?

Yi Fuxian: Aging is definitely underestimated. This time, there is less irrigation in the elderly group of 1.41 billion people, and there is not much labor force between 15-59 years old, but mainly in the 0-14 years old population. If according to the real population data, China’s aging is accelerating, but the problem is that this census is heavily adjusted upward for the 0-14 year old population, giving people a false impression that China is not aging as fast as they think.

Reporter: What do you think are the reasons behind China’s obsessive pursuit of population growth?

Yi Fuxian: The first reason is because the main participants of this census are still the original team of the original Bureau of Statistics and Population Society, who personally want to keep the data continuity, and will be held accountable if they don’t. Decades of family planning policies are based on China’s population data, the whole socio-economic, national defense, foreign affairs of various planning to adjust, the shock to society is huge.

The income of census takers is related to the number of people in the census, for example, an extra 10 yuan of income for one more person, a problem that occurred in the 2010 census. China Newsweek reported in 2010 that census takers copied household registration information without entering households and counted higher numbers.

Local governments expect more population. China has a vertical fiscal transfer system, and local governments are highly dependent on fiscal transfers from higher levels of government for revenue. Increasing the population allows for more funding for education and health care, and more leverage in road and rail construction. Too small a population faces the risk of administrative withdrawal, and some places want to abolish counties and cities also have population requirements, false population reporting is conducive to ensuring the establishment.

The biggest problem with the census data is the revision of the data later on, and the problems in both 2000 and 2010 were in the revision stage. Chinese census officials and demographers use the official Chinese population data and base their lifelong research on it. If the data were faulty, it would mean that their lifelong research was worthless and served to hinder population policy adjustments and mislead other policies, and they faced a lot of pressure and even recriminations. They exerted significant influence in the revision.

UNFPA’s misguidance. In 1979, when China had just opened its doors, the UNFPA gave China $50 million, an astronomical amount when China had only $100 million in foreign exchange reserves between 1950 and 1980. The UN helped China establish a family planning system and implement a one-child policy. The UN Population Fund has repeatedly falsified China’s population data, and China’s National Family Planning Commission has said that China’s revised population data is adjusted with reference to the UN, so the UN’s data is seriously misleading China’s real population data.

Reporter: If China falsifies its census data and deviates from the actual situation, what level of serious impact will it have on the economy, national defense and even society as a whole?

Yi Fuxian: The impact on the economy. They predict that China’s economy will soon overtake the U.S. based on false population data, and be twice as big as the U.S. in 2030 and three times as big as the U.S. in 2049. The Chinese government also held a meeting last year to set a vision that by 2035 China’s economy should double that of 2020. If there is not that much population, China’s economic goals will not be met and the planning will be problematic.

In education, according to the real data, many schools have to go bankrupt and be abolished. There are also pensions. According to the real population data, China is facing significant pension pressure and China should postpone the retirement age. But if the current aging is lower than expected, the Chinese government will not feel the need to engage in now, the government’s term is limited, a postponement of the retirement age will lead to many people protest. Then the postponement of the retirement age will be pushed to the next government, resulting in the next government being caught unprepared to deal with the rapid aging.

This census has caused a change in the geopolitical and economic landscape, and has misled the foreign policies of other countries. For example, in the United States, relations between China and the United States have deteriorated sharply in recent years because, on the one hand, the Chinese government has exaggerated China’s population and accelerated its expansion; on the other hand, the United States has adopted China’s projections, and the United States should be aware of the crisis, so relations between China and the United States have deteriorated. If, according to the real population data, China is not that powerful, then there is no need for the United States to spend so much against China, and the relationship between the two countries will ease.

There is also an impact on foreign investors. They think China’s economy is doing well and that China has a large export capacity and market. But China’s labor force is already declining rapidly, which means China’s manufacturing sector will decline and the industrial structure will change dramatically. With less than 10 million births, many industries in China are facing a situation where they will not be able to continue. If the Chinese people are aging rapidly, the Chinese market will face shrinkage.

Reporter: Thank you for the interview.