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China's population, 1969-2009

The "one-child" policy has reduced population growth
Population control was anathema to the Mao regime in the 1950s and 1960s, although
contraception was encouraged on health grounds. Improvements in healthcare pulled the death rate down while births continued to soar: the classic "population explosion" phase of demographic transition. Birth control measures were promoted in the early 1970s and these succeeded in bringing down the birth rate from 33.43 in 1970 to 18.21 by 1980. The implementation of the "one child" policy in the early 1980s coincided with the coming of age of the "baby boom" generation, so the birth rate slipped back up to  23.33 in 1987 before subsiding steadily to reach 16.03 by 1998, pulling the natural growth rate (birth rate minus death rate) down from 16.61 to 9.53 over the same period.

Official figures understate total population...
The official total population figure of 1,334.7 million people at the end of 2009 is almost certainly an underestimate. In addition to the difficulties of counting so many people over such a wide area, China faces additional problems as a result of the one-child policy. Although the policy has been relaxed in rural areas to allow couples who have a daughter to try for a boy, many people still seek to have more children than allowed and some families use various means to avoid registering their extra children,  such as fleeing to the anonymity of a big city. Deliberate avoidance of census takers is therefore likely to be higher than in other countries.

...and urbanisation
The urbanisation process characteristic of developing economies has intensified during the past two decades of economic reform as controls on population movement have been eased. The figures show this trend quite clearly, but the urban proportion may be understated for definitional reasons.

Total population (million people) Growth rate 
(per 1,000
Urban/rural population distribution

Million people

1969

806.7

1970

829.9

1971

852.3

1972

871.8

1973

892.1

1974

908.6

1975

924.2

1976

937.2

1977

949.7

1978

962.6

1979

975.4

1980

996.1

1981

1,008.4

1982

1,020.6

1983

1,039.6

1984

1,054.9

1985

1,070.2

1986

1,086.7

1987

1,104.2

1988

1,121.9

1989

1,127.0

1990

1,143.3

1991

1,158.2

1992

1,171.7

1993

1,185.2

1994

1,198.5

1995

1,211.2

1996

1,223.9

1997

1,236.3

1998

1,247.6

1999

1,257.9

2000

1,267.4

2001

1,276.3

2002

1,284.5

2003

1,292.3

2004

1,299.9

2005

1,307.6

2006

1,314.5

2007

1,321.3

2008

1,328.0

2009

1,334.7

Birth rate
(per '000 per year)

Death rate
(per '000 per year)

Natural growth rate
(per '000 per year)

1985

21.04

6.78

14.26

1986

22.43

6.86

15.57

1987

23.33

6.72

16.61

1988

22.37

6.64

15.73

1989

21.58

6.54

15.04

1990

21.06

6.67

14.39

1991

19.68

6.70

12.98

1992

18.24

6.64

11.60

1993

18.09

6.64

11.45

1994

17.70

6.49

11.21

1995

17.12

6.57

10.55

1996

16.98

6.56

10.42

1997

16.57

6.51

10.06

1998

16.03

6.50

9.53

1999

14.64

6.46

8.18

2000

14.03

6.45

7.58

2001

13.38

6.43

6.95

2002

12.86

6.41

6.45

2003

12.41

6.40

6.01

2004

12.29

6.42

5.87

2005

12.40

6.51

5.89

2006

12.09

6.81

5.28

2007

12.10

6.93

5.17

2008

12.14

7.06

5.08

2009

12.13

7.08

5.05

 

Urban (%)

Rural (%)

1985

23.7 76.3

1986

24.5

75.5

1987

25.3

74.7

1988

25.8

74.2

1989

26.21

73.79

1990

26.41

73.59

1991

26.94

73.06

1992

27.46

72.54

1993

27.99

72.01

1994

28.51

71.49

1995

29.04

70.96

1996

30.48

69.52

1997

31.91

68.09

1998

33.35

66.65

1999

34.78

65.22

2000

36.22

63.78

2001

37.66

62.34

2002

39.09

60.91

2003

40.53

59.47

2004

41.76

58.24

2005

42.99

57.01

2006

43.90

56.10

2007

44.94

55.06

2008

45.68

54.32

2009

46.59

53.41

 

Source: China Statistical Yearbook; National Bureau of Statistics web site..