China launched a once-in-a-decade census on Monday in an exercise that will form a basis for policy-making in the world's most populous country, but is likely to face resistance from residents wary of government officials.
Six million officials will fan out across the country from the booming cities on the eastern coast to the remote mountains of restive Tibet as they try to visit some 400 million households over a 10-day period.
"The census is the basis for making policies on education, medical care, employment and social warfare and aid," Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily said in an editorial. "This is the biggest social mobilisation of peaceful times." The exercise will cost about 700 million yuan ($104.9 million), with 90 percent of respondents being asked 18 questions, including details about education and ethnic groups, according to the state media. The results will be released next April.
For the first time, China is counting people based on where they actually live, rather than where they are registered under the household registration, or 'hukou', system. The results will help measure the degree of China's urbanisation, as well as previously uncounted children born in defiance of the one-child policy.
Yet census takers are unlikely to have an easy time in a country with a deep suspicion of government officials and a large floating population of migrant workers who keep irregular hours and may live in temporary accommodation. Census-takers will have the right to ask police for help if residents repeatedly refuse to answer questions, the Beijing News reported.
Last week, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang called for people to cooperate in the exercise, saying such information was vital for national economic and social policy.
Green banners encouraging people to participate festoon Beijing, in a departure from the usual red public propaganda banners, and text messages have been sent out asking people to "cooperate in accordance with the law." The government has tried to reassure its people that the information will be confidential, but suspicion still abounds.
"What you are looking for is all written in the household registration book, so go ahead to check that -- there's no need to do a census at all," wrote one user on the Chinese property website www.anjia.com. "Who dares tell the truth to a government which lacks public credibility and has a bad reputation?" the person added.
There are tips circulating online about how to avoid talking to the census-takers. "When they knock on your door, open it, ask why they have come, reply you are not available today and ask them to make an appointment. Then close the door," reads one such tip.
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.