China has begun counting its people. The exercise, held every 10 years, involves enormous use of manpower, financial resources and administrative planning. The door-to-door data-collection will employ 6 million census data collectors. In Beijing alone, 100,000 will be summoned to the mission, and, for the first time, it will be joined by volunteers fluent in foreign languages, mostly college students.
Because of their growing numbers in the country, China decided for the first time to include foreigners and people from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, who live, work or study in the Chinese mainland in the 2010 census. However, in compiling the demographic data, there are several problems which may pose challenges for China.
A key problem involves the migrant populations, which China is trying to accommodate with new census mechanisms such as using separate questionnaires and additional training for data collectors. Cities like Shanghai and Beijing have a large number of expatriates. As local government policies may have different objectives for foreign and domestic residents, future policies for city populations need to factor in expatriates, whose number will need to be accurately assessed.
In addition, it is critical to distinguish between urban and rural residents. Relaxations in the house registration (hukou) system have allowed considerable internal migration within China. This has implications for social insurance. In order for local governments to decide whether social security benefits will be similar for both set of residents, they will need to assess the number of temporary residents.