China Beat Archive



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November 3, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright 2010. Used by permission.


On Monday, China’s decennial census began, sending six million census workers door-to-door in a quest to record and count the country’s population over the course of only ten days. A key issue in this census, according to some observers, will be placing China’s population in terms of place of residence. One thing analysts are waiting to find out, for example, is how many citizens of the PRC are described as living in cities rather than villages, as this census, which comes after a period of massive rural-to-urban migration, is supposed to describe where people physically live and work, not their official place of residence, which is still a village for many urban factory workers. This was not the primary concern of the census takers of the early 1950s. For them, a different kind of placing of the population—into ethnic categories—was a bigger issue, or at least turned out to be an especially complicated one. Here, in two excerpts from his brand-new bookComing to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (UC Press), Tom Mullaney explains why the Communist Party sought to conduct this ethnic classification project, and how the 1953-54 census made this a particularly difficult task.