China in Transition

If China were a Village of Just 100 People

Chi Hung KWAN
Consulting Fellow, RIETI

As of 2000, the population of China stood at 1.2583 billion.

If we were to shrink the country and transform it into a village with just 100 inhabitants, then the population of the entire world would be 470 people. A mere ten people of the global village would be Japanese.

At least, one out of every five people would be Chinese. This preponderant figure alone often determines, at any given time and place, whether China is lauded for its boundless promise or looms as a potentially powerful threat.

Of the 100 dwellers in the Chinese village, 52 are men and 48 are women-or 1.08 men to every woman. In Japan the inverse is true, with 0.96 men to every woman. China's gender ratio apparently indicates that the Confucian ethic of preferring male offspring rather than females remains alive and well.

Although China is a nation composed of diverse ethnic groups, the overwhelming majority of inhabitants are Han Chinese. A mere eight residents of the Chinese village are minorities; the rest are Han.

Geographically, 42 of the 100 inhabit China's littoral region, while the rest reside on the remaining land, which consists of 86 percent of the country-a graphic illustration that the population is concentrated in the coastal areas.

A little over one-third of the Chinese are city-dwellers; 64 people live in rural areas. As the adage goes, one can never truly understand China if one does not understand its farmers. By and large, China remains a vast agricultural nation.

A breakdown by age group shows that 23 of the village's inhabitants are between the ages of 0 to 14, and 70 are in an age bracket comprised of 15- to 64-year-olds; seven are 65 and over. In contrast, if Japan were a village of 100, then 18 people are at or over the age of 65. While Japan may appear to be encumbered by a large elderly population compared to China, a pall lies over the latter's future. First, there exists a significant pool of pre-senior citizens; and secondly, the government's single-child policy has reduced the number of Chinese youth. These two factors virtually ensure that the "graying" of Chinese society is inevitable.

An examination of schooling in China reveals a major gap between primary education and higher learning, a matter that must be addressed in the years to come. Of the Chinese aged 6 or over that received an education:

  • 38 graduated from elementary school
  • 36 were graduates of middle school
  • 12 graduated from high school
  • 4 had received an education at the college level or higher
  • 2 attended literacy class
  • 8 had never received any schooling

If the Chinese society was to be demographically differentiated into ten categories, then

  • 2.1 out of 100 people in the Chinese village would belong to the class of national and social leadership
  • 1.5 would have executive management positions
  • 0.6 would manage their own companies
  • 5.1 would be professionally trained personnel, including engineers
  • 4.8 would have clerical jobs
  • 4.2 would be shop owners
  • 12 would be employees of shops
  • 22.6 would work for the industrial sector
  • 44 would belong to the agricultural sector
  • 3.1 people would be partially employed, jobless or recently fired

Two decades have passed since China instituted reforms and liberalization measures, during which Chinese society has begun to exhibit fundamental changes. A recent study on China's social transformation conducted by the publicly-funded Chinese Academy of Social Sciences broke new ground by no longer utilizing the previous classifications based on political, family or bureaucratic status; it instead featured for the first time the ten classifications mentioned above.

March 15, 2002

March 15, 2002