China Census Makes People Wary, Reticent

November 14, 2010 10:06 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 6:30 pm

Chinese had doubts about the sixth census. The photo shows an advertisement for the census on a Beijing street.  (Getty Images)
Chinese had doubts about the sixth census. The photo shows an advertisement for the census on a Beijing street. (Getty Images)
Is it a national census or a property investigation? Chinese were asking themselves that and other questions this month during the PRC’s sixth national census. Some of the sensitive questions that people were reluctant to answer dealt with houses, number of babies, and occupations.

And some people would not even open their doors.

“Sometimes I waited for a long time downstairs until I see a light go on,” a census worker from Changchun said. “When I went up to the apartment, the light had been turned off. The people would not open no matter how much I knocked. People really want to protect themselves.”

Zhang, a resident in Beijing, said: “We didn’t open our door for the census workers. Who knows if they are real? Since they are temporary employees, who can guarantee their quality?”

Most census workers felt the task could be particularly difficult with the monied classes.

Li, from Shanghai, told The Epoch Times: “When I was filling out the form given me by the census workers, they began to ask me how many houses I owned and how big they were. I protested and asked them whether they came to do the census or to investigate my properties.”

Census worker Wen Zhibin from Guangzhou said: “When we asked people whether they had more than one house, most of them said no,” adding that insiders in the statistics bureau make the striking claim that 40 percent of city residents have a second property.

Personal Probing Expected

The sixth census questionnaire asks for new information compared to the one ten years ago. Though people heard on the news that they could refuse to answer, Jia Jing, a census worker in Chengdu, thinks differently: “We are expected to collect information on the number of houses [people own] and their rent prices.”

It is the same with occupations. In the view of Zhang Ling, a census worker from Guangzhou, people feel that the census questions are a bit too close to home, and are “reluctant to share details.”

Another census taker, Chai, was often told, “Work and personal information are private and we are unable to disclose it to you,” adding, “Many refused to disclose personal information and some even protested.”

The trend shows a growing awareness of personal rights among the Chinese people, according to a census worker from Beijing.

The sixth census began on Nov. 1 and ended on Nov. 10. There were over six million census workers who had to visit over 400 million households. The result of the census will be published in April 2011.

Sensitive Questions on Births

According to Wen, the questionnaire asks women how many deliveries they had and how many children are still at home. Some people reacted negatively. “We have to explain over and over that this is only a census and does not involve fines. Still, many refuse to answer,” said Wen.

Liu, member of a residents’ committee in Liaoning, says that the census by itself can uncover births that exceed the legal limit (which is often one), but it is hard: “We do not have the statistics yet. We can’t just go ahead and collect such information.”

Liu said some even refuse to give out their names. “This happened to young girls from out of town who worry about their safety. They are part of the floating population and don’t want others to know too much about them.”

Wen said that one time he saw a house with the lights on and heard people inside, but when he knocked on the door and identified himself, a person in the house simply looked at him through a peephole. “There is nothing I can do if the person refuses to open the door.”

Reda the original Chinese article