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Chinese latest population map: secrets behind strongest population magnet and unexpected outflow
Emerging industries, moderately easy policies, narrowing wage gaps, fertility intentions and pandemic impact may account for the population change among various provinces and cities.
For the past 2022, the population in the Chinese mainland recorded negative growth for the first time in 61 years, according to data released by China's National Statistics Bureau at the beginning of 2023. This overall trend in China has also been deeply related to population mobility among provinces. With the continuous release of population data from various regions, China's latest population map is gradually clear.
The following article was published on April 20 in China Newsweek, China's renowned periodical providing extensive reports on current affairs and political news. Based on the latest Chinese population data, it offers a window into the factors accounting for population growth and decline among various provinces.
Here are some highlights:
So far, among the 31 provincial-level administrative regions in China (excluding Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan), 18 provinces in China experienced a growth in permanent resident population, while 13 provinces decreased.
In terms of the total population of permanent residents, Guangdong, Shandong, and Henan are still the top three provinces in the country, but they all experienced a decline in 2022.
East China's Zhejiang province has become the province with the highest increase in permanent population for the second consecutive year nationwide, while southern China's Guangdong province, which has been the leader in permanent population growth for many years, has declined in 2022.
Many experts attribute the decrease in Guangdong's permanent resident population to the short-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers also analyzed that the wage gap between labor forces in inland provinces and coastal provinces is narrowing, and the return of labor force from inland areas has become an important influencing factor in population changes in various regions.
It is analyzed that the strong population magnet of Zhejiang is closely related to the attractiveness of the Yangtze River Delta economy, and the population often follows industry migration. The emerging industries of the digital economy and the relatively relaxed household registration policy in Hangzhou (the capital of Zhejiang province) attract a large number of young people to settle down there.
While the public tends to think of first-tier cities and southeastern coastal cities as strong population magnets, developed central and western provincial capitals such as Changsha, Hefei, Xi'an, Wuhan, and Nanchang have had a significant increase in their population inflows in 2022. Many insiders believe that the "price warp" effect of Changsha in central China's Hunan Province is kicking in. Hefei, often hailed as the "No.1 venture capital city", is not only home to leading semiconductor companies, but also collaborates with top-tier new energy automobile companies, and these emerging industries are now drawing in a large influx of migrant residents.
Data from the Seventh National Population Census show that the fertility rate in China is higher in the south than in the north, and higher in the west than in the east, which is basically in line with the natural population growth rate, and to a certain extent reflects the difference in fertility intentions between different regions.
Experts believed it was better to analyze fertility intentions through people's attitudes towards fertility, i.e. the culture of fertility, than to look from the economic perspective. Upon closer inspection, the eleven provinces with positive natural growth rates have more positive attitudes towards fertility in their traditional cultures, regardless of their level of economic development. As a result, the expert argued, the current fertility support policy should focus more on devising a new fertility culture other than trimming down on the economic costs of childbirth.
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1) Permanent resident population: increase in 18 provinces, fall in 13 provinces
[GRR's note: The figure has been updated and completed by including data from Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Tibet Autonomous Region, according to Jiemian]
In 2022, 18 provinces and regions in China experienced a growth in permanent resident population, while 13 provinces and regions experienced a decline. The 18 provinces and regions with positive population growth were Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Hubei, Anhui, Fujian, Shanxi, Chongqing, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Guangxi, Jiangxi, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Ningxia.
The 13 provinces and regions with negative population growth were Guangdong, Beijing, Shandong, Tianjin, Henan, Shanghai, Hunan, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Xinjiang, Liaoning, Jilin, and Tibet.
China's three northeastern provinces (Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang) all experienced population outflow.
Data shows that in 2022, Liaoning saw a decrease of 324,000 in its permanent resident population, the largest decline among all the provinces. Jilin and Heilongjiang saw decreases of 276,800 and 260,000, respectively, resulting in a total decline of 860,800 in the three provinces' permanent resident population.
The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in north China saw a drop of over 400,000 in its permanent resident population, with Beijing decreasing by 43,000 compared to the end of the previous year, Tianjin decreasing by 100,000, and Hebei decreasing by 280,000.
Unexpectedly, south China's Guangdong Province experienced an outflow of permanent resident population in 2022.
In previous years, Guangdong's permanent resident population had been increasing. In 2021, it still increased by 600,000, but in 2022 it declined by 272,000.
However, it is also worth noting that Guangdong's natural population growth rate in 2022 remained positive, with 1.052 million births and a natural population growth of 422,000, making Guangdong the only province in China with a birth population exceeding one million, earning it the title of the province with the highest birth rate in the country.
Based on this, many experts attribute the decrease in Guangdong's permanent resident population to the short-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many years, the number of permanent residents in Guangdong has far exceeded the registered population, with 27.37 million non-local residents in Guangdong at the end of 2021. However, during the period of statistics survey on the permanent population at the end of last year, many people from other provinces who came to Guangdong for work returned to their hometowns due to the impact of the pandemic.
The Guangdong Statistical Bureau pointed out that in 2022, the floating population from other provinces to Guangdong decreased by 692,000, which was a temporary phenomenon of non-local residents returning to their hometowns under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic prevalent in Guangdong in 2022.
And indeed, after this year's Spring Festival, a large-scale population return to Guangdong was shown according to data from China's three major telecommunications operators. In addition, real-time migration map data from Baidu showed that Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan, and Dongguan (major cities in Guangdong province) were also among the top ten popular destinations for migration in the country.
It is also noteworthy that in 2022, the populous provinces of Anhui, Hubei, Jiangxi, and Sichuan, which were previously known for exporting labor, all saw positive population growth in terms of permanent residents, with increases of 140,000, 140,000, 105,800, and 20,000 respectively.
Wang Guangzhou, a researcher at the Institute of Population and Labor Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), once wrote that this is closely related to the trend of the labor force returning to their hometowns.
Wang analyzed that the wage gap between labor forces in inland provinces and coastal provinces is narrowing, and the return of labor force from inland areas has become an important influencing factor in population changes in various regions. Moreover, he added that despite the pandemic direct influence, the decrease in the permanent resident population of Guangdong is also related to this overall trend. The younger generations born in the 1990s and 2000s now tend to choose local employment rather than long-distance interprovincial employment.
2) Zhejiang province: the strongest population magnet
In 2022, east China's Zhejiang province once again took the top spot nationwide with the largest increase in its permanent resident population.
[GRR's note: The original chart is made by Guominjinglue 国民经略 ("state strategies"), a WeChat blog with a particular focus on prefectural and provincial development in China. Then GRR edited and translated it to be updated and more readable for English readers.]
It is shown that by the end of 2022, the resident population of Zhejiang was 65.77 million, an increase of 370,000 compared to the end of 2021 with 65.40 million, according to data released by the Zhejiang Provincial Bureau of Statistics.
In 2021, Zhejiang already had the highest increase of 720,000 in its permanent population nationwide.
Considering that the natural population growth in Zhejiang in 2022 was only 3,000, the vast majority of the increase in permanent population of 370,000 came from net inflow of people from other provinces.
Then what makes Zhejiang so attractive?
Wang Guangzhou believes that this is closely related to the attractiveness of the Yangtze River Delta economy as the population often follows industry migration.
In 2022, Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, as one of the cities that passed the trillion-yuan GDP benchmark, had an incremental resident population of 172,000.
In recent years, Hangzhou, as a leading city in the digital economy, has continuously achieved cluster development in strategic emerging industries such as big data, high-end software, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, network communication, and integrated circuits.
In Wang's view, these emerging industries in Hangzhou have driven the settlement of the upstream and downstream enterprises of the industrial chain, thus attracting a large number of young people to settle and develop in Hangzhou.
In addition, Hangzhou's household registration policy is relatively relaxed among first- and second-tier cities. Recently, Hangzhou announced that graduates with a college degree under the age of 35 who are employed in Hangzhou can apply for household registration in the urban area. And the household registration conditions for urban areas in Tonglu County, Chun'an County, and Jiande City have been completely liberalized.
Along with relying on emerging industries to attract the workforce, Zhejiang also has another approach to population attraction.
"Against the background of various policies in China to attract investment and talent in high-end industries, Zhejiang as a whole, especially Jinhua, uses its own industrial and commercial system, focusing on ordinary industries and talents to attract young people for employment," said Cao Rongqing, a professor at the School of Economics and Management, Zhejiang Normal University, in an interview with China Newsweek.
In Cao's view, although this Jinhua-like model may not seem "high-end" or even relatively "low-end" to some people, it has effectively absorbed a large number of the employed population, which is of much practical significance in the current social focus on the underemployment of college graduates.
East China's Jiangsu Province, which is also part of the Yangtze River Delta region like Zhejiang, had a resident population growth of 100,000 in 2022.
It is to be noted that the natural population growth rate in Jiangsu was -1.81 per thousand, with the number of deaths exceeding the number of births in 2022. And in fact, Jiangsu had a net population inflow of 254,000 from other provinces in 2022.
3) Flying colors of Changsha and Hefei
Major cities of China have disclosed permanent resident population figures as well.
While the public tends to think of first-tier cities and southeastern coastal cities as the strongest population magnets, developed central and western provincial capitals such as Changsha, Hefei, Xi'an, Wuhan, and Nanchang have had a significant increase in their population inflows in 2022.
In 2022, Changsha ranks first among the 24 cities that have passed the trillion-yuan GDP benchmark with an incremental resident population of 181,300. In addition, Hangzhou (172,000), Hefei (169,000), Xi'an (122,900) and Wuhan (90,100) ranked second to fifth in terms of population increment respectively.
Many insiders believe that the "price warp" effect of Changsha in central China's Hunan Province is kicking in. [GRR's note: That is to say, the home prices of Changsha have been lower than the surrounding areas, creating a focal point of investment and immigration.]
Changsha, in recent years, has stood in sharp contrast with many cities that have been interviewed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) over "housing speculation". Changsha is known as the "impossible place for housing speculators" and received public acclaim by the MOHURD's work brief, in an article titled "Changsha implements its main responsibility to steadily implement a long-term mechanism for the stable and healthy development of the real estate market", December 2020.
Changsha's home prices averaged around 10,000 yuan at the beginning of 2023, ranking outside the top 60 in the country and falling behind many ordinary counties in eastern China.
Changsha's GDP, however, was around 1.39 trillion yuan in 2022 with a 4.5 percent year-on-year increase, ranking as one of the top growers among major cities. Currently, Changsha has 85 A-share listed companies, the highest number in central China.
Apart from Changsha, the permanent resident population of Hefei in east China's Anhui Province increased by 169,000 in 2022, which is also an impressive result.
Hefei, often hailed as the "No.1 venture capital city", is not only home to leading semiconductor companies such as Changxin Memory Technologies (CXMT) and Jinghe Integrated Circuit, but also collaborates with top-tier new energy automobile companies such as BYD and NIO.
These emerging industries are now drawing in a large influx of migrant residents.
According to the 2023 Hefei government work report, in 2022, Hefei introduced 127 teams of high-level talents, attracted 55,000 highly skilled talents, and for the first time, recruited more than 300,000 university graduates.
4) The natural population growth rate: factors behind the population increase in eleven provinces
[GRR's note: The following is an excerpt from a report by Jiemian.com that dives into the demographic trends of China.]
The natural population growth rate is determined by the difference between birth and death rates. According to He Yafu, an expert in demography, data from the Seventh National Population Census show that the fertility rate in China is higher in the south than in the north, and higher in the west than in the east, which is basically in line with the natural population growth rate, and to a certain extent reflects the difference in fertility intentions between different regions.
Among the 31 provinces that had disclosed population figures at the time of writing, the three northeastern provinces have the lowest natural growth rate, with Heilongjiang (lowest of the country) at -5.75 per thousand, Liaoning at -4.96 per thousand, and Jilin at -4.07 per thousand.
The 11 provinces and regions with positive natural population growth rates are Guangdong, Zhejiang, Hainan, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Qinghai, Ningxia, Tibet, Xinjiang and Guizhou. Tibet Autonomous Region had the highest natural growth rate at 8.76 per thousand, followed by Ningxia Autonomous Region at 4.41 per thousand. It is noteworthy that the natural population growth in Guangdong remained as high as 3.33 per thousand, despite a relatively large decrease in permanent resident population.
It is said that "development is the best contraceptive" - the higher the level of economic development, the lower the fertility intentions. Yet it doesn't seem to be entirely consistent with the reality of 2022. Nor can it explain why fertility rates are generally higher in southern China than in the north.
He Yafu said that the relationship between the level of economic development and fertility intentions is complex and cannot be simply assumed to be positively or negatively correlated. There are many factors that affect fertility, and if one were to analyze the relationship between economic level and fertility intentions, one would need to find two regions that are otherwise identical, with only different income levels, in order to conduct a reliable study. But in reality, it is difficult to find such cases.
However, he cited a 2013 case study co-authored by Dan A. Black, professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, that looks into the people living in the Appalachian coalfields of the U.S. (which include counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia) in the mid-1970s. The communities experienced an energy price surge at the time, resulting in higher earnings in males from coal-rich counties. By studying the correlation between income and fertility intentions in counties with different coal reserves, researchers found that the higher male earnings in coal-rich counties were, the higher fertility rates. The findings also show that a 10 percent increase in income led to an 8 percent increase in the birth rate. This challenges the old belief that rich people have fewer children and that the poor have more offspring.
Natural population growth rates in 30 provinces. Data unavailable for Tianjin Municipality.
He Yafu believed it was better to analyze fertility intentions through people's attitudes towards fertility, i.e. the culture of fertility, than to look from the economic perspective. Upon closer inspection, the eleven provinces with positive natural growth rates have more positive attitudes towards fertility in their traditional cultures, regardless of their level of economic development.
As a long-time resident of Zhanjiang, south China's Guangdong Province, He Yafu explained how the traditional family-focused culture that asserts "more children, more blessings" is especially preserved in Guangdong province. Ancestral halls are ubiquitous, said He, and in Zhanjiang's rural areas, the annual "Nianli Festival", which is the equivalent of a village birthday, is even more lavishly celebrated than the Chinese New Year. Almost all rural families in Zhanjiang have two children.
Compared with those living in China's inland regions, people in Guangdong have retained a higher level of fertility intentions. In 2022, 1.052 million children were born in Guangdong province, with a birth rate of 8.30 per thousand. Guangdong has been the only province with more than one million births for three consecutive years, and has been the number one province in terms of fertility for five consecutive years. The birthrate in Guangdong is still fundamentally solid.
Another demographic expert explained that Guangdong, the pioneer of reform and opening up, used to have different family-planning policies. The two-child policy had been in place in rural Guangdong until 1998, and was replaced by the one-and-a-half-child policy (i.e. a second child is allowed if the first child is a girl). Consequently, the birthrate in Guangdong has always stayed in high places. In addition, the "Chaoshan culture" peculiar to Guangdong also places greater emphasis on family and progeny.
In east China's Zhejiang province, where the private economy has been more developed than the rest of the country, the rise of the "Wenzhou Model", [Li Qiang, China's new premier, is also from Wenzhou] where the family business passes to an heir, ushers in higher fertility intentions. In other provinces, however, the traditional fertility culture of "more children, more blessings" has made a radical U-turn. As a result, the expert argued, the current fertility support policy should focus more on devising a new fertility culture other than trimming down on the economic costs of childbirth.
Demographic research has shown that the change in fertility attitudes among Chinese people is related to a variety of factors, including the age structure of the population and the urban-rural structure, said the expert, and that there are stages that regions undergo in their attitude shift. Northeast China is ten to fifteen years ahead of the whole country, and Han nationality areas are ten to fifteen years ahead of those inhabited by ethnic minorities. The available data so far is largely in line with this trend.
Data provided by the Ningxia Autonomous Region Bureau of Statistics show that the permanent resident population of Ningxia has reached 7.28 million in 2022, an increase of 30,000 over the previous year, with a natural growth rate of 4.41 per thousand. The growth rate of the past decade in the Ningxia Autonomous Region has also been higher than the national rate. According to the Seventh National Population Census, the permanent resident population of Ningxia is 7.2 million, an increase of 14.3 percent compared to the sixth census. This stands in contrast to a national growth rate of only 5.38 percent in the same time period.
In 1984, "No. 7 Central Document" of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and State Council stipulated that for ethnic minorities with a population of less than 10 million, a couple could have two children, and in certain cases, three children. Officials from the Ningxia Autonomous Region Bureau of Statistics explained that the higher proportion of ethnic minorities, the higher proportion of people having two children during the one-child era, and the stronger willingness of people to have children are the contributing factors to the high natural population growth rate in Ningxia.
He Yafu pointed out that the high natural population growth rate in some western provinces is not the result of poverty. Mostly ethnic provinces, these regions were less subject to the one-child policy, and thus have maintained ethnic traditions that value fertility and progeny. Enditem
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