The Los Angeles Times takes a look at the difficulties — including privacy concerns — faced by China in its first census since 2000. (Last month, we highlighted a report on this by the Associated Press.)
In an effort to tally China’s staggering migrant population, estimated at more than 200 million, census takers are seeking to count people where they live, rather than at the homes where they have their hukous, or residency permits. Until a decade ago, people who had moved to big cities without permits could be arrested and deported.
Census takers have also offered stronger assurances this time that the information they collect will remain confidential. Data on family planning, taxes, landownership and residency permits are all, at least in theory, kept private by the census. […]
Difficulties in getting information are sometimes even greater in wealthy neighborhoods than in poor ones. A Chinese journalist who went out with census takers during a preliminary census in August reported that only one resident opened the door in a posh gated community of 39 villas in the suburbs of Beijing. Often nobody answered even though people could be seen behind closed curtains.
“The rich worry more about their privacy. They may have second or third homes or mistresses they’re hiding away,” said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at Renmin University. “But it’s true of ordinary people as well; they’re not willing to cooperate with the government the way they used to in the old China.” […]
Census methods have varied by location. Millions in Beijing received Short Message Service communications on their cellphones instructing them to cooperate. In some neighborhoods, census takers have offered towels or shopping bags as token gifts to coax people into answering the questions. Elsewhere, census takers have been allowed to call in the police if residents refuse to answer the door.