China Population 2017
India, the next largest country, has 120 million fewer people, for a population of 1.28 billion. The United States, the third largest country in the world, has a much smaller population of 323 million. Estimates show that India will pass China as the most populous nation in the world in the next couple decades.
Unfortunately, there is some confusion around the question of how many people live in China. That's because it is a country of several different parts, not all of which are governed by Beijing.
To understand China's population and demographics, it helps to understand its government a bit. The People's Republic of China (PRC) is governed by the Communist Party with its seat of government in Beijing, which exercises jurisdiction over 5 autonomous regions, 22 provinces, 4 direct-controlled municipalities and 2 primarily self-governing special administrative regions (Macau and Hong Kong). The PRC also claims Taiwan, which is controlled by a separate political entity called the Republic of China (ROC) as its 23rd province. This makes population figures a bit confusing.
The figure quoted at the top of this article, for example, doesn’t include the island of Taiwan, which the PRC claims as a part of China. Nor does it include the former British and Portugese colonies of Hong Kong and Macau, which are governed as special administrative regions.
China Population Density
As a whole, China has an estimated population density of 145 people per square kilometer, or 375 people per square mile. This ranks 81st, despite the country itself being one of the largest in terms of size and the largest in terms of population.
The density figures change dramatically when you look at the largest urban areas, however. Shanghai, the largest city in the country and the world, has a population density of 3,800 people per square kilometer, or 9,900 people per square mile.
A few of China's cities make the list of the top 30 most densely populated cities in the world, although most on the list are in India, the Philippines, France and other countries. Hong Kong is the 8th most densely populated city in the world, with 68,400 people per square mile. Macau follows behind as the 9th most densely populated, with a density of 65,400 people per square mile. Macau tops the list of sovereign states and dependent territories in terms of population density. Despite this tightly packed area, it still has the second highest life expectancy in the world and remains one of the few areas in Asia to receive a "very high Human Development Index" ranking.
China is classified as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank, and its rapid growth over the decades has pulled hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty. About 10% of the population in the country lives on $1 USD a day, compared to 64% just 35 years ago.
Although 56 different ethnic groups are officially recognized in China, 91.51% of Chinese are Han Chinese. Only one other group – Zhuang – has a larger than 1% share of the population. Other ethnic groups are growing at a higher rate than Han Chinese, but because of the massive dominance of Han Chinese, this is not expected to dramatically alter China’s ethnic composition.
China is officially an atheist state, and doesn’t survey its people on their religion. Because of this, no accurate figures regarding religious demographics are available. China's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, although any religious organization without official approval faces state persecution. A survey taken in China showed that 85% of Chinese residents have some religious beliefs, while just 15% consider themselves to be atheists.
Chinese culture and civilization has been influenced by many religious movements over the past 1,000 years, and Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism are considered the country's "Three Teachings" based on their cultural and historical impact. China has also seen an interesting syncing of these three religions in the form of a folk religion that is common throughout the country.
About 3% of the population is Islamic, with a Christian population estimated to be about 5%. According to some sources, Christianity could represent as much as 20% of China's population by 2025. Buddhism is practiced by 10 to 18% of Chinese residents, while over 30% practice local folk religions.
China's Population History
China has had a rocky population history, littered with war, famine, and natural disasters. Five of the nine most deadly wars took place in China, killing an estimated total of over 123 million people. The most deadly was the Three Kingdoms period (220AD - 280AD), where an estimated 40 million people died from war, famine, and disease. In 1850, a man named Hong Xiuquan led a rebellion to try to create the "Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping." By proclaiming himself to be the younger brother of Jesus, he grew his following to between 10,000 and 30,000 followers, and by late 1850 they controlled over a third of China. During the 15 years of the rebellion, an estimated 20-30 million people died, primarily due to plague and famine.
China's Growth Problems
The size of China's population has long been a hot political issue in China. After rapid population growth in the middle of the 20th century, the Chinese government sought to limit population growth by introducting the famous "one child policy."
The scheme, which rewarded couples that agreed to have just one child with cash bonuses and better access to housing, proved so successful that the birth rate of 1.4 children per woman fell below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. As a result, experts are now concerned that China’s low birth rate, combined with its aging population, will damage it’s future economic development.
The one child policy was met with a great deal of resistance, particularly in rural areas. Families who breach this policy tend to lie on census polls, so the true population of China may be a bit skewed. This means that Chinese population statistics have become less reliable since the policy began in the 1970s. The policy was ended by the Chinese government in 2016.
Much of China’s economic growth has been attributed to its abundant and cheap workforce, combined with its low social costs. With the number of young Chinese falling and the number of elderly Chinese increasing, it is not certain whether China’s economy can continue to grow at the same rapid rate.
China also has an abnormal ratio of male to female births. Whereas in most countries more girls are born than boys, in China the reverse is true. Many suspect that this is because of a preference for boys among Chinese families.