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In 1993 China’s population was reckoned to be 1,178,400,000, which made it the most heavily populated country in the world with a fifth of the world’s population. The same set of statistics revealed that there were 123 Chinese per, a figure which had risen by 18 since 1982.

The proportion of males to females, which in the past had shown a surplus of males, had evened out somewhat to 52% males and 48% females.

The age structure of the Chinese population can be summarised as follows: 27% of the population are under 15, 66% between 15 and 64 and 7% 65 and above.

The population of China has risen dramatically in recent decades. In 1911, the population stood at a mere 374 million, in 1953, 582 million and 962 million in 1978.

Overpopulation is a historical phenomenon for China. On the one hand, it compensates for the shortage of productive capital resources, but on the other hand technical and industrial progress is held back and average income stays at very low levels. In the past, war and natural catastrophes have restricted population growth, but since 1949 living conditions have improved, mortality rates have dropped considerably and at the same time birth rates have risen.

The response of the Chinese government in the late 1950s to the alarming growth in population and its effect on the economy was to impose a birth control policy in which the legal age of marriage was raised to 25 for women and 28 for men. Various contraception methods were officially encouraged, abortion was legalised and voluntary sterilisation promoted. But a rural farming society such as the Chinese with low levels of education had difficulty accepting and applying the recommended measures. Taboos and long-standing customs were obstinately adhered to. Married couples did not stop having children and in the rural areas it was still regarded as a social and economic drawback not to have any sons. The higher proportion of men – an unusual contrast with most other countries – seems to have come about as the result of an ancient custom (still common in rural areas) of drowning girls at birth. Girls are regarded as unproductive and socially inferior. The government policy introduced at the beginning of the 1970s-and pursued with more vigour in the 1980s-allows one child per couple in the towns and two in the country. Married couples are

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