PKonweb Report — For years, we’ve been led to believe that China was the most populous nation in the world. But this week a Chinese academic sparked widespread discussion around the world by making a bold claim — that China’s official population estimates were wrong and in fact India was now the world’s largest country.
This potentially radical suggestion was made Monday by Yi Fuxian, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, during an event at China’s Peking University.
According to the South China Morning Post, Yi suggested that China had only 378 million new births from 1991 to 2016, far less than the official figure of 465 million. This meant that China’s official population estimate, currently at 1.38 billion, was wrong, Yi said. Instead it should have been 90 million lower.
That would make it 1.29 billion, and lower than India’s estimated 1.32 billion population, according to Yi.
If Yi was right, the implications would certainly be big. Not only would it mean that India had already overtaken China as the world’s largest nation — something the United Nations had estimated to happen in 2022 — but that China’s population growth slowdown was worse than many thought and being hidden from the public.
Yi told Washington Post he had already noted his belief that China’s official estimates were wrong in the 2013 edition of his book, “Big Country with an Empty Nest,” which took a critical look at China’s family-planning policies.
The academic had moved to the United States in 1999. After moving to take up graduate studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Yi quickly became a vocal critic of China’s family-planning policies, including its “one-child” rule.
“In 2003, I knew China official announcement population data is much higher than the real population,” Yi said.
In his writings, Yi suggested that these policies were limiting China’s economic growth, meaning it could never compete with the United States. He also suggested that China could soon have a negative birthrate and a declining population, like its neighbor Japan. China’s aging population is also rapidly growing, and faster than the U.S.
According to the South China Morning Post, a number of other academics at Monday’s Peking University Event seemed to concur that the government figures were off. “The government has overestimated the birthrate and underestimated the speed of demographic changes,” Li Jianxin, a demographer at Peking University was quoted as saying.
Yong Cai, a demography expert at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said the fact that people were talking seriously about Chinese government data represented a major shift.