Why China’s census is doomed to failure
It’s nice to know that even native Chinese speakers can have issues with tones. Here’s a Chinese joke that’s simple enough for first-year language students to get (and good practice!), and demonstrates what can happen when you don’t get your tones right (via John at Sinosplice — see his blog post for the English translation).
And remember, kids, some tones change when spoken in combination. In this case 一口 is pronounced “yì kǒu”, 几口 is pronounced “jí kǒu”, 不是 is pronounced “bú shì” and 不会 is “bú huì”.
Haha, I wonder how much China’s tonal languages will skew the census data.
The census people have made a few trips to our apartment already for preregistering and triple-checking and stuff like that. Day before yesterday they finally came with the actual questions, wanting to know our names, birth dates, purpose in China, amount of time in China, education level and nationalities. They were nice. Chinese folks, of course, get a different, longer set of questions. All the information we gave ‘they’ already have; I’m not sure why they don’t just go check at the visa records. Other people we know, however, are taking advantage of the census to get their second (and in one case, third) child registered without having to pay the fine.
Anyway, census signage has been up around town for a while now. Here’s the one in our neighbourhood:
“Each citizen is a part of the census”
měigè gōngmín dōu shì rénkǒu pǔchá yī fènzǐ
They have to emphasize that everyone counts because there are large segments of the population who are inclined to avoid being counted, especially technically-illegal migrant workers and their children, and people who have violated the One Child Policy by having more than one child. Apparently the government has said that there won’t be any negative consequences for these kinds of people — obviously they need to be counted for the government to have an accurate idea of the population — but people aren’t necessarily so trusting.