The Great China Census of 2010: we done got counted, and a Chinese census joke

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).

人口普查员: “请问您家里是几口人?”
“是一口人。”
“十一口?”
“不是十一口,而是一口人。”
“二十一口?”
“不是二十一口,其实一口人。”
“七十一口?不会吧?”
“ 不是七十一口,就是一口人!”
“ 九十一口?”
“ 对,就是一口人。”

And remember, kids, some tones change when spoken in combination. In this case 一口 is pronounced “yì kÇ’u”, 几口 is pronounced “jí kÇ’u”, 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.

We count!
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”
每个公民都是人口普查一分子
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.

3 thoughts on “The Great China Census of 2010: we done got counted, and a Chinese census joke”

  1. the census lady came by the other day. I insisted I wasn’t Chinese, and hence, am irrelevant. She asked me to sign on the dotted line, and promised me she’d ‘fill in the rest’…

    Looking forward to those wildly accurate Census statistics

    1. ha, I wonder what she’ll put in the blanks. It’s not like all that information isn’t at the local 派出所,and if not there, and the visa office. whether or not the census people have access to it, or care to bother accessing it even if they can, is another question.

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