Unveiling China's True Population Statistics for the Pre-Modern Era with Official Census Data

Opinions have long been divided as to what the actual size of China's population was in the past and how it fluctuated over time. When trying to make sense of pre-modern Chinese population dynamics, most scholars have been forced to resort to crude estimates or mere guesses. More often than not, these estimates/guesses do not agree with each other. The margin of disagreement can be as great as a half of the population. As a result, statistics related to China's pre-modern population situation are marked by confusion and inaccuracies. Even though these estimates/guesses have become increasingly sophisticated over time, they are unsupported by China's own census records. As a consequence, they are untrustworthy.

By utilizing China's real-time, adjusted dynastic official censuses to obtain a clearer and more accurate picture of China's pre-modern population dynamics, the present research represents a departure from the typical methodological approach to the subject. Specifically, instead of avoiding the official data, this research tackles head on the seeming inconsistencies in China's official censuses by investigating the institutional reasons for the disparities in the form of different taxation policies implemented by various regimes over the long run. In order to control the influence caused by taxation policies on China's censuses, adjustments, minimal in nature, are made. The result is a consistent set of population data for the entire period of 2 A.D. throughout 1911. This is a breakthrough.

A main task of this research is the vigorous testing of the accuracy of China's pre-modern official censuses. The tests strongly indicate that the census-based series are fundamentally sound: institutionally, economically, sociologically and biologically (i.e., in terms of human reproductive parameters). The conclusion is that Chinese official census data are actually more accurate and reliable than all the modern-day estimates or guesses.

This research sheds new light on how China's population grew and fluctuated. It also indicates how pre-modern Chinese society functioned, and how its economy performed over time.