The China Quarterly

Research Note

Underreporting of Births and Infant Deaths in Rural China: Evidence from Field Research in One County of Northern China

M. Giovanna Merli


Between the beginning of the 1950s and the early 1970s, China, like many other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, experienced rapid population growth. This was due mainly to a dramatic mortality decline not offset by any decline in the birth rate. In 1970, China had a crude birth rate of 33.43 (per 1,000), a crude death rate of 7.60 (per 1,000) and a rate of natural increase of 25.83. “Population growth” was identified as a fundamental obstacle to economic development, and the stage was set for large-scale state interventions in the process of human reproduction. The apotheosis of this intervention was the introduction, in 1979, of the One Child Policy, which was successfully implemented in the urban areas. In rural areas, policies promoting later marriage, one child – maximum two – per couple, and greater spacing of those births that are permitted contributed to the swift fertility decline witnessed over the last three decades. In 1996 China's birth and death rates were reported at 16.98 per 1,000 and 6.56 per 1,000 respectively and the population was growing at 10.42 per 1,000.