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World's Biggest Census Underway in China

A man and woman ride an electric bicycle past a publicity board China's census in Beijing, 1 Nov. 2010. China kicked off its once-a-decade census on Monday, a whirlwind 10-day head count.

China has kicked off its national census, sending out six million census takers to go door-to-door to document the demographic changes in the world's most populous country.

Chinese census officials on Monday began fanning out across the country to try to visit 400 million households over the next 10 days.

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who is in charge of the census, has said China's most basic characteristic is its big population. China is a big developing country with more than one billion people, says Li. Accurately understanding the changes in population trends will help the government better formulate and implement policies for economic and social development, he adds.

For the first time since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, China will count people based on where they actually live, rather than where they are registered under the household registration, or hukou, system. Also, for the first time, the census will include foreigners living in China.

The results will help measure the degree of China's urbanization, as well as previously uncounted children born in violation of the one-child policy.

Vice-Premier Li addressed public suspicions and urged citizens to cooperate with government officials. Census staff should adhere to the law when gathering information and keep personal data strictly confidential, says Li as he tried to assured the public. At the same time, he says every family and resident should seriously fulfill their duty to provide accurate information.

The government will use the information to develop policies for education, health care, housing and other public services, says Li.

The census will cost more than $1 billion dollars, and the results are expected to be released next April. China's last census, in 2000, put the country's population at 1.295 billion people.

One expected significant change will be increasing urbanization. The 2000 census listed nearly two-thirds of the population - or about 800 million people - as living in the countryside. But since then, there has been an extensive shift in the population as millions of migrant workers have moved to urban areas.