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China Will Lose a Billion People By 2100

Chinese Economy
Chinese yuan banknotes are seen in this illustration picture taken April 25, 2022. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration

Tuesday, China announced its first population decline since 1961. The official National Bureau of Statistics reported that last year 9.56 million people were born and 10.41 million died.

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China’s total population in 2022, officials announced, was 1.412 billion, down 850,000 people from the preceding year.

The country’s long demographic slide has begun. By the end of this century, China’s population will be about a third of what it is today. The projected decline is the steepest in history in the absence of war or disease.

There are indications that Chinese officials have been substantially overstating China’s population. The population, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Yi Fuxian writing in the middle of last year, was 1.28 billion, not the official 1.41 billion. China’s population began to decline, Yi wrote, in 2018. He pointed out that Beijing’s demographic numbers have not been consistent with other data, official and unofficial.

In any event, the country is in for a precipitous drop.

For instance, projections issued by the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, are stunning. The organization’s World Population Prospects 2022, which is roughly based on Beijing’s official figures, shows a high variant estimate for 2100 of 1.153 billion people. The median variant is 766.67 billion.

The low variant—the estimate that will be closest to the mark from all indications—is 487.93 billion. The U.N.’s low number has dropped. It was 684.05 million in the estimates released in 2019.

Even the 2022 low variant looks too high. Demographers from Xian Jiaotong University in late 2021 estimated that China’s population could fall by half within 45 years, assuming the country maintained a Total Fertility Rate—generally the average number of children per female of child-bearing age—of 1.3.

China’s TFR, by contrast, was 1.18 last year, the lowest in the world’s ten most populous nations. Yi believes in 2020 it could have been as low as 0.9. If he is correct, the TFR was even lower last year.

Yet whatever the TFR is today, it will almost certainly drop in coming years. According to a survey conducted by the Communist Youth League last year, 44% of urban Chinese women between the ages of 18 to 26 do not intend to get married. That’s significant because an unmarried female cannot obtain a required permit to have a birth.

China’s demographic problems go beyond women rejecting cultural imperatives to find a husband. Pervasive pessimism and economic decline are also affecting the willingness of couples to bear children.

There are some who do not think China is yet in crisis. “They are not in a doomsday scenario right away,” said Paul Cheung, Singapore’s former chief statistician, to the BBC. China, according to Cheung, has “plenty of manpower” and “a lot of lead time.”

All this is true, because demographic changes occur over decades, but Beijing’s plans to reverse population changes have been noticeably unsuccessful—as are those of most governments. “The measures taken to boost birth rates have been far too little and too late, and were completely overwhelmed by the impact of Covid Zero on birth rates,” said Christopher Beddor of Gavekal Dragonomics to Bloomberg News. “The core issue is that there’s only so much policy can accomplish in this realm, because declining birth rates are driven by deep structural factors.”

Beijing ditched its notorious One-Child Policy and switched to its Two-Child Policy in the beginning of 2016. The country then adopted a Three-Child Policy in 2021. There has, however, been no increase in births. In fact, last year witnessed the lowest birth rate in the history of the People’s Republic of China.

In any event, as the official China Daily stated in December 2020, “the trends are irreversible.” If “the true power of China’s rise is a powerful reproductive force”—as many of its people believe—then the magnificent Chinese state is relentlessly heading in the opposite direction.

“Sorry, we are the last generation, thanks!” was a popular—and censored—hashtag in China last May.

So why does anyone outside China care about Chinese demography?

Brahma Chellaney has an answer. “Believing China has a narrow window of strategic opportunity to modify the global order in its favor before it faces a demographic crisis, stalled economic growth, and an unfavorable global environment, Xi is taking major risks,” tweeted the famed Indian strategist on Tuesday.

Xi Jinping may believe “the East is rising and the West is declining”—a money line from his speeches—but that view will be exceedingly hard to maintain as people begin to think of China as an irreversibly declining society. That means he will be in a hurry to achieve his “Chinese dream.”

This also means Xi could have a low threshold of risk and therefore take others by surprise.

Such as India. Last month, China opened up another front against that country in Arunachal Pradesh with a large-scale ground incursion. Some Chinese thinkers argue that China must break up India before it is too late.

Incidentally, many believe India’s population has just overtaken China’s. Yi, the University of Wisconsin-Madison scholar, believes India overtook China in 2014.

Xi surely knows that India will have almost a billion more people than China by the time India’s population levels off, sometime in the middle of this century.

A jealous China is not about to let India—or others, for that matter—alone.

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A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang

Written By

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Great U.S.-China Tech War and Losing South Korea, booklets released by Encounter Books. His previous books are Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World and The Coming Collapse of China, both from Random House. Chang lived and worked in China and Hong Kong for almost two decades, most recently in Shanghai, as Counsel to the American law firm Paul Weiss and earlier in Hong Kong as Partner in the international law firm Baker & McKenzie.



  1. Jimmyf40

    January 18, 2023 at 8:02 am

    China losing a billion of its citizens means US military going to find it a cakewalk to take over the land.

    Imagine how difficult or impossible it would have been for europeans in the past to colonize north america had they discover the red indians numbered in the hundreds or thousands of millions.

    A small pop is that much easier to conquer. Basic lesson in school.

  2. Tomb

    January 18, 2023 at 9:00 am

    I will mark this prediction
    On my calendar, and
    See if it is true on Jan 1, 2100….

  3. The Al U Know

    January 18, 2023 at 9:02 am

    @ Jimmyf40

    I don’t know about native people in the Northern America.


    Fun Fact. The Aztecs when Cortes came in the early 1500s numbered around 25 million people, like it was an empire and its tributaries. Cortes knew he was outnumbered and was beaten back but played a few of these tribes off each other against Quetzalcoatl and eventaully took over. The Aztec system also favored capturing the defeated enemy for sacrifice or slave purpose.

    But the real interesting thing is that this population strength went from 25M to 4M-5M because of smallpox the Spaniards brought with them.

    From the Al U Know

  4. froike

    January 18, 2023 at 10:52 am

    To The Red Chinese, it’s called Population Control. They would welcome it.

  5. TG

    January 18, 2023 at 11:01 am

    The notion that the power of a country is based entirely on whether or not its people breed like cattle is absurd and disgusting. Indeed, for industrial nations, it is often the nation with the more modest population that is more powerful.

    Consider the United States. In the 1940’s, after a period of low fertility rates and near-zero immigration, the nation’s power and wealth exploded to previously unseen levels. Meanwhile, countries like India and China, that had much more massive populations pushing up against the limits of subsistence, were in comparison pathetically weak. I mean: a moderate fertility rate means that it’s easy to accumulate and reinvest physical capital, because it’s not all swallowed up by an ever-growing mass of chronically malnourished children.

    I have no crystal ball and China has many problems that it might not overcome. But, a modest population decline need not be a disaster, but could mean that even modest overall economic growth could compound to large increases in actual utilizable power. If the Chinese governments wants more children, work to assure that the conditions for young people to have more children are positive. The track record of governments ‘forcing’ population growth – of insisting that it is people’s patriotic duty to have six kids not matter if they can feed them more than bare subsistence, is uniformly dismal.

    Witness Syria’s experiment in banning birth control, and quadrupling the population in just 36 years, and draining the aquifers dry. That did not make Syria more powerful, but rather the opposite. One is also reminded of Mao’s disastrous “strength through numbers” pro-natalist policy.

    Let the people themselves only be encouraged not to have more children than they can REASONABLY support, and trust their judgement. Insisting that elite ‘experts’ know how many children we should have, is putrid, it’s basically treating people like cattle.

  6. Jim

    January 18, 2023 at 11:22 am

    The population issue is just one of many that suggest China is over leveraged.

    China is leveraged economically. Without continued strong economic growth that leverage will work against China, unraveling, reducing their ability to throw around money to ‘smooth things over’ which will in turn reduce China’s geopolitical power.

  7. Matt

    January 18, 2023 at 11:59 am

    I doubt I will be alive and not sure if I would want to be, but it is very interesting, indeed.

  8. Jai

    January 19, 2023 at 4:22 am

    Some would say 487.93 billion is a lot.

  9. Karl

    January 19, 2023 at 11:23 am

    Who proofread this article? Apparently no one.

  10. TMark

    January 19, 2023 at 12:10 pm

    China’s population collapse is not even half the problem for Beijing. China is also the fastest AGING population in world history and will have twice the geriatric burden relative to the world average by 2050. With nearly all children having no siblings, each has four grandparents plus great grandparents needing economic security and care, which is a thing in China where households typically feature three generations under one roof. This further disincentivizes young women from starting families as they instead prefer careers to fund elder care.

    Beijing knows this and has cynically restricted covid vaccines from China’s senior population while also rejecting foreign vaccines (90%+ effective) in favor of its own inferior shots.

    China’s economy and foreign ambitions will dry up by 2030. They won’t have a young workforce to attract foreign investment in manufacturing. (Mexico’s labor now costs only 1/3rd of China’s.) So China is no longer a low-cost producer and never became a high end producer, so the writing is on the wall. Any ambitious on Taiwan will fatigue by 2028 as China must address their aging burden and recoil from a manufacturing drawdown.

  11. SuzanneL

    January 19, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    Well, that’s one way to end soul-sucking communist tyranny. No hope? No children. You tell ’em, ladies.

  12. The Unknown Soldier of Democracy

    January 21, 2023 at 11:35 pm

    There have been a lot of articles about China’s demographic problem.

    It’s true that the bursting of the demographic bubble that followed the one-child policy will create hardship for the younger generation. However, I’m not buying the assertion that having a smaller population will lead to economic contraction across the board.

    National economies depend on more than just sheer numbers to grow…they depend even more so upon the efficient use of their population to generate economic activity. That’s why Japan, with a population of 125 million still has a larger GDP than India, who has more than 10 times Japan’s population. It’s also why small countries such as Israel, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan punch significantly above their weight. It’s also why the United States remains for now, the largest economy in the world, even though it’s population is a quarter of China’s.

    Of course China will face significant headwinds to grow as its population declines. But the Chinese cultural characteristics of valuing education, working hard, sacrifing self for the next generation, and pooling resources of family members will go a long way towards it’s continued upward trajectory. Have you ever noticed that the richest sectors of the economies of the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia are all comprised of people from the Chinese diaspora?

    Contrary to popular belief, this success isn’t because Chinese are smart. It’s because they work hard at the right things to bring success to their families.

    The west needs to do more to remain competitive, rather than just hoping for a demographic rescue from China. There needs to be a renewed focus on education, and the smartest students need to be recognized for their efforts rather than being put down by the so-called cool kids who focus on looks and social media. Education needs to be more affordable to a wider sector of the population. And education needs to have more options than either college or no college. Instead, there should be professional education for the trades so that the west can reinvigorate its flagging industrial sector.

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