Monday, November 08, 2010

Taking leave of my census

Yes, the puns continue.

The dreaded nationwide population census, which I had supposed was going to be held early next year (when I plan to be out of the country!), and for which the authorities held a laughably ineffectual dry run at the end of August, is in fact under way at this very moment.  We are now exactly half-way through the 15-day counting period, and there's been no sign of any census-takers around my way as yet - so I am becoming cautiously optimistic that I will succeed in evading their irksome attentions.

Much has been made of the fact that foreigners are to be included in a Chinese census for the first time ever this year.  However, I took a look at an English translation of the Chinese government proclamation authorising the census (can't find the link again now, sorry.... ah, here it is!), issued in Wen Jiabao's name, and it says quite clearly that "temporary" residents are not to be included.  Long-term or permanent 'residence' status for foreign nationals - something akin to the American 'Green Card' - has only fairly recently been introduced in China, and only a handful of old China hands, people who've been here for donkey's years, are eligible for it.  The rest of us have to re-apply for visas and working permits at least every year or two, often every few months; we are supposed to re-register our residence at the local police station, on a form which is designated a 'Certificate of Temporary Residence', every time we return to Beijing after even a day or two away in another part of China (although this is one more honoured in the breach than the observance); and we could all be subject to arbitrary ejection from the country at a moment's notice, if we look at a policeman the wrong way or something.  We are all most definitely TEMPORARY in our sojourn here, as far as the Chinese government is concerned.  So, I don't see why the heck they're going to the bother of pretending to include us in their census.

What annoys me even more is the sheer pointlessness of this exercise.  The Chinese government already knows exactly how many foreigners are here and where we live and so on.  They have our addresses registered in district police stations across the capital, they have computerised immigration records from our point of entry every time we come back into the country, they have our visa and work permit and employment records.  In some cases, at least, they have expansive dossiers on our movements and our known associates.  Trying to get some old granny from the neighbourhood committee to pester us to write our basic info down again on a census form (which is, I gather, entirely in Chinese!) is a colossal waste of time.

1 comment:

Froog said...

The 'second wave' appears to have been even more ineffectual than the first. A straw poll of my foreign friends here seems to indicate that at least 75% were overlooked. One of them told me that her local census taker actually called round to leave some hand towels - a 'thank you for cooperating with the census' present! - for one of her neighbours, but declined to take down her own details.

Alas.... there is now a rumour that there is after all going to be a 'third wave' - the census in earnest - next year. Oh dear.