Scholars' views

Interpretation of the Report to the 20th CPC National Congress from the Perspective of China's Demographic Feature

On the morning of November 2, 2022, the China Population Association held the Optimizing Population Development Strategies to Promote Balanced Population Development  Expert Forum of China Population Association on Study of Important Essentials in the Report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing. Professors Yuan Xin, from the Institute of Population and Development, School of Economics, Nankai University, was invited to attend the meeting online, and made a speech titled A Huge Population is Fundamental to Chinese Modernization, in which he made a professional interpretation of the five features of Chinese modernization in the report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). On November 3, 2022, the Global Times published an article titled A Huge Population is the Fundamental Feature of Chinese modernization based on the excerpts from his speech. The full text is as follows:

China’s huge population is the fundamental feature of Chinese modernization. The huge population is not only the basic Chinese context during the building of China into a great modern socialist country, but also the starting point for the layout according to the economic and social development plans and strategies.

China has completed the demographic transition and entered the post-demographic transition period. According to the latest prediction of the United Nations, China's population will remain topping 1.4 billion by 2035, and will remain topping 1.3 billion by 2050. China is still one of the two countries with a population greater than 1 billion. In the global scope, the population of the 37 developed and modern countries totals 1.09 billion, but most of those countries have only a few million or tens of millions of people. That is to say, China will develop into a modern society with a population of more than 1 billion, which is a unique and great initiative in the human history.

In the next 30 years, the most typical demographic change in China will be the negative population growth plus population aging, and the multiplier and divisor effects of population aging and huge population will be intertwined, which will profoundly affect economic and social development in China. First, the population aging will escalate stepwise. The number and aging rate of the elderly aged 60 and above will double, from 264 million and 18.7% in 2020 to 520 million and more than 40% in 2054, respectively, in which China will become a super-aged country. Second, the labor resources will be increasingly scarce. The size of the working-age population aged 15-59 will continue shrinking, from 890 million in 2020, accounting for 63.2%, to 650 million in 2050, accounting for 50%. Third, the object of social support has shifted from children to the elderly. In 2020, the number of children aged 0-14 years was 253 million, and the number of elderly people was 264 million, indicating a larger elderly population and a shift of the main object of social support from children to the elderly. The proportion of elderly people who need social support will increase with the aging rate. Fourth, the level of urbanization has risen steadily. The total number of permanent rural people reached a peak of 860 million in 1995 and then declined. This figure became 499 million in 2021. The permanent urban population has increased from 352 million in 1995 to 914 million. According to the national urbanization planning, the urban population will continue to increase and the rural population will continue to decrease. Negative population growth, deepening aging and accelerating urbanization will have a profound impact on production, life and social interaction of both rural and urban residents, and cause the change of the structure and mode of social governance and social services.

Different from the western developed countries featuring a serial modernization process in which industrialization, urbanization, agricultural modernization and informatization are developed successively, China, as a late developing country implements a parallel modernization process in which industrialization, urbanization, agricultural modernization and informatization are developed together. To achieve the overall linkage of the population with the economic system, social system, and resource and environment system, we need devote serious energy to develop them and meantime make up for differences.

First, the modernization of common prosperity for all highlights the inclusiveness of benefiting all people. On the one hand, the economic foundation of common prosperity is increasingly solid. From 1978 (marking the start of the reform and opening up) to 2021, the gross domestic product (GDP) increased from RMB367.9 billion, accounting for 1.7% of the total world GDP, to RMB114.4 trillion, accounting for 18.5% of the total world GDP, and the per capita GDP jumped from RMB385 to RMB81,000, indicating a historic leap in economic strength. On the other hand, the population is huge and there are large regional and group differences in the population. For example, the per capita disposable income of urban residents is 3.3 times that of rural residents; although the key task of poverty alleviation has been completed and nearly 100 million poor rural people have been lifted out of poverty, we still face arduous pressure in consolidating poverty alleviation achievements. Hence, it is still complicated and challenging for us to pursue modernization and bridge multiple gaps to achieve common prosperity.

Second, the modernization of material and cultural-ethical advancement highlights the balanced social advancement. Since the reform and opening up, the annual per capita disposable income of Chinese residents has increased from RMB171 to RMB35,128, the annual per capita consumption expenditure has increased from RMB151 to RMB24,100, and the Engel coefficient has decreased to 29.8%. The people have achieved great material and cultural-ethical advancement. We have realized three major leaps: meeting basic needs of the people, allowing people to live decent lives, and bringing the building of a moderately prosperous society to a successful completion, and ranked among the middle and high-income countries; in the future, we will work hard to achieve basic modernization, make China a great modern country and achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, which reflects the firm commitment of China, a society with a population accounting for 18% of the global total. The material advancement of Chinese modernization takes the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics as the background, and takes meeting the needs of the people as the starting point and end point. The cultural-ethical advancement of Chinese modernization takes the people as the main players and pays attention to their participation. It is a common advancement in which everyone fulfills their responsibilities and shares their results . It is people-center and aims to meet the people's aspirations for a better life.

Third, the modernization of harmony between humanity and nature highlights the sustainable development of the population, the economic system, the social system, and the resource and environment system. This strategy takes a good ecological environment as the fundamental basis for the sustainable development of the population and society. From the perspective of strategic positioning, we have established the new vision of innovative, coordinated, green, and open development and the basic strategy of promoting harmony between humanity and nature; from the perspective of the regulation and practices, we have established programs such as accelerating the ecological conservation and formulating the ecological conservation system reform plan; from the perspective of international cooperation, we actively participated in the signing of global climate framework agreements and actions, fulfilled our responsibility for environmental governance, and raised the modernization of harmony between humanity and nature from a national action to an international concern and action.

Fourth, the modernization of peaceful development highlights the peace. Chinese modernization features peaceful development, which reflects China’s sense of duty as a responsible major country, as well as China’s advocate of building a community with a shared future for mankind and staying on the path of peaceful development. This completely overthrows the zero-sum game thinking and the logic that a strong nation is bound to seek hegemony, and reflects China’s firm resolve to create a better future for mankind together with all the other countries in the world. China, as a populous country that follows the path of peaceful development, will take advantage of its huge population to play a positive role in maintaining peace and promoting stability. We will promote peace through development, and provide a foundation for development through a peaceful environment. We will firmly maintain world peace, and achieve Chinese modernization.

In a conclusion, Chinese modernization is fundamentally characterized by a huge population. We should be soberly aware that a huge population will bring more complex economic and social problems, more severe challenges, and also more opportunities. In this regard, we should scientifically understand, actively adapt to and proactively respond to this problem, so as to balance the population size with the modernization. The trajectory of population development is not immutable. Policies and actions taken today can change tomorrow's fertility, mortality and migration to some extent. To promote the modernization of a huge population in the future, we should start planning from now on and bravely face the changes in the overall linkage of all elements involved in population changes, such as low fertility, negative population growth, and population aging.