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Rising birthrate worries China as population tops 1 billion

At its current rate of growth, China's population will almost certainly not stay within the official goal of 1.2 billion people by the end of the century.

Some Chinese leaders are said to have talked resignedly of the possibility that China's population will be 1.3 billion by then - or 100 million more than the target.

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In announcing the preliminary results of a July 1 census, China's state statistical bureau said the nation had officially passed the 1 billion mark. And the growth rate - after declining dramatically during the past few years - is again on the upswing.

The bureau said that mainland China's population was 1,008,175,288, up by 45 percent since the last nationwide census in 1964.

When the populations of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao are added, China's total population is 1,031,882,511, the bureau said. Peking considers all these territories as belonging to the People's Republic of China although temporarily not under its administration.

The population of Peking, the capital, was reported at 9.2 million, while Shanghai, China's largest city, was put at 11.9 million. The census also revealed that 4.23 million people are enrolled in China's armed forces and that three of every four Chinese over the age of 12 can read and write, which conflicts with government claims of past years that illiteracy had been virtually eliminated since the communist takeover.

Despite China's recent and strict one-child-per-family policy, the population grew by 14,399,601 during 1981 - a growth rate of 14.55 per thousand. This is considerably more than the 10 per thousand estimated for 1980, although it confirms a sharp drop in the growth rate from 27.8 per thousand in 1964.

To put it another way, while the death rate in 1981 was about the same as the death rate in 1980, there were more than 51/2 million more babies born during 1981 than there were the previous year. Most of the ''extra'' babies that were born in 1981 are believed to be the offspring of rural parents.

The one-child-per-family movement has been most successful in the cities, where one-fifth of China's people dwell. This is because most urban couples live in cramped quarters, in areas where good schools and other services are difficult to come by, and where many couples are more interested in improving their own lifes than in having children.

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Ironically, it is in the countryside, where the government's economic incentives policies have been most successful, that family planning has run into the greatest difficulties. The economic policies have resulted in increasing grain and industrial crops, such as cotton and oil-bearing seeds, and in improving peasant incomes through sideline occupations. The success of these policies, increasing incomes and causing peasants to build themselves larger homes, has impelled them to evade the one-child-per-family movement.

Sons are still prized in the countryside, and the more laborers a family has, the greater its income is likely to be. Until now China has been considered one of the most successful of developing countries in controlling population. But the latest figures sound an ominous warning.

Although officials at the state statistical bureau did not want to commit themselves, the population growth rate this year seems to be considerably higher than that of last year. At the end of 1981, before the census, mainland China's population was estimated at 996.2 million. By July 1 this year, when the census was taken, this population had grown by 11.78 million people.

If population grows at the same rate for the rest of the year, 23.56 million people will have been added by the end of the year. This would mean a growth rate of more than 23 per thousand.

The year is not over, however, and officials have been stepping up their campaign to bring down the birthrate in the countryside. But if population is indeed beginning to bulge again, officials will have to think of more effective means of combining economic incentives with population control.

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