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If China was 100 people: How the world's most populous nation lives

China’s is home to nearly one-fifth of the world’s population. Here’s what that looks like.


CHINA IS HOME to 18% of the world’s population, the world’s largest standing army, and one in every three cigarettes in the world is smoked there.

This month, as part of The Good Information Project, The Journal is looking at China, its growing influence, and its relationship with the EU and Ireland. 

That’s why we want to break down the data about the Chinese population.

There are 1,411,778,724 people in China, according to the best data from the World Bank, and while the birth rate is starting to slow, this is the biggest population of any country on Earth.

100peopleArtboard 1

To help break down the demographics, we’re going to present this data as if China was a village with 100 people.

  • If China was 100 people, 51 people would be male and 49 would be femaleChina’s one-child policy was in place from 1970 until 2015. This left many couples determined to have a son.
  • If China was 100 people, 35 would be under the age of 35China has an ageing population: 12 people would be above the age of 65 and 11 would be adolescents. 
  • If China was 100 people, 92 would be Han Chinese. China is a multi-ethnic nation, with a further 55 ethnic minorities outside of the Han majority including Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians, Yao and the Hui.

100peopleArtboard 2

  • If China was 100 people, 66 would speak Mandarin as their first language. 73 would be able to speak Mandarin as either a first or second language. This is up from 2000, when just 53 people could speak Mandarin. There are over 300 minority languages spoken in China.

100peopleArtboard 7

  • 63 would live in an urban area. Of these, 2 would live in Shanghai and 1 in Beijing. Urban growth accelerated even more rapidly from the mid-1980s. Other populous urban areas of China include Chengdu, Chongquing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou, all of which have over 10 million people living there.

X100peopleArtboard 6

  • If China was 100 people, 97 of them would be literate. The adult literacy rate is defined as the number of people over the age of 15 who can both read and write.
  • 7.6 million people graduate from public Chinese Universities annually. There are, in total, 2,688 universities in China. The top university is Tsinghua University, which is ranked 20th in the world, according to Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The female-to-male ratio is 34:66.

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  • Seven would be members of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Five of these would be men and two would be women. The CPC is the sole governing political party of China.
  • 65 people would be employed and 4 would be unemployed. Unemployment for 2021 currently stands at 3.6%. In 2020, it rose to 4.2%, the highest figure since 2009, but has since dropped. This rise in unemployment was blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic.

100peopleArtboard 3

  • If China was 100 people, 28 would smoke. The vast majority of smokers are male: of the 28, 27 would be men, and one would be a woman. China has the largest population of smokers in the world, and accounts for 30% of smokers worldwide. China also accounts for 40% of tobacco consumption worldwide.

X100peopleArtboard 4

  • If China was 100 people, 10 would own a passport. In 2019, there was a 25% reduction in passport fees, encouraging interest in international travel.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

About the author:

Niamh Quinlan and Brian Whelan

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