China is the most populous country in the world, with 1.25909 billion people at the end of 1999, about 22 percent of the world's total. This figure does not include many Chinese in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Taiwan Province and Macao Special Administrative Region.
The population density in China is 130 people per sq km. This population, however, is unevenly distributed. Along the densely populated east coast there are more than 400 people per sq km; in the central areas, over 200; and in the sparsely populated plateaus in the west there are less than 10 people per sq km.
When New China was founded in 1949, China had a population of 541.67 million. Owing to China's stable society, rapid production development, improvement of medical and health conditions, insufficient awareness of the importance of population growth control and shortage of experience, the population grew rapidly, reaching 806.71 million in 1969. In the early 1970s, the Chinese government realized that the over-rapid population growth was harmful to economic and social development, and would cause great difficulties in the fields of employment, housing, communications and medical care; and that if China could not effectively check the over-rapid population growth, and alleviate the tremendous pressure that the population growth was exerting on land, forests and water resources, the worsening of the ecology and the environment in the coming decades would be disastrous, thus endangering the necessary conditions for the survival of humanity, and sustainable social and economic development. Then the Chinese government began implementing a family planning, population control and population quality improvement policy in accordance with China's basic conditions of being a large country with a poor economic foundation, a large population and little cultivated land, so as to promote the coordinated development of the economy, society, resources and environment. Since then birth rates have steadily declined year by year. China's birth rate dropped from 34.11 per thousand in 1969 to 15.23 per thousand at the end of 1999; and the natural growth rate decreased from 26.08 per thousand to 8.77 per thousand, thus basically realizing a change in the population reproduction type to one characterized by low-birth, low-death and low-increase rates.