Understanding China Demographic Data with GIS

Report from the APLIC 2009 conference, submitted by Mary Panke

Shuming Bao, Senior Research Coordinator for China Initiatives, China Data Center, University of Michigan

Dr. Bao presented attendees with a richly informative overview of groundbreaking and relatively new online China data resources emerging from the China Data Center at the University of Michigan. The Center, inherited from the CITAS project, was founded in 1997 to aid in the international study of China. Dr. Bao explained that in the past, detailed census data from China has been difficult to study for a host of reasons. The language barrier, and the fact that the data was stored in hundreds of hardcopy statistical yearbooks records created significant obstacles, but other factors contributed as well. The data was based not on geography, as with US census data, but on political units. The data had also been collected at inconsistent intervals until after the Cultural Revolution when the 1990 and 2000 collections began to conform more closely to the US standard – collecting at 10 year intervals, and with much richer data. Dr. Bao further explained how the fortuitous convergence of richer data, digitization of the data, and integration with GIS maps has yielded a powerful new frontier for quantitative research and spatial studies.

Dr. Bao acquainted attendees with some of the Groundbreaking projects undertaken at the Center. Detailed maps of China have been generated, where none existed before, plotting boundaries, rivers, highways, etc. China data is now being factored into interdisciplinary spatial studies on population, environment, hydrology, and public health. More than 2800 Census data assemblies are now available electronically, for both counties and provinces in China, furnishing a wealth information on general population, mortality, nationalities, marriage, age, education, occupation, housing migration, and more. A newly relased tool – The Census Data Reports and Maps Online – is now available in beta. This comprehensive tool includes 2000 population census data for over 50,000 townships in China, 2004 economic census data for over 5 million units, population estimates for 9.6 million square kilometer grids and summary, comparison, rank, or customizable reports as well as custom reports, maps, and charts ready for publication. As with most of the resources available through the Center, the tool is designed for use by non-specialists as well as China scholars and can generate very powerful results in only a few clicks.

Dr. Bao gave attendees a glimpse of the creative potential of these resources by reviewing some of the case studies based on this data. Studies include assessments of the current and potential impacts of earthquakes on resident populations, migration scenarios and the development of sparsely populated Western China, a GIS-based cultural map of the Silkroad to build Western awareness of cultural/artistic traditions of China, and work on rural poverty alleviation strategies using household-level surveys to study nutrition, education, government programs, credit and investment. One of the goals of the Center is to publicize the availability of these rich resources, and you can help by bringing them to the attention of your patrons and adding the following link to your demographic resource “favorites”: http://chinadatacenter.org/newcdc/

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