Humanities › History & Culture The Demographics of Dynastic China What Can 4,000-Year-Old Censuses Tell Us About Ancient China? Share Flipboard Email Print Terra Cotta Army Qin Dynasty in Xi'an. galaygobi/Flickr History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Asia Figures & Events Ancient Languages Greece Egypt Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated March 01, 2019 As of 2016, the population of China was 1.38 billion people. That phenomenal number is matched by enormous early population figures. Censuses were taken as a rule by ancient rulers beginning in the Zhou Dynasty, but what the rulers were counting is somewhat in doubt. Some censuses refer to the number of persons as "mouths" and the number of households as "doors." But, conflicting figures are given for the same dates and it's possible that the numbers refer not to the total population, but taxpayers, or people who were available for either military or corvee labor duties. By the Qing Dynasty, the government was using a "ting" or tax unit to count in the census, which is based on a head count of population and more on the ability of the population to support the elites. Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BCE The Xia dynasty is the first known dynasty in China, but even its existence is doubted by some scholars in China and elsewhere. The first census was said by Han dynasty historians to have been taken by Yu the Great in about 2000 BCE, with a total of 13,553,923 people or possibly households. Further, the figures are likely Han Dynasty propaganda Shang Dynasty 1600–1100 BCE No surviving censuses. Zhou Dynasty 1027–221 BCE Censuses became normal instruments of public administration, and several rulers ordered them at regular intervals, but the statistics are somewhat in doubt 1000 BCE: 13,714,923 persons680 BCE: 11,841,923 persons Qin Dynasty 221–206 BCE The Qin Dynasty was the first time China was unified under a centralized government. With the ending of wars, iron implements, farming techniques, and irrigation were developed. No surviving censuses. Han Dynasty 206 BCE–220 CE About the turn of the Common Era, population censuses in China became statistically useful for the entire united mainland. By 2 CE, censuses were taken and recorded on occasion. Western Han 2 CE: persons per household: 4.9Eastern Han 57–156 CE, persons per household: 4.9–5.82 CE: 59,594,978 persons, 12,233,062 households156 CE: 56,486,856 persons, 10,677,960 households Six Dynasties (Period of Disunity) 220–589 CE Liu Sung State, 464 CE, 5.3 million persons, 900,000 households Sui Dynasty 581–618 CE 606 CE: persons per household 5.2, 46,019,956 persons, 8,907,536 households Tang Dynasty 618–907 CE 634–643 CE: 12,000,000 persons, 2,992,779 households707–755 CE: persons per household 5.7-6.0754 CE: 52,880,488 persons, 7,662,800 tax payers755 CE: 52,919,309 persons, 8,208,321 tax payers845 CE: 4,955,151 households Five Dynasties 907–960 CE After the fall of the Tang dynasty, China was split into several states and consistent population data for the entire county is not available. Song Dynasty 960–1279 CE 1006–1223 CE: persons per household 1.4-2.61006 CE: 15,280,254 persons, 7,417,507 households1063 CE: 26,421,651 persons, 12,462,310 households1103 CE: 45,981,845 persons, 20,524,065 households1160 CE: 19,229,008 persons, 11,575,753 households1223 CE: 28,320,085 persons, 12,670,801 households Yuan Dynasty 1271–1368 CE 1290-1292 CE: persons per household 4.5-4.61290 CE: 58,834,711 persons, 13,196,206 households1330 CE: 13,400,699 households Ming Dynasty 1368–1644 CE 1381–1626 CE: persons per household 4.8-7.11381 CE: 59,873305 persons, 10,654,362 households1450 CE: 53,403,954 persons, 9,588,234 households1520 CE: 60,606,220 persons, 9,399,979 households1620–1626 CE: 51,655,459 persons, 9,835,416 households Qing Dynasty 1655–1911 CE In 1740, the Qing dynasty emperor ordered that population statistics be compiled annually, a system known as "pao-chia," which required each household to keep a tablet by their door with a list of all the members of the household. Later those tablets were kept in regional offices. 1751 CE: 207 million persons1781 CE: 270 million persons1791 CE: 294 million persons1811 CE: 347 million persons1821 CE: 344 million persons1831 CE: 383 million persons1841 CE: 400 million persons1851 CE: 417 million persons Sources Duan C-Q, Gan X-C, Jeanny W, and Chien PK. 1998. Relocation of Civilization Centers in Ancient China: Environmental Factors. Ambio 27(7):572-575.Durand JD. 1960. The Population Statistics of China, A.D. 2-1953. Population Studies 13(3):209-256.