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312 - The Population of China's Provinces Compared

September 23, 2008, 8:39 AM

China is the world’s most populous nation (1). That much anybody knows. But even if we know a bit more (that the number of Chinese is around 1.32 billion, which is just under 20% of all humans alive today), that figure is still too big to mean much beyond that China is ‘number one’ (2). This map compares the population of China’s provinces (plus the ‘renegade province’ of Taiwan), autonomous regions and municipalities with those of whole countries, and thus helps shed some light on that issue.

Here, for easy reference, is a list in descending order of magnitude of those Chinese territories (their population in brackets) followed by the foreign country they compare to.

  1. Guangdong (113 million) Germany plus Uganda (3)
  2. Henan (99 million) Mexico
  3. Shandong (92 million) Philippines
  4. Sichuan (87 million) Vietnam
  5. Jiangsu (75 million) Egypt
  6. Hebei (68 million) Iran
  7. Hunan (67 million) France
  8. Anhui (65 million) Thailand
  9. Hubei (60 million) U.K.
  10. Guangxi (49 million) Burma/Myanmar
  11. Zhejiang (47 million) South Africa
  12. Yunnan (44 million) Colombia
  13. Jiangxi (43 million) Tanzania
  14. Liaoning (42 million) Argentina
  15. Guizhou (39 million) Sudan
  16. Heilongjiang (38 million) Poland
  17. Shaanxi (37 million) Kenya
  18. Fujian (35 million) Algeria
  19. Shanxi (33 million) Canada
  20. Chongqing (31 million) Morocco
  21. Jilin (27 million) Afghanistan
  22. Gansu (26 million) Saudi Arabia
  23. Inner Mongolia (24 million) North Korea
  24. Taiwan (23 million) Yemen
  25. Xinjiang (20 million) Madagascar
  26. Shanghai (18 million) Cameroon
  27. Beijing (16 million) Angola
  28. Tianjin (12 million) Cuba
  29. Hainan (8 million) Austria
  30. Hong Kong (7 million) El Salvador
  31. Ningxia (6 million) Sierra Leone
  32. Qinghai (5 million) Slovakia
  33. Tibet (3 million) Jamaica
  34. Macau (0,5 million) Cape Verde

Some obvious conclusions (from a non-expert, non-Chinese point of view):

  • Most of China’s main administrative subdivisions are literally unheard-of in the rest of the world, save for some obvious exceptions like Tibet, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
  • The names of some provinces sound especially indistinguishable (or at least  are rather indistinct to western ears): Hebei and Hubei; Shanxi and neighbouring Shaanxi;  not to mention Jiangxi and Guangxi; or Hainan, Hunan and Henan.
  • The well-known pattern of heavy population density on the coast and lesser density inland belies the fact that even in the most far-flung provinces, the populations are not exactly tiny (Xinjiang: 20 million, Inner Mongolia: 24 million), Heilongjiang: 38 million, Yunnan: 44 million), except in Qinghai (5 million) and Tibet (3 million).

This map was sent in by Isaac Lewis, who was “inspired by the map that did something similar for US states and international GDPs (here and here) in order to “get a perspective on just how many people 1.3 billion actually is.”

“Mostly the provinces and their labels are very close in population,” Mr Lewis explains. “The largest difference is between Henan province (98.7 million) and Mexico (106.7 million). Other than that, they’re mostly within 1 or 2 million of each other.”



(1) The world’s least populous nation? The British dependency of Pitcairn in the Pacific, by some reckonings (50 inhabitants). Or the Vatican (800 registered inhabitants, very low birth rate) by others. The smallest non-dependent, ‘real’ nation? How about Nauru, another Pacific island nation, with about 10,000 inhabitants.

(2) The Indians, by the way, are number two, with 1.1 billion people (or 17% of the world’s population). India is slated to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation in a few decades’ time. 

(3) See note in bottom left hand corner of map.


312 - The Population of Chi...

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