May 17, 2021 08:27 PM

China’s Latest Census Shows Foreigners Flocking to the Sleepy Southwest

Travelers pass through Guangzhou Railway Station in 2019. Photo: VCG
Travelers pass through Guangzhou Railway Station in 2019. Photo: VCG

China’s latest census shows a drop in the number of overseas residents living in megacities Beijing and Shanghai, and an increase in southern Guangdong province, which has hosted the most overseas residents in China since the 2010 census and is a hub of high technology, manufacturing and foreign trade.

China started its first national population census in 1953 and conducts the population count every 10 years. In 2010, the census started to cover residents from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and foreigners living in the mainland.

According to newly published figures from the seventh national census, there are some 840,000 foreigners living in China. The number shows an increase well above 200,000 foreign residents since the 2010 census, which recorded around 600,000 such people.

The number of overseas residents in Beijing dropped from more than 107,000 in 2010 to around 62,000, while those in Shanghai fell from 208,000 to about 164,000. Guangdong, which hosted more than 316,000 overseas residents in 2010, is now home to more than 418,000 such people.

Guangdong, China’s most populous province, is known for its economic prosperity and has attracted foreigners working and studying in the region. The region’s job opportunities, its proximity to financial hub Hong Kong, and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area are further draws. Last year, it had the largest economic output among Chinese provinces.

The southwestern Yunnan province, now hosts the second greatest population of overseas residents after Guangdong, counting more than 379,000 people. Over the past decade, more than 300,000 overseas residents moved to the province, which borders three neighbouring countries, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

The province’s county-level city, Ruili, which saw a surge in local Covid-19 cases in March, borders Myanmar, where residents speak the same language and frequently transit between the two countries.

The latest census has yet to reveal the composition of nationalities recorded in the survey. In 2010, most foreign residents living in China came from South Korea, the United States, and Japan, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Contact editor Lu Zhenhua (

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