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China is the most populous country in the world, with its population making up more than one-fifth of the world's total. It is also one of the most densely populated countries, though inhabitants are unevenly distributed, with more in the east than in the west and more in rural areas than in urban areas. Moreover, the population has grown fast in recent decades. In the face of a grave population problem, China has practiced family planning since the 1970s to control population growth. As a result, the birth rate has declined on an annual basis.

China's natural population growth continued to decline in 2001. At the end of the year, the population on China's mainland totaled 1,276.27 million. There were 480.64 million urban residents, accounting for 37.7 percent of the total population, and the number of rural residents stood at 795.63 million, making up 62.3 percent. Of the total population, 656.72 million people were males, while 619.55 million were females. People in the age group of 0-14 constituted 22.5 percent; people in the 15-64 age group, 70.4 percent; and people aged 65 and over, 7.1 percent. The number of elderly people reached 90.62 million. The year 2001 saw 17.02 million newborns nationwide, representing a birth rate of 13.38 per thousand, and 8.18 million deaths, a mortality rate of 6.43 per thousand. The year's net population growth stood at 8.84 million people, or a natural growth rate of 6.95 per thousand.

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