The population of Shanghai in figures (1865-1953)

In the recent weeks, the users of the Virtual Shanghai platform may have noticed a substantial upsurge of the Data section. This section is meant to provide historical statistical data in the form of spreadsheets that contain fully referenced and verified data. The reason for the recent increase is my uploading of a very large set of demographic data on the population of Shanghai. Where does it come from?

Over a period of four years (2013-2016), as part of an ANR (French National Research Agency)-funded project (“War made Shanghai”), we collected very systematically demographic data on the population of Shanghai with the objective to establish complete and reliable demographic statistics from the mid-nineteenth century to the first national census in 1953. The team in charge of this exciting, but challenging project comprised two scholars, Shi Lu 石 路 (Lille 3 University), Christian Henriot 安克強 (Aix-Marseille University), and Charlotte Aubrun, a CNRS contractual engineer specializing in spatial data.

While we literally mined all the published materials that contained demographic data, we found the main source for our demographic journey at the Shanghai Municipal Archives. We searched through all the files that we were able to identify as containing demographic data, within the limits of the documentation made available to the public (開放) by the Archives. We believe that we have gathered for the first time the most complete series of population data on the city of Shanghai and reconstituted its demographic trajectory from a rich variety of angles. All the original archival files that we were able to obtain are being uploaded on BN-Asie, the digital library of the Institute of Asian Research (IrAsia) at Aix-Marseille University.

A major milestone of this endeavor is the production of a book entitled The Population of Shanghai (1865-1953). A Sourcebook currently under press with Brill Publishers. More on this groundbreaking publication soon… While the book will include a large selection of the major statistical tables on the demography of Shanghai, it was not feasible to include them all, first because of the limitations of print (number of pages), second because printed tables are not the most convenient way to access statistical tables, and third because many tables present more specific or thematic data, sometimes partial data, or overlapping data. The 62  tables included in the book have been uploaded on the Virtual Shanghai platform, but will not be in public access, except for samples, until one year after the publication of the book.

In the course of the project, we actually collected about 300 different tables from the wide range of consulted sources. At the end of a careful process of attrition, compilation, and aggregation of data our population of tables shrank to 129 reference tables. These are the tables currently being uploaded onto the Virtual Shanghai platform, including the 62 tables printed in The Population of Shanghai (1865-1953). A Sourcebook. To facilitate access to these tables, I have added keywords to readily identify the various populations of tables: “Brillbook” to gather the 62 tables, “Compiled” to gather the 129 reference tables (uploading is still in process), “demography” for all the statistical tables with demographic data. Moreover, keywords target specific aspects of the data such as “age”, “sex”, “district”, “household”, “occupation”, etc. “Age” will gather all the tables in which there is data on the age structure, distribution, etc. The same applies to each of the keywords. The combination of keywords allows one to target very specific data.

Each table comes with at least two tabs. The first one is for the data proper (sometimes several tabs of data). The user will find a presentation of the content of the data in the “Description” field of each table record on the Virtual Shanghai platform. The second tab is labelled “Metadata”. This tab provides not just the information on the source(s), but much more importantly the list of codes and their definition. These codes appear in the Data tab, generally in the second row below the name fields. We used a systematic system of coding to code the data in a way that allowed us to identify and label the same type of data across the whole collection of tables. This provided the basis for the compilation of data and the reduction from 300 to 129 tables. The user can discard these codes in the use of individual tables. Similarly, the data is presented systematically in columns spread over long rows. It may be more practical, when using an individual table, to transpose the data into a more fitting way. We did not change our presentation because other scholars may be interested in the systematic processing of such data, which the system of coding makes readily processable.

We hope scholars and students at large will enjoy this collection of demographic data on Shanghai and make use of it. There is no other city in China for which such rich demographic statistics are available for the late imperial and republican period. We discuss the reasons of this privileged situation in the introduction of our book. All the same, the reconstruction of the demographic series was an enormous challenge and oftentimes caused us a headache. One of the basic reasons was the absence of a unified administration before 1945. We hope to have contributed both to the social history of Shanghai by providing a solid compilation of statistical figures and to the history of demography in China, and more specifically in modern urban China.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Christian Henriot (September 8, 2018). The population of Shanghai in figures (1865-1953). Blog Virtual Shanghai. Retrieved July 14, 2024 from

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2 Responses

  1. Gena Falzon says:


    Is it possible that the population table data is still available? I am a graduate student looking for Shanghai population data (both Chinese and foreign populations), to compare to land use and building data, specifically the foreign architecture boom of 1865-1930 and the most current super tall building boom of the past ~30 years. I hope you can help me out!

    Thanks and regards,


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