One thing I can safely say about China is that it has about one billion more people than the United States. A billion is one thousand millions. For China scholars across disciplines, the shear size of the population has become what Arjun Appadurai dubbed a “gate-keeping concept” (1986:357), and has greatly informed analysis of the country’s economic development, public policy, and even social and business norms. But, it is a quantity not easily handled by the human mind. To wrap my head around it, at least partially, I’ve started thinking of it like this: To count up to a billion by one’s – at a normal pace, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year – would take over thirty years!
It’s amazing how even basic demographics become quickly unwieldy in China. That’s why impactful research must consider how individuals and groups of individuals combine to make up the most populous country on Earth. There is much value in appreciating the composite parts, while keeping in mind the enormity of the whole that they create. Hence, I will look at one, then a thousand, and then marvel at the thousand millions amongst whom I work.