[FOUNTAIN]By the numbersCensuses have been taken since ancient times in Egypt and China. The results of population surveys were utilized as basic materials for such important policy matters as taxation, military service and labor management.
The modern census, however, originated from a count taken in 1790 right after the United States fought free of Great Britain during the Revolutionary War.
Americans were 11 years ahead of Europeans in taking a census. Great Britain, France, Denmark and Portugal began to count their populations for the first time on a large scale in 1801.
A census has been taken in Korea from time immemorial as well. Such surveys were taken with particular seriousness during the Goryeo Dynasty, from 918 to 1392. It was not until the late 18th century, under King Jeongjo's rule during the Joseon Dynasty, that the entire Korean population was tallied in a survey.
The Japanese government, which ran Korea during 35 years of occupation, introduced the truly modern census to the Korean Peninsula in 1925. It was a symplified survey for the purpose of facilitating tax collections.
After being liberated from Japan, Korea took its first population survey in 1949.
The questions asked in such surveys generally are never more than 50 for any country. Each nation however, has different feelings about whether the surveys ought to be released to the public or not.
Most countries establish a rule that the documents ought to be opened, but dictatorial regimes don't think that way. They even fabricate the original documents. Take the Soviet Union, for example.
The Soviet Union carefully controlled the movement of its population. A good number of the results from Russian surveys were classified with the words "For official use only." A huge project under the Soviet regime was "Expeditious Increase in the Population of the Communist Soviet Union." The results didn't meet the Communists' expectations, ultimately causing them to add an imaginary 3 million people to the Soviet population.
In 1989, more than half of the documents were classified "for official use only." And the collapse of Soviet Union didn't bring any dramatic differences.
These days, more Russians demand access to all information gathered by census. It is hoped that the results of a recent census will not be classified "for official use only."
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan