Sinophobia, Factoids, and Facts

Here's a ubiquitous "factoid" I'd heard a number of times over the years. I ran into it again and thought I'd check it out.

If the population of China walked past you, 8 abreast, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction.

It presents itself as an interesting fact, but it's totally racist and hearkens back to the Sinophobia which has been a major part of American history. It is another bit of propaganda teaching us to be afraid.

I even found a reference to this being presented during the Cold War as if you lined up all of the Chinese and machine-gunned them as they walked by you you'd never kill them all because they'd reproduce too fast. Next time somebody tells you that the 50s were the good-old-days, remember this kind of racism.

Anyway, I wondered if it were true. It's repeated enough, there must be some basis in it. Right? Right? No. A Google search was unenlightening. The trivia was repeated again and again, some people didn't believe it, but no one seemed to have checked the math. I found one reference, but it was off by a factor of 60. A similar question is answered (mostly) right here.

I did the math. Based on reasonable assumptions and current population and rate of growth of China, the entire population would pass in less than 10 years. The assumptions and the math are shown in this pdf.

In 1950, when this had more currency as propaganda, it would have been less than five years. I modeled an extreme scenario" with the highest ever population and the extreme rate of population growth one year after the "great leap forward." It still takes less than 11 years for all to pass. If it's a single file line instead of eight abreast, it does take a long time, 106 years, but that's very different from never. It surprised me, but in a column 8 wide, walking slowly with reasonable space between people, 140,000,000 will walk past a point in a year. That makes quick work of the population of any country.

Conclusion: there's no basis in fact for this often repeated bit of trivia / racist propaganda.