Dr. Lauren A. Johnston is a research associate, China Institute, SOAS, University of London. She is founder and managing director of New South Economics.

The hundreds of millions of babies born in Mao’s China during the 1960s are on the cusp of exiting the workforce.

With Beijing expected to release results of the once-in-a-decade census on Tuesday, how China responds to this mass retirement over the next decade will reshape the world economy, just as those people themselves have remade the global economy through their working lives. This time though, it will be China catering to their needs, not they working to satisfy global consumption.

No region tells the story of China’s aging population challenge, and potential, more starkly than China’s three northeast provinces together known as ‘Dongbei’: Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning.

According to University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Yi Fuxian, Dongbei has the world’s lowest total…

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