Understanding China's Urbanization

Understanding China's Urbanization

The Great Demographic, Spatial, Economic, and Social Transformation

Li Zhang, Richard LeGates and Min Zhao

China’s urbanization is one of the great earth-changing phenomena of recent times. The way in which China continues to urbanize will have a critical impact on the world economy, global climate change, international relations and a host of other critical issues. Understanding and responding to China’s urbanization is of paramount importance to everyone. This book represents a unique exploration of the demographic, spatial, economic and social aspects of China’s urban transformation.

Chapter 7: China’s evolving city system and large city clusters

Li Zhang, Richard LeGates and Min Zhao

Subjects: asian studies, asian development, asian geography, asian urban and regional studies, development studies, asian development, migration, economics and finance, urban economics, geography, asian geography, cities and urban geography, human geography, politics and public policy, migration, urban and regional studies, migration, urban economics, urban studies, planning


While China is a very large country—with a land area about the size of the United States—it contains about one-fifth of the world’s population. Much of Qinghai province, the Tibet and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions, and other parts of China’s land area are sparsely inhabited or empty desert, mountain, or grassland. Accordingly, for millennia China’s population has been concentrated in central and eastern China—particularly the Pearl River Delta including Hong Kong, the Yangtze River Delta with Shanghai as its core, and the Beijing–Tianjin corridor. At different times since the Tang dynasty capital cities of important Chinese dynasties were very large: notably Chang ’An (Xian), Kai-Feng, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Beijing. But they were centers of political and military authority not much integrated with small and medium-sized cities, towns, and villages near them or larger systems of cities in China (Friedmann, 2005). China’s very large cities and the relationships among them have emerged only in the last three decades.

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