25 April 2010

China's Urbanization

For frequent visitors to China, it will be no surprise that the country is now home to one quarter of the world’s largest cities. According to a new United Nations report, there are now 236 cities in China with a population of over half a million. Over 100 more are expected to be added by 2025. The report, 2009 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, issued last month, says that China’s urban population more than doubled between 1980 and 2010, rising from 19 to 47 percent. By 2025, it is expected that 59 percent of China’s population will live in cities.

China is transitioning from a centralized planned economy to a market economy, from egalitarianism to individualism and competition. Within one generation China is making the transition from a developing nation to a developed one.

Urbanization has led to staggering economic growth but it had also caused massive inequalities.

China has been able to lift half a billion people out of poverty in the last 30 years and improved the quality of life of hundreds of thousands, particularly in urban areas. But the disparities between urban and rural areas are stark with urban per capita incomes three times those of rural areas according to UN reports.

Although regional inequalities remain a major problem, it is not just in China’s megacities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Chongqing where the quality of life is improving for ordinary Chinese. On a visit last year to the coalmining city of Datong in China’s Shanxi Province, one could not but be impressed by the quality of housing going up all over the city at a phenomenal pace (photo above).

China’s transition is unprecedented. The consequences are still unfolding, both at home and abroad.

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