Reuters

Millions of rural Chinese are moving to cities, but the opportunities they're finding there are uncertain

In 2008, the world’s city-dwelling population officially passed the 50 percent mark. In 2011, so did China.

A recent article from The Guardian looks into the rapid urbanization of China, and including the fact that the country’s census earlier this year found 49.7 percent of its population living in urban areas. That’s about 666 million people.

China’s cities will be home to more than a billion people within the next 20 years, according to a 2009 estimate from the McKinsey Global Institute. By that time, China is expected to have 221 cities with a population above 1 million.

Cities such as Guiyang are at the heart of the government's strategy. It is the capital of south-western Guizhou, China's poorest province, where just 34% of the population is urban. It already has 3 million inhabitants and is challenging terrain for expansion: "This is Guizhou – you open the door, you have to climb a mountain," says one resident. But its boundaries are expanding north, south, east and west. There are cranes everywhere and scores of developments thrusting into the skyline, their names – Dreamland, Sky Acropolis – as lofty as their dimensions.

China's current five-year plan (for the years 2011-2015) predicts the national rate of urbanization to reach 51.5 percent, and even that may prove to be a low estimate. The plan also calls for the creation of 45 million jobs in urban areas.

But the shift of Chinese workers from rural to urban areas is not a smooth or equitable process. Hukou, the long-held household registration system meant to limit the migration of families, hasn’t kept rural Chinese from moving to take advantage of opportunities in rapidly growing cities. But it has kept them from obtaining the rights and privileges of urban dwellers. This is a cycle of poverty that seems unlikely to break soon. And as China’s cities continue to urbanize and their populations continue to grow, the problems caused by this urban-rural stratification are likely to grow right along with them.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a new subdivision of high-end suburban homes in Highland, Maryland.
    Equity

    Unpacking the Power of Privileged Neighborhoods

    A new study shows that growing up in an affluent community brings “compounding privileges” and higher educational attainment—especially for white residents.

  2. A photo of the silhouette of a cyclist on a bike lane.
    Transportation

    Watch Bike Advocates Vent About the Silliest Anti-Bike Lane Arguments

    A new video from Streetfilms assembles the most head-scratching attacks employed by bike-lane foes, such as: Don’t let the terrorists win!

  3. Amazon public policy representative Holly Sullivan hugs Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
    Equity

    In Nashville, Will Amazon Overpromise and Under-Deliver?

    New salary data cast doubt among activists on whether Amazon will fulfill its compensation pledge in Nashville. And they’re advocating to stall local approvals.

  4. a photo of French yellow vest protesters
    Life

    France’s Yellow Vests Are Rebels Without a Cause

    As weekly protests continue in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron is still trying to figure out what the “yellow vest” movement wants. It’s not an easy task.

  5. Transportation

    Atlanta’s Big Transit Vote Is a Referendum on Race

    As suburban Gwinnett County weighs a MARTA expansion, changing demographics and politics may decide the Georgia capital's transportation future.