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. Bicycle riders on a package-blocked bicycle lane
    Perspective

    Why Do Micromobility Advocates Have Tiny-Demand Syndrome?

    In the 1930s big auto dreamed up freeways and demanded massive car infrastructure. Micromobility needs its own Futurama—one where cars are marginalized.

  2. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  3. Life

    Why Do Instagram Playgrounds Keep Calling Themselves Museums?

    The bustling industry of immersive, Instagram-friendly experiences has put a new spin on the word museum.

  4. a photo of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in 2016.
    Transportation

    What Uber Did

    In his new book on the “Battle for Uber,” Mike Isaac chronicles the ruthless rise of the ride-hailing company and its founding CEO, Travis Kalanick.

  5. a photo of a WeWork office building
    Life

    What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

    The troubled coworking company is the largest office tenant in New York City. What happens to the city’s commercial real estate market if it goes under?

×