The growing city of Hefei, Anhui provice, China Jianan Yu / Reuters

Chaohu, population 4 million, technically no longer exists

It’s usually extremists and dictator-like leaders who use the phrase “wiped off the map," and they usually mean it as a threat to some other nation they’d like to see destroyed. Not often is that phrase put into action, and especially not domestically. But officials in China have done just that: they’ve wiped one of their own cities off the map. The map, yes, but not the earth. Physically it’s still there; officially it no longer exists. 

The city of Chaohu has officially been eliminated, as NPR reports. It’s a city of about 4 million people, a Phoenix metro area-sized population that’s been suddenly stripped of its cityhood. Located about 200 miles west of Shanghai, the city is still trying to figure out exactly what that means, and why.

The land of the former Chaohu has been divided and distributed to three neighboring cities. It’s a municipal shakeup that surprised many residents, who hadn’t been advised or consulted about the plans. NPR reports that rumors had been circling, but most found out about the city’s dissolution on the news the day it happened in August. The move, it seems, is driven by a desire for growth:

Economics professor Jiang Sanliang from Anhui University explains the thinking behind the decision:

"Chaohu's development hasn't been good, but Hefei is industrializing and urbanizing. It needs land, so absorbing Chaohu will benefit Hefei. The government hopes that redistributing the land will improve the entire province's GDP," he says.

In recent years, Hefei's GDP growth has been an average of 17 percent. So this move serves the long-term aim of boosting Hefei's competitive advantage by giving it land to expand, so it can challenge the more prominent cities of Nanjing and Wuhan.

It’s a pretty harsh message for a country to essentially give up on a city. The state of California recently considered a plan to do something similar in the economically troubled — and some say corrupt — city of Vernon. That plan was rejected by the state legislature, mainly over concerns that its passage would harm the local economy further. It’s tough to say what the exact result will be in the newly enlarged Hefei, but even a modest reduction in the city’s 17 percent growth rate would be hard for Chinese officials to worry about.

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