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Urbanising China

Going to town

Jan 18th 2012, 15:09 by The Economist online

Over half of China’s people now live in urban areas

FOR a nation whose culture and society have been shaped over millennia by its rice-farming traditions, and whose ruling party rose to power in 1949 by mobilising its put-upon peasantry, China has just passed a remarkable milestone: its city-dwellers now outnumber its rural residents. New data from the National Bureau of Statistics show that of China’s 1.35 billion people, 51.3% lived in urban areas at the end of 2011. In 1980 less than a fifth of China’s population lived in cities, a smaller proportion than in India. Over the next ten years the government remained wary of free movement, even as it made its peace with free enterprise. Touting a policy of “leaving the land but not the villages, entering the factories but not cities”, it sought industrialisation without urbanisation, only to discover it could not have one without the other. Even now, its ratio of city-dwellers is, if anything, low for an economy at its stage of development. America reached the 50% mark before 1920. Britain passed it in the 19th century. Go further back, however, and China’s cities dazzled the world. It is likely that one thousand years ago, the Song Dynasty capital of Kaifeng was the world’s most populous city. Marco Polo, who visited China in the 13th century, claimed that Hangzhou was “the most splendid city in the world” with 13,000 bridges—although later estimates suggest the true number was 347.







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