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C h a p t e r 5 Urban Growth and Spatial Development: The China Case Anthony Yeh China has experienced rapid urban growth since the adoption of Economic Reform and Open Policy in 1978. Not only is more than onethird of the country’s population now living in cities, but the remaining population is becoming increasingly dependent on cities and towns for its economic survival and livelihood. At the National People’s Congress in March 2001, the central government clearly affirmed the coming reality of China as an urban nation and did so again when it made ‘‘urbanization ’’ an important national strategy in the Tenth Five-Year Plan. At the Sixteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in November 2002, it reiterated its aim to build a moderately well-off society (xiaokong shehue), and a higher level of urbanization will be used to support this. China has recently entered a period of very rapid urbanization. In 2003, the urbanization level topped 40 percent. Chinese experts predict that by 2050, the urban population is likely to reach 1.0 to 1.1 billion, with urbanization levels soaring upward of 75 percent and the urban sector contributing over 95 percent of the national economy (Li 2003). Accordingly, more than 600 million Chinese people will shift from rural areas to urban districts by 2050 (People’s Daily 2002). Furthermore, projections show that by 2050, there are likely to be fifty ultra-large cities (with populations of more than 2 million), over 150 big cities, 500 medium-sized cities, and 1,500 small cities (People’s Daily 2002). In addition to these demographic changes, other forces such as globalization and regional integration are expected to further accelerate the role of cities as centers of production, consumption, and social and political change. Existing urban development in China reflects its transition from a 68 Twenty-First-Century Population Prospect 45 40 35 30 25 0 Urbanization % 1952 5 10 15 20 1961 1970 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 First Second Third Fourth Figure 5.1. Four Waves of Urbanization in China Source: China Population and Employment Statistical Yearbook 2007. centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented economy, and because of this China has taken a different developmental path from those already market-oriented cities in the West and in other parts of Asia. China is also one of the few countries in the world that has an overt national urbanization policy. In order to understand the growth and spatial development of cities in China, we need to examine the changes in the urbanization trends since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Four Waves of Urbanization Four main waves of urbanization can be identified in China since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 (figure 5.1) (Yeh, Xu, and Yi 2006). They have had different impacts on the urbanization level, city-size distribution, spatial distribution of cities, and internal structure of cities. The central government played an important role in urban system development in China up until the adoption of Economic Reform and Open Policy in 1978, after which this role has been increasingly reduced. First Phase: Anti-Urbanization (1949–1978) The first period of urbanization started in 1949 and ended in 1978. This period was characterized by low levels of urbanization and even anti- Urban Growth and Spatial Development in China 69 urbanization; during this period, the percentage of the population living in cities was never above 20 percent. Politics and public policy were the two most important factors in shaping urban development in China (Lo 1987). They exerted a strong control over the growth of urban population (Xu 1984a), urban system development (Chang 1976; Xu 1984b), and the provincial distribution of urban population (Yeh and Xu 1984). In the pre-1978 era, urban population growth was slow, maintaining an average annual growth rate of 2.8 percent (CSSB, 1999a). This was in sharp contrast to other countries in Asia, which were urbanizing at a rapid rate of over 5 percent per annum. Both the official policy of strictly controlling the size of large cities and the industrial policy of dispersing industries from the coast increased the urbanization level of cities in the interior provinces of northwest China and led to the development of small and medium-sized cities and a balanced urban system...


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