- Jing-Jin-Ji: Integrating a Chinese megapolis
YANJIAO, China—At 5:30 a.m., on a recent Monday, 65-year-old Chen Yuguo began standing in line at a bus stop in Yanjiao, a city about 20 miles east of Beijing.
Yuguo waits at the Shangshangcheng bus station every weekday morning, saving a spot in the queue for his 25-year-old son, Chen Jialin, who works as a programmer in Sanlitun, one of Beijing’s busiest commercial districts.
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Jialin arrived at 6:40 a.m. with a breakfast—prepared by his mother—of five steamed dumplings and a boiled egg, and took Yuguo’s place. The bus came soon thereafter, and Jialin said goodbye to his father. “He is too tired. Every day he spends almost four hours traveling, so I try to help him a bit. I come early so he gets a seat on the bus for a nap,” Yuguo said after his son left.
The Chens’ daily routine is not unique. Six out of the 10 people in the line were parents helping their children avoid standing for the two-hour trip into the city. Expensive housing makes it difficult to live in Beijing, but the capital city still offers unparalleled opportunities for young people. Yanjiao, once a backwater town in Hebei province, is now linked to Beijing by bus—a commuting solution for the Chens and many other families. Although Jialin has a long journey every day, his father said, “We think our lives are promising. At least we are getting closer and closer to the capital.”
Three years ago, Yuguo and his wife bought a 969-square-feet apartment in Shangshangcheng compound for 720,000 yuan ($110,216). Since the Chens moved to Yanjiao, their bedroom community has been radically transformed. Apartment buildings used to sit half empty, but now it’s a bustling community with kids chasing each other on the playground and residents receiving a steady stream of flyers advertising newly constructed residences.
In February 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that the Jing-Jin-Ji metropolitan region—short for Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei—would be a development priority. Over the next decade and half, these three areas will be better connected, and, hopefully, the gap between the province and cities will be bridged in a newly integrated supercity. The government pledged in 2015 that across Jing-Jin-Ji public services would be more equally allocated. With its relatively convenient access to Beijing, Yanjiao, with a current population of 600,000, would stand to benefit and could become one of Hebei’s most important cities.
Josh Freedman, a researcher from China Policy, a Beijing-based research and advisory firm, said that despite being close neighbors, Beijing, Tianjin, and the surrounding Hebei province have long been politically and economically divided. “Each area—and even administrative divisions like counties or districts within these three areas—has its own interests and bases of power. Jing-Jin-Ji is an attempt to break down some of these divisions through technological and infrastructural integration.”
The government program, Coordinated Development Outline, released in June 2015, outlines the development goals for Jing-Jin-Ji: Beijing will remain the center of politics, culture, and innovation; Tongzhou, beyond Chaoyang district in the city’s east, will become the seat of the municipal government; Tianjin will be a hub of high-end manufacturing and technology; and Hebei is slated to be a national test site for upgrading manufacturing industries with new technologies.
One aim of this plan is to bring jobs and money to Hebei, a province with 73 million people that circles much of Beijing. But without changes to the distribution of public benefits, infrastructural and technological improvements may not be enough to improve the lives of Hebei’s residents.
“A POVERTY BELT”
Covering about 82,000-square miles and with 130 million people, Jing-Jin-Ji accounted for nearly 10 percent of China’s GDP in 2014. But development across the region is uneven. While Beijing is the cosmopolitan capital and Tianjin is an international harbor, Hebei is mired in poverty. [End Page 6]