Why do people emigrate from China?

Information sheet on urban development in China

Population distribution in China, one point represents 100,000 inhabitants (Klett)

The urbanization process in the PRC


With more than 1.4 billion people, the People's Republic of China (PR China) is the most populous country on earth. More people live in China than in the US and Europe combined. The population density of 144 inhabitants / km² is comparatively low, but many Chinese regions are among the most densely populated areas in the world. Most of the population is concentrated in the coastal areas in the east of the country. Large parts of the Chinese hinterland in the western part are characterized by numerous mountains and plateaus, which are very sparsely populated. Since the early 1980s, Chinese society and economy have been going through strong modernization processes, which have had a significant impact on the urban system in China.

The urbanization process in China until the early 1980s

In the year the PR China was founded in 1949, only one in ten Chinese lived in a city. This corresponds to a degree of urbanization of around 10 percent. To date, the degree of urbanization in China is comparatively low at around 43% (Germany: around 88%). There are reasons for this: While the industrialization process triggered migration movements in many western countries, people in China were for a long time forbidden to freely choose their place of residence. Even today there are still strict migration rules in the country. In the first decade of the People's Republic of China, a balanced urban system was to be created and the contradiction between the developed coastal area and the backward hinterland overcome. For this purpose, so-called key industrial centers were created inland, in which the emergence of industrial cores was encouraged. During this time, the population of China increased significantly despite the low life expectancy. The political leadership in China was of the opinion that a powerful state also needs a large number of inhabitants.
In the early 1960s, the birth rate fell significantly due to famine. In addition, government measures for birth planning, such as contraception and abortion, stagnated population growth. A little later, the Cultural Revolution brought the birth control campaigns to a standstill and the almost unrestrained population growth in China continued. In some years the population grew by 3%. One consequence of the growth was overcrowded cities with high unemployment. To relieve these cities, people were relocated from the cities to the countryside. The targeted resettlement measures were also intended to eliminate the class difference between the non-agricultural and agricultural populations. As a result, the degree of urbanization in China remained the same in the 1960s and 1970s, or in some cases even fell. Only later campaigns slowed down population growth. Initially, measures such as raising the age at marriage and the two-child restriction were introduced. From 1979, the stricter rules of the one-child family applied, which provided for strict birth controls and immediate abortions in the event of unauthorized pregnancies. However, the regulations were implemented with varying degrees of strictness within China and there were also regional exceptions e.g. B. for the rural population. Nevertheless, as a result of these measures, population growth slowed to around 1% and is currently 0.6%.

Strong urbanization since modernization measures

A political upheaval took place in China in 1978. Social and economic change was ultimately accelerated by the economic reforms in the early 1980s. The country is changing from a strongly agrarian society to a service society. Furthermore, a transition from the state-controlled planned economy to a market economy with private property began. The reforms led to an economic structural change that has been extremely rapid to this day and has affected all areas of social coexistence. The rigid reporting system prevented internal migration in China until the aforementioned economic reforms. The reporting system recorded the population by place of birth and divided the residents into urban and rural areas. A change of residence was almost impossible. With the loosening of the reporting system, enormous internal migration began. The barriers to access the rural population to the cities have been weakened. A change of residence from the country to the city is still only possible in exceptional cases, but a registered "temporary residence" can be applied for. Due to the high costs, many rural refugees fail to register and therefore live as illegal migrant workers in the cities. It is now believed that more than 100 million Chinese are permanently migrating in search of work.
A distinction can be made between push and pull factors. In addition to the relaxed conditions in the reporting system, the structural change in Chinese agriculture is mainly responsible for internal migration. For example, the agricultural area continues to decline due to environmental problems and increased industrial use. Mechanization increases productivity and frees up a large number of workers. They are hoping for a job from the urban labor market, particularly in the construction and service industries. Another pull factor is rising incomes in the big cities and economically strong coastal regions. Migration is thus predominantly characterized by movements from the countryside to the city and from the north and west to the coasts in the south and east. Cities are not only growing demographically, they are also becoming more densely populated and growing together. This mainly affects the network of cities near the coast: In the coastal regions, agglomerations with megacities have emerged as growth centers. These include, for example, the metropolitan area of ​​Shanghai (approx. 14.9 million inhabitants), Beijing (approx. 11.6 million inhabitants) and Hong Kong (approx. 8.9 million inhabitants). In 2012 over 50 cities had at least one or several million inhabitants. 15 years earlier there were only 27 cities with a million inhabitants in China. But the number of small and medium-sized cities has also increased significantly. However, it should be noted that different population numbers can be found for the individual cities, which among other things. related to the different delimitations of the urban area and counting methods.

Future development of urbanization

Despite this rapid development, the degree of urbanization in China is still relatively low. It is estimated that the number of people living in cities will increase to around 75% or 1.1 billion in 2050. The Chinese government is now taking further major steps to accelerate and control urbanization over the next few years. Because the massive and, above all, spatially concentrated urbanization process brings with it considerable problems:

  • rising unemployment in cities,
  • high environmental pollution,
  • impending traffic blackout due to increasing motorization,
  • Supply bottlenecks with clean drinking water and energy,
  • Income differences between urban and rural areas threaten social peace.

A water drainage project from north to south is currently underway to combat water scarcity. New sewage treatment plants are being built to get the water pollution under control. In order to prevent a traffic blackout, ring roads are built around the cities and public transport is increasingly used (e.g. with additional bus routes). Extensive green spaces are being built to protect against air pollution and eco-zones are being designated. Furthermore, the Chinese government is promoting relief cities in the comparatively underdeveloped hinterland. The bottom line is that spatial and urban planning in China has to break new ground in order to be able to cope with the rapid urbanization process.
As a result, over 14 million rural migrants move to China's cities every year. They are literally calling for urbanization, as are the builders and town planners who are designing the cities of the future for the Middle Kingdom. China is in the midst of a tremendous and rapid restructuring from a rural developing country to an industrialized urban society. The transformation will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people. According to state plans, around 60% of all Chinese - or 800 million - will live permanently in cities by 2020, and around 70% or more than a billion people by 2050.

Source: Geography Information Center
Author: Mirko Ellrich
Publisher: Klett
Location: Leipzig
Source date: 2007
Page: www.klett.de
Processing date: 09/30/2019

China, urban development, city

Back to the terrace