The rise of more and bigger metropolises gives people more living options
By Lu Yan  ·  2021-11-04  ·   Source: NO.44 NOVEMBER 4, 2021



Visitors at a tourist site in Shanghai on October 2 (XINHUA)

When she obtained her master's degree this year, Zhu Yanyan decided to leave Beijing after residing in the capital for six years and go back to her hometown in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, to settle down. "Compared with Beijing or Shanghai, the cost of living in Chengdu is lower, making life less stressful—but no less convenient," Zhu explained.

In September, the National Bureau of Statistics released a list of China's megacities and supercities based on the seventh national census results released in May. The number of such metropolises reached 21, among nearly 700 cities nationwide. For the first time, Chengdu, too, was listed as a megacity.

In October, a detailed guideline on the promotion of the coordinated development of the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle was jointly released by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council. Aiming to create a new economic growth zone in the western region, the directive calls for the transformation of Chengdu and adjacent Chongqing into an important economic center and a hub for scientific and technological innovation.

"New policies will lead to new development potentials and opportunities for Chengdu residents. I'm optimistic about the future progress of the megacity," Zhu told Beijing Review. 


According to a document on city size classification criteria issued by the State Council in November 2014, a megacity is defined as a city with a population of 10 million or more, whereas a supercity is an area with a permanent urban population of over 5 million and under 10 million.

The definition of megacity is the same as the one put forward by the UN. Currently, there are more than 30 megacities in the world. The UN estimates this number will rise to 41 by 2030.

Among the seven Chinese cities with over 10 million inhabitants, Shanghai ranks first with a permanent populace of 19.87 million. Tianjin is listed seventh with an urban population of 10.93 million.

Due to the agglomeration effect of big cities, their expanding population will produce more innovation and ideas, yet population flow will lead to polarization, with people flowing into large cities and out of rural areas and small towns, according to Fan Gang, President of the China Development Institute, an independent think tank based in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province.

Fan believes that at present, China should follow the natural trend of population migration and undertake urban planning accordingly.

Under the urbanization trend, the government has encouraged the formation of city clusters. The policy helps metropolises absorb the influx of new urbanites all the while avoiding the added population burden by diverting some migrants to satellite cities or towns.

"Xiongan New Area is a good example," Fan said. On April 1, 2017, China announced plans to establish the new area, located about 100 km southwest of Beijing. The zone intends to become a green city featuring innovation, a national model of high-quality development, as well as a destination for organizations relocated out of Beijing because their functions are not essential to the city's role as capital of the country.

Beijing is China's second largest megacity with an urban population of 17.75 million. The establishment of Xiongan is a measure to relieve the capital of its residential burden as well as part of a series of measures to advance the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, with the aim to shape a new pole of economic growth to enable all three regions to draw on each other's strengths and drive the development of the hinterland in north China. 

Fan explained how Xiongan takes advantage of its geographical location by using high-speed railways and other means of transportation to connect the surrounding big cities and form an urban agglomeration, consequently driving both economic growth and social progress.

Aside from the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, China has regional development plans respectively for the Yangtze River Delta in the eastern region and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area in the south.

Today, the population of the 21 megacities and supercities accounts for over 20 percent of the country's population, and their overall area covers about 7.5 percent of China's urban land, showing their pivotal position in national economic and social development, according to Chen Mingxing, a researcher with the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Trials and tribulations 

Due to their large population, the megacities will be put to the test on several levels. "Large-scale influx of migrants may further strain public facilities and services such as medical care, education and housing," Chen said, adding that it is crucial to pursue sustainable development in these cities.

Chen further said they should improve the supply of basic public services. The floating population should enjoy the same opportunities and benefits as the population holding a local household registration, so as to promote their integration into the city. He also noted the development of the nation's second- and third-tier cities should receive an upgrade in a bid to attract more people.

Established in the late 1950s, China's household registration system divides the population into rural and non-rural ones, and individuals' rights to education, healthcare, housing and employment are closely linked with the household registration. In the past decades, China has witnessed a mass migration of rural labor to urban areas. Under the household registration system, rural migrant workers have only limited access to social welfare in cities, although many have lived and worked in cities for years. With the rapid process of urbanization, recent years have seen restrictions on urban household registration relaxed to help rural residents, like migrant workers and their families, settle in new towns and cities and enjoy equal social benefits. 

The future of the system's reform should focus on megacities where the floating population accounts for half of the country's cross-regional and urban-rural migrants, according to Lu Ming, a professor with Antai College of Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Without a household registration status in the megacities, some people have other plans for life. He Lixin, a 29-year-old entrepreneur born in Datong, Shanxi Province, has been living in Shanghai for half a decade following his college graduation. He first worked at a small company, having to make do with a small income. In 2019, with his accumulated experience, he managed to start up his own business in organizing exhibitions related to the Internet industry.

Although his living standards have improved as his earnings increased to 10 times that of his first Shanghai paycheck, he still wishes to leave the metropolis after he finally becomes financially independent, by his own definition. "The city's climate doesn't suit me very well and housing is super expensive. The money that can get you a tiny apartment in Shanghai can pay for a big house in a third-tier city with a beautiful landscape and slower pace of life," He told Beijing Review, adding that another ideal option for him would be to establish his own homestay and agritainment businesses in the countryside once he grows tired of urban life.

(Print Edition Title: Living the City Dream) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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