Kam Wing Chan
Wing Chan, professor of geography at the University of Washington, is an expert
on Chinese population statistics and is a guest contributor to the Dragonbeat
blog this week.
big are Chinese cities? That depends on how you measure them.
in 2005, Time magazine proclaimed that Chongqing had become “the largest city
not only in China but in the world”, with a population in excess of 30m.
any Chinese citizen will tell you that Beijing and Shanghai, both with real
urban populations below 15m, are larger than their supposed competitor in
confusion over the true population size of Chongqing and other Chinese cities
reflects the fact that China has highly complex and confusing urban and city
over urban population sizes arises because the boundaries of large Chinese
cities typically encompass an urbanised core surrounded by numerous scattered
towns and large stretches of rural territory, usually with dense farming
cities are so large in area that they are more aptly called regions. Chongqing,
which has an administrative area roughly the size of Austria, is the most
official population of 32m does not represent the true metropolitan population
because more than two-thirds of the employed workers in the so-called
municipality are actually engaged in agriculture.
are two main ways to define urban areas in China: by administrative boundaries
or by objective criteria such as the density of population and buildings. In
Chinese cities, administrative boundaries and objectively urbanised zones
overlap, often confusingly.
Chinese municipality comprises two types of administrative jurisdictions, “city
and counties (xian).
Typically, most of the shiqu are objectively urbanised. The counties are mostly
rural but may contain urbanised pockets, often referred to as “towns”.
situation is complicated further by the important official distinction between
two groups of individual Chinese citizens, those with local residence permits,
and those without.
population statistics based on the number of local hukou holders are issued
every year and are widely available, they do not show the actual population of
cities. But the numbers are often mistakenly used as such.
almost all major cities, the registered population is smaller than the actual
population, which includes migrants whose hukou remains back in their original
community. In some cases the difference is huge: the gap between the registered
and actual population in the migrant city of Shenzhen, for example, was 6.3m in
statistical approaches to calculating urban populations matter because they can
have a huge impact on economic planning and investment decisions. Numerous
studies comparing the competitiveness or productivity of cities in China have
used the wrong city population numbers to generate per capita GDP and other
have applied the hukou population to compute per capita urban GDP, unaware that
this population statistic does not encompass all city residents and in some
cases may include only a minority of the true population.
attempts by China’s National Bureau of Statistics to solve the problem,
individual city population numbers remain a statistical minefield for foreign
businessmen chasing the elusive Chinese consumer.
result is that China’s population statistics and per capita GDP figures both
come with a severe health warning.