chapter  4
22 Pages

The urban system since 1949

The place of cities in Chinese politics, society, and economy has changed markedly since the mid-twentieth century. Chairman Mao reviled cities as symbols of unbridled consumption; today cities are perceived as the primary mechanism for new economic growth and development. These differing visions have had a fundamental influence on the development of China’s urban system. Although there were hundreds of cities distributed throughout China (see Chapter 2), nonetheless, in 1949, only about 11 percent of China’s 542 million people lived in cities. During the first decade of the People’s Republic of China, the urban share of the population nearly doubled. Yet between 1960 and 1980, there was little change in this share, as it hovered between 18 and 20 percent of the total population. By 1980, about 19 percent of China’s 985 million people lived in cities. Today, however, the urban share of China’s 1.4 billion population is about 51 percent, and is expected to continue rising well into the twenty-first century. These drastic shifts are inextricably linked to dramatic changes in development policies over the past 60 years, population movements, and changing definitions of what is urban.