Many major variables have influenced the speed and magnitude of China's urban expansion, including late-70s economic reforms, within-country migration regulations, expanding urban-rural income gaps, excess agricultural employees, and farmland conversion for urban use. Overall, these factors have been pushing Chinese cities to expand at a rapid rate.
Urbanisation in China has been a two-stage process. In the first stage, from 1949 to 1970, most rural residents moved to larger and better-connected cities, which increased their exposure to industrial employment and improved living standards. This "migration for work" resulted in a net loss of farmers and an increase in the proportion of the population that was non-agricultural.
In the second stage, starting in the early 1970s, this trend began to reverse itself as more and more peasants moved to large cities in search of jobs, which reduced the proportion of the population that was non-agricultural. By 2007, approximately half of all children under five years old and nearly one third of all children under one year old were born in cities, compared with about 40 percent each for all ages combined. This is because local authorities no longer can afford to allow parents to bring their infants back home from hospitals outside of town.
China's economy has been driven primarily by manufacturing until recently, when its service sector has become more important.
Urban expansion is caused by both rural-urban migration and a natural rise caused by more births than deaths in cities. Urbanization is a component of China's economic development, which is accelerating. As a result, per capita earnings rise, as does demand for non-agricultural items. Rural poverty tends to move to cities because there are no employment opportunities in agriculture or in small businesses. This means that one route out of poverty for many rural residents is to move to Beijing or another large city where jobs can be found in industry or services.
At present, there are about 30 million rural migrants to cities, most of them young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Many come from poor rural families and hope to earn enough money to help support them. But they often end up working long hours for low wages in factories and restaurants.
The other factor behind China's rapid urbanization is the traditional preference for boys over girls. In 2016, there were 33 million more men than women in China, which means that men lose employment opportunities when industries relocate or expand. One solution is for women to join the workforce, but this is not always the case; especially in rural areas where it is customary for parents to keep their children home so they can study or take care of the family business.
Population, income, and agricultural land rent are the primary factors of urban expansion in China, and industrialisation has an impact on urban core growth (Deng, Huang, Rozelle, & Uchida, 2008). Since the late 1970s, population growth has been the key factor driving urban expansion in China. With more than 60 million people entering the workforce since 1978 and with an average annual growth rate of 1.5%, it is expected that there will be another 500 million people by 2050 (UNFPA, 2015). Income growth has also played a role in promoting urbanisation; per capita GDP increased from $300 in 1978 to $10,000 in 2014. The share of agriculture in the total economy decreased from 22% in 1978 to 9% in 2010. Thus, economic development has been one of the major drivers of urbanisation in China.
Other factors such as education level, health care, transportation infrastructure, and environmental quality have also influenced urbanisation in China. For example, improved medical facilities and healthcare services have allowed more rural residents to move to cities for work, which has promoted urban expansion. At the same time, insufficient public transportation and poor road networks in many parts of China make it difficult for people to travel to better jobs or health care facilities in other cities.
The tremendous rise of Chinese cities, as well as the country's general demographic and economic restructuring due to enormous urbanization, are the most visible expressions of this colossal transition. In the Chinese urban system, some metrics, such as GDP, land area, and road length [3, 4], also obey scaling principles. The Chinese city-size distribution follows a power law with an exponent close to -1, which indicates that it is highly clustered.
In 2012, there were about 60 million migrants in China living in large cities, accounting for 42% of the total population. This number is expected to increase to over 70 million by 2020.
Urban areas in China are growing at a rate of nearly 10 percent per year. By 2050, it is estimated that more than half of the population will live in cities.
Currently, there are three main types of cities in China: capital cities, important city centers, and ordinary cities.
Migrants usually settle in the largest cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. These cities have the highest quality of life and offer the best opportunities for employment. In addition, they receive significant government subsidies that reduce the cost of living.
However, migrants often leave these cities when they get a job opportunity elsewhere or when their subsidies run out.