Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2012

Supersized cities: China's 13 megalopolises

July 2012

Economist Intelligence Unit


The rise and decline of great cities past was largely based on their ability to draw the ambitious and the restless from other places. China’s cities are on the rise. Their growth has been fuelled both by the large-scale internal migration of those seeking better lives and by government initiatives encouraging the expansion of urban areas. The government hopes that the swelling urban populace will spend more in a more highly concentrated retail environment, thereby helping to rebalance the Chinese economy towards private consumption. Progress has been rapid. The country’s urbanisation rate surpassed 50% for the first time in 2011, up from a little over one-third just ten years earlier. Even though the growth of China’s total population will soon slow to a near standstill, the urban population is expected to continue expanding for at least another decade. China’s cities will continue to grow. Some cities have grown more rapidly than others. The metropolitan population of the southern city of Shenzhen, China’s poster child for the liberal economic reforms of the past 30 years, has nearly doubled since 2000. However, development has also spread through more of the country, and today the fastest-growing cities are no longer all on the eastern seaboard. Moreover, a sizeable proportion of the urban population is shifting towards several key focal points across the country. The number of super-sized urban agglomerations will rise, from three in 2000 to 13 in 2020, and they will together represent nearly one-third of the total urban population by the end of the decade. We describe these urban centres as megalopolises, denoting a city or cluster of cities with a combined metropolitan population of more than 10m people.