Saturday, June 18, 2011

China's Population Sprawl

Population statistics are among the dodgy numbers that the "dim sums" blog is named for. China's population census numbers released a few months ago revealed that the population was nearly half urban. This census was the first to count migrant workers where they live instead of where they are officially registered. Migrants were only counted if they lived in a place 6 months or more.

So far, only a few numbers from the census have been released in brief communiques. An unofficial table of unknown origin posted on several web sites titled "2010 Census Data, Ranking of Cities by Population" reveals the difference these migrants make in China's urbanization.

It's surprisingly difficult to find an accurate list of city populations. Two rankings, one based on 2008 data and another based on 2004 data posted on online bulletin boards give wildly differing results. "City" population figures often include outlying rural areas under the city's administration. In the 2008 ranking, for example, Chongqing is counted as the largest "city" with 28 million people, but most of those are in the countryside and millions of them are actually working and living elsewhere as migrants. Other relatively small cities that crack to top tier of cities include Zhoukou in Henan (9.9 million, ranked no. 7) and Weifang of Shandong (8.8 million, ranked no. 10). Neither of these places are particularly large cities--most of this population is in the densely populated and far-flung surrounding countryside. The 2004 listing appears to count city populations--Chongqing has 12 million in this listing and neither Zhoukou or Weifang appear in the top 100.

The 2010 census listing gives quite a different picture. The top two cities by far are Shanghai (22 million) and Beijing (19 million)--no surprise there. What is striking is the appearance of Guangdong's factory towns among the most populous cities. Below, the 2010 census listing is compared with a ranking of city population based on the earlier 2004 ranking:

Guangzhou (ranked 4th, 11.1 million in 2010 vs. 6.2 million in 2004 ranking)
Shenzhen (ranked 5th, 10.4 million vs. 1.4 million)
Dongguan (ranked 6th, 8.2 million vs. 1.6 million)
Foshan (ranked 9th, 7.2 million vs. 4.4 million)
Shantou (ranked 16th, 5.3 million vs. 1.2 million)

These 5 cities are basically a sprawling territory of wall-to-wall factories just over the Hong Kong border. Their combined population is over 42 million, 27 million more than in the 2004 ranking.

In contrast, the 2010 census ranking shows Chongqing is a big city of 7.5 million, but not the massive 28 million often attributed to it. Chongqing is ranked 8th and similar in size to Foshan--a city you've probably never heard of unless you deal with export manufacturers, saw the movie Yip Man, or went to the women's world cup of soccer a few years ago. Foshan has nearly the same population as Nanjing and is slightly bigger than Wuhan, Xian, and Hangzhou.

In Shandong, Jinan and Qingdao--the best-known cities--have populations of 2-to-3 million. Weifang has over 2 million--much less than in the 2008 listing cited above, but still nearly the same as Qingdao. Shandong has four other cities with populations in the 2-to-3 million range: Zibo, Yantai, Zaozhuang, Linyi.

The source of these 2010 data is not given, and they are not official (the listing appears to be printed from an excel spreadsheet). The numbers do not match up exactly with city communiques (see below). But they do reflect China's new urbanization better than the previously-available statistics.

Beijing's statistics bureau has released a communique on its population figures from the 2010 census. The total population of Beijing is reported to be 19.6 million (800,000 more than in the 2010 ranking discussed above). Of those, 7 million came from other provinces or muncipalities--in other words they are migrants.

Shanghai's census communique reports a population of 23 million, of whom nearly 9 million are from outside Shanghai.

Guangzhou's communique reports a population of 12.7 million, nearly 1.7 million more than the mysterious 2010 listing, but does not report "outsiders."

Shenzhen's communique reports a population of 7 million (3 million less than the mysterious ranking!) and notes that the population officially registered in Shenzhen is 1.2 million.

Foshan's communique reports a population of 7.2 million that matches the ranking.

The populations of these cities increased more than one-third from 2000 to 2010. The number of migrants in Shanghai increased by 5.5 million between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. The number in Beijing increased 4.5 million.

Migrant populations are still understated. People who had lived in a place less than 6 months were not counted in that city's population and it seems unlikely they would be counted in their home town since they weren't there when the census-takers came around.

Chongqing's terse communique reported that the administrative region's population was 28.8 million but little else. Chongqing's leaders are probably embarrassed that Chongqing's population is 1.1 million LESS than the 2000 census population (30.9 million).

The 2010 census was also the first to count foreigners but they are a relatively small proportion. Beijing had 107,300 overseas Chinese and foreigners who had lived in the city at least 3 months. Of those, 8500 were from Hong Kong and Macao, 7770 were from Taiwan, and over 90,000 were from foreign countries.

It's still unclear as to exactly how big Beijing is. Only 16.9 million lived in cities and towns of Beijing while 2.7 million lived in the countryside. Beijing's 19.6 million would be roughly equivalent to what U.S. statisticians call a "metropolitan statistical area." The 16.9 million includes the Beijing city proper as well as the satellite cities around Beijing.

The core districts of Beijing city (Chaoyang, Haidian, Shijingshan, Fengtai) accounted for only 48.7% of the population--that would be about 9.5 million. The outlying cities (Shunyi, Tongzhou, Fangshan, Changping, Daxing) account for 30.8% that might be considered cities in their own right.

As for Weifang, in Shandong, its communique reports a population of 9.1 million people sprawled over the city and its surrounding area. The population includes about 2 million in four urban districts of Weifang city, eight sub-cities and counties with populations of 600,000 to over 1 million, and three development zones with about 250,000 people combined.

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