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China's Rural and Urban Population, 1950-2030 (UN Estimates, 2003)

Source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision,, 04 April 2006; 7:51:18 AM.
Note: This list, according to UN practice, includes cities on Taiwan. Only cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants in 1950 were used for the rankings.

According to recent estimates by the UN Population Division, China's urban population increased from some 70 million in 1950 to roughly 530 million in 2005. By 2015, the urban population will surpass the rural population; and by 2030 China will have a urban population of some 875 million people - far larger than that of Europe and the United States combined.

Of course, as we have outlined elsewhere, these numbers are heavily debated due to methodological problems. The definition of "urban" is not consistent between countries. It is also unclear to which extent the administrative classification of urban actually represents an urban lifestyle and occupation. In fact, we know that significant sections of city populations in China work in agriculture. On the other hand, we can find rural areas in China that are so densely populated that they are quite comparable to urban areas. Moreover, there is the peculiar hukou household registration system in China, which may classify people into "farmers" (and rural residents) - even if they actually live in an urban area and work in trade, production or construction industries. Finally, we have to take into account that administrative re-classification of city boundaries sometime "creates" urban population, even if the people have neither moved their home, nor changed their occupation. However, despite all these classification and definition problems, there can be no doubt that, China is in a process of rapid urbanization.

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This data section was updated on 18 December 2011

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. - 18 April 2012