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China's Urbanization: Three Things You Should Know


Urbanization has irreversibly changed the landscape of Chinademographically, socially, geographically, and economically.

The well-documented effects of rapid urbanization upon China's environment point to the hazards of pursuing breakneck growth without considering the long-term impact upon quality of life. Yet, as Yale University professor Karen Seto points out, urbanization does not necessarily spell environmental destruction; with proper planning cities can be good for the environment.

According to Seto, a professor of geography and urbanization at Yale, there are three things to keep in mind about China's urbanization:

  1. Unprecedented Scale. China's urbanization is unprecedented in human history. Never before have so many people moved from the countryside to the cities in such a short period of time. To fully grasp the scale of this change, says Seto, it is necessary to get out of large modern cities like Beijing and Shanghai and go to some of China's second-tier cities. The contrast will give you an appreciation for where China is going as it continues to urbanize.
  2. Still in Transition. Different cities in China are at vastly different places in the process. While some megacities boast a rapidly growing middle class, eager to get their hands on the latest consumer or even luxury goods, other urban cities are still serving as magnets for new migrants. The contrast between these, and the opportunities each affords, can be huge.
  3. Environmental Impact? The jury is still out. Seto says, "It's not that China cities are bad for the environment or that they're all going to save the environment." Some cities, such as Zhongshan in the south, have done well in trying to preserve the environment. Cities that have developed more slowly have been able to maintain more rational growth, while development in China's "boom towns" has been more haphazard. Trying to take a shapshot and make generalizations about urbanization in China doesn't work; it's moving too quickly.

Like its impact on the environment, urbanization's impact on the church in China can also be seen as having both a positive and a negative side. For more on how China's Christians are responding to urbanization, see China's Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World, available in PDF format from ChinaSource or on Amazon.

Image by Jan Bockaert, via Flickr

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio