Table of contents
2 Overview urbanization in China
2.1 Development and characteristics
3 Impact on the environment
3.1 Energy and resources
3.3 Land consumption
Today, more than half of the entire world’s population lives in urban areas and demographers project an increase up to 90 percent until 2025.1 Also in China, urban population exceeded 50 percent in 2011. The process of urbanization in China is unprecedented in human history. Worldwide it took more than 50 years to increase the urbanization rate from 30 to 50 percent, in China only 15 years.2 The urbanization played an important role for the economic upturn China experienced after the Reform and Opening period and China reached remarkable goals for its urbanization process. Today, urban centers are very important for China’s economy. Metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and so on, play an important role for the national and regional development as well as for the competitiveness of the whole country. The increase of the urbanization rate stimulated the national economic upturn and thereby enhanced the living conditions of especially a lot of urban residents. Besides the positive aspects, China is facing, also because of the mainly conventional approach with high use of resources and energy of its urbanization process, some major challenges and profound issues regarding its environment. As a result, the Chinese government indicated urbanization as one of the most important agenda items for the next ten years and it is also part of Chinas latest Five-Year Plan. This paper discusses these challenges China’s rapid and ongoing urbanization causes for its environment. First of all, it gives a quick review of the development of the Chinese urbanization process and a prospect for the future. Given these observations, it afterwards discusses the main impact and the challenges regarding the environment in China and gives a short conclusion.
2 Overview urbanization in China
2.1 Development and characteristics
Urbanization in China already started centuries ago. During the Southern Song dynasties (202 BC-AD220), 10-13 percent of the Chinese population lived in cities and that times capital, Kaifeng, almost counted one million inhabitants. The following few hundred years, the urbanization rate remained stable. By the end of the 19th century, China’s urban population had fallen to 6.0-7.5 percent.3 That time, a lot of countries in Europe already had been industrializing countries and reached an urbanization rate of 29 percent for Europe as a whole.
In 1949, when the People’s Republic of China had been founded and the communist regime took hold of the reins of government, the gap between the urbanization rate of China and Europe had even become wider. After establishing the People’s Republic of China, the country’s national strategy focused on intensive industrialization, oriented on the former UDSSR and therefore allowed the cities to grow. The focus on intensive industrialization required a huge amount of workers moving from the agricultural sector into the cities. The intersectoral movement of people needed to be regulated and therefore the so called hukou system had been implemented in the 1950s as the main instrument for regulating the migration. The hukou system is a household registration system which assigns to every Chinese person a residence in a specific locality.4 Residents with an urban hukou enjoy far more benefits than residents with a rural hukou. The hukou not only decides whether residents can settle in a city, also residents without an urban hukou are deprived of most of the basic welfare programs and government services, for example being able to enroll one’s children in public schools in cities where the parents work.5 Besides the hukou system, the Chinese government in the 1970s also implemented the one-child policy to control the fertility rates. After implementing the one child-policy, the fertility sank down from 5.9 in 1970 to 2.9 in 1979. The effect of these two policies was, that the increase of the urbanization rate slowed down until the middle of the 1980s.6 It was quite hard to change one’s hukou or obtain an urban hukou and so the system reduced the migration between the sectors.
With the Reform and Opening Policy and the associated trade and industrial reforms, the new urban enterprises required a large number of workers, drawing migrants to cities. But the municipal governments still resisted to relax the hukou rules and as a consequence industry in small towns and villages in rural areas widened and was responsible for 17 percent of China’s exports of manufacturers.7 In the middle of the 1980s, authorities began to change their view towards urbanization and regarded cities as a key for economic growth. To meet the requirements of construction and to further develop the industrialization process, more migrants needed to move into cities and the hukou system was relaxed to some extent.
Furthermore, during that time the process of the so called in situ urbanization emerged in the rural areas of the country. Usually, urbanization is a city-based process mainly caused by rural-urban migration. In contrast, “in situ urbanization implies that rural settlements and their populations become urban or quasi-urban populations without any significant geographical relocation of their residents”.8 This process had changed the structures in a lot of rural areas. From then on, a lot of small towns which had become substantial urban centers and important for industrial growth were classified as cities.
In 1988 the government added an amendment to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China which made it possible to lease long-term rights for the use of state-owned land. Most of the revenues of this system retained by municipalities and soon became one of the principle sources of main off-budget revenues what led to a huge amount of new residential and industrial parks. Furthermore, town governments acquired farm land from farmers with little compensation and sold it to real estate developers. Nevertheless the land completely remained owned by the government. Since the Chinese urbanization process is also a result of an increase of the number of cities, this is an important institutional feature of the Chinese system.9
In the 1990’s, the country still retained the hukou system, but the inevitability of rising urbanization was widely accepted and especially small and medium sized cities welcomed migrant flow from the rural sector because the fiscal revenue could be used to build urban infrastructure and the migrants helped to expand their industrial bases. As a consequence they absorbed a large number of temporary migrants. When talking about urban population and migration in China, it is important to mention that official statistics only measure migration with transfer of the hukou. Besides the migration with transfer of hukou, there is still a large number of migrants without transfer of hukou, the so called “floating population”,10 which does not appear in official statistics and does not benefit from most of the government and public services because of the hukou system. The floating population is supposed to account for almost one third of the actual population.11 Because of these masses of not included temporarily rural migrants, China’s urbanization policy is also called “incomplete urbanization approach”12.
1 C.f. Orum (2004):„Urbanization“ Encyclopedia of Social Theory. Thousand Oaks:SAGE Publications: p.853.
2 C.f. German Industry & Commerce Greater China (2013): Urbanisierung in China:Erfolge und Herausforderungen. In: EconetMonitor Green Markets and Climate Challenge, 2013/11. Beijing: German Industry & Commerce Greater China: p.3.
3 C.f. Yusuf, Saich (2008): China Urbanizes: Consquences, Strategies, and Policies. Washington: World Bank Publications: p.4.
4 C.f. Yusuf, Saich (2008): China Urbanizes: Consquences, Strategies, and Policies. Washington: World Bank Publications: p.5.
5 C.f. Yang (2011): The Impact of Hukou Reform on the Rural and Urban Income Gap. San Diego: UC San Diego School of International Relations & Pacific Studies: p.2.
6 C.f. Yusuf, Saich (2008): China Urbanizes: Consquences, Strategies, and Policies. Washington: World Bank Publications: p.5.
7 C.f. Yusuf, Saich (2008): China Urbanizes: Consquences, Strategies, and Policies. Washington: World Bank Publications: p.5.
8 De Sherbinin, Rahman, Barbieri, Fotso, Zhu (2009): Urban Population-Environment Dynamics in the Developing world: case studies and lessons learned. Paris: Committee for International Cooperation in National Research in Demography: p. 214-215.
9 C.f. Huang (2010): Urbanization, Hukou System and Government Land Ownership: Effects on Rural Migrant Works and Rural and Urban Hukou Residents. Paris: OECD Development Centre: p.13.
10 C.f. Chen, Guo, Wu (2010): One decade of urban housing reform in China: Urban housing price dynamics and the role of migration and urbanization. Vancouver: Habitat international: p.3.
11 C.f. Fischer, Lackner (2007): Länderbericht China. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: p.68.
12 C.f. Wallace (2014): Cities and Stability: Urbanization, Redistribution, and Regime Survival in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press: p.103. C.f. China statistical yearbook 2013 (http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/ndsj/2013/indexeh.htm, 16.03.2015)