There are no small towns in China. When the coronavirus crisis forced the Chinese government to decree the largest quarantine in history in Wuhan, applicable to more than 20 million people, the first question that went through the minds of thousands of people on the other side of the world was: how was it possible that a city of 11 million inhabitants existed, so large, and that no one had ever heard of it?
And the answer to this question came from the great economic and social transformation that China has undergone over the last fifty years. In the early 1980s, only 20 per cent of the population lived in urban areas, but today that percentage has risen to 60 per cent. While this figure is still far from the most urbanized countries in the West, it is far above most developing states around the world.
There are no small towns in China
However, these percentages would not be too striking if it were not the most populated country on the planet. China has always had more people than any other country. So when more than 700 million people move to urban centres, their dimensions exceed any scale previously known to mankind. Today there are more than 113 Chinese cities with more than one million inhabitants, which is the number of inhabitants par excellence with which it considers a “large” city in Europe, and many of these Chinese cities, unknown to many, have more than 10 million inhabitants.
Which ones? There are some well-known ones, such as Shanghai with more than 22 million inhabitants, or Beijing, whose metropolitan area reaches 20 million inhabitants. But there are other truly gigantic cities in China, which are among the largest on the planet and are truly unknown to international public opinion. Shenzhen, which in 1990 had half a million inhabitants, will have 13 million by 2019. Tianjin has more than 12 million inhabitants, as does Chengdu, and the list goes on almost to infinity.
Wuhan, with a modest 11 million inhabitants, is on the list of intermediate cities in China, but in any other country in the world, that city would certainly be the main metropolis or the second most important city.
To illustrate the urban magnificence of China, Visual Capitalist has created this gigantic graphic in which it recreates, like a winding river, the list of Chinese cities that are above the million inhabitants.
In some cases Visual Capitalist introduces small comparisons, to illustrate the enormous proportions. London and its 10 million inhabitants would only be the sixth largest urban area in China. Berlin and its 4 million would compete with Dalian, Hefei and Jinan.
That said, there are no small towns in China.