The Rise of Beijing’s Super-City
Beijing is building the largest supercity in the world of 130 million people, equivalent to the populations of France and the UK combined. It will span an area the size of Kansas, roughly six times the size of New York. The supercity will be built connecting Beijing to neighbouring port-city Tianjen, and the agricultural machine of Hebei Province. The economic muscle of Tianjin will be forced to cooperate with the academic enters and cultural wealth of Beijing.
The move is widely seen as Beijing’s desire to stay competitive with other Chinese megacities like Shanghai-Yangtze River Delta, and Pearl River Delta-Guangzhou.
Finding roots in ancient China
China for decades has tried to limit the size of Beijing and other rapidly growing urban areas through a strict hokou system that determines where citizens are allowed to live. Finding roots in ancient China, the system is designed to quell the mass migration of China’s large population of poor farm workers to urban areas. The rationale is that hokou preserves structural stability.
However, scholars have argued that this structure China is protecting is really a caste system. Others argue that it’s an instrument to protect political, not social stability, used to monitor “targeted persons” or those considered politically dubious. Either way, it ensures a constant pool of cheap labor for China’s abundance of state-owned business.
Overwhelmingly bureaucratic, there are tight quotas and a drawn-out application process for rural workers who want to move to urban areas. Migrant workers require six passes just to work in another province. The difficult process of registering for a new permit discourages many workers from migrating legally, others are rejected after the tight quota is filled.
China is experiencing the largest human migration in history
Those who migrate without a permit no longer qualify for employer-provided housing, grain rations, or heath care, which have a significant impact on the quality of life of low-income workers. Employers of factories in China’s rapidly industrializing economy have been reported to extort workers who do not have a hokou permit. Wages are limited, hours extended, and other labor law infractions occur under threat of being reported to the police.
Despite the hokou system, China is experiencing the largest human migration in history as millions of rural migrants are making their way for China’s megacities. Beijing’s supercity will be unlike the China’s other economic belts, by building a super city consciously rather than what was organically seen in Shanghai or Guangzhou.
Supercity : the vanguard of economic reform
Beijing’s city government plans to move much of its administrative offices, factories, hospitals, and services to outlying regions to ease the city’s strict Hokou limits. The move is also expected to reduce congestion in Beijing’s severely overwhelmed infrastructure and to spread jobs throughout the region. Beijing also said it would relocate 1,200 pollution-causing factories outside the city centre, improving air quality in a city that announces Red-Alert Emergency Statuses for air pollution.
Liu Gang, a professor at Nankai University said “The supercity is the vanguard of economic reform,” Liu also consults local governance on sustainable development. “It reflects the senior leadership’s views on the need for integration, innovation and environmental protection.” Analysts view this attempt to spread out resources more equitably as an improvement to the quality of life of millions.
Beijing had more Fortune Global 500 Company headquarters than any other city in the world
However, the rapid urbanization of outlying areas also brings concerns. Beijing’s already abysmal infrastructure cannot support a population that is almost equivalent to Russia’s. Commutes from Tianjin to Beijing take 3 hours, not including the queue for the train or bus, which can take an hour. Plans for roads and high-speed rails are in the mix, but will not materialize for years. Commuters grumble expecting more congestion. Tianjin is already the fourth largest city in China, and already suffering from infrastructure issues of their own.
Hebei’s large agricultural economy will be linked by high speed rail to the concentration of state owned enterprises in the Beijing. In 2013 Beijing had more Fortune Global 500 Company headquarters than any other city in the world, which will be connected to an industrial and agricultural province and demanded social cohesion.
The stark gradient between Beijing’s post-industrial service-oriented economy and the primary sector dominated hinterlands poses a great social experiment of administrative governance. President Xi has been wrestling with hokou reform for years, and this deliberate and unprecedented urbanization may be the future for many of China’s growing cities.