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National central cities pioneer new model of urbanization

MAO LI, ZHA JIANGUO | 2018-02-08 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Pictured above is the landmark Wangjing SOHO in Beijing, one of the first designated national central cities.


Commenting on national central cities, the topic of a recent report, scholars recognized their pioneering role in the new model of urbanization, especially its major function in promoting coordinated regional development.

The Annual Report on the Development of National Central Cities 2017 was released on Jan. 26 in Shanghai. The study was conducted by a research team at the Institute of Urban Science at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) based on a self-developed index system for comprehensively evaluating the eight national central cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan and Zhengzhou.

The evaluation system consists of three primary indicators: comprehensive strength, central role and strategic influence. There were nine secondary indicators—population, economy, society, culture, urban development center, integrated hub, scientific and technological innovation, national and regional strategy, and global influence—and 32 tertiary indicators.

According to the report, the eight cities together accounted for 10.1 percent of the nation’s population and the 18.42 percent of economic output by the end of 2015, while the rate of urbanization reached nearly 78 percent on average, 1.39 times the average level of China. The “central status” of the cities in regional and urban development has basically taken shape, says the report.

According to the report, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have absolute predominance when it comes to overall development, taking the first three spots in most indicators, except for Guangzhou, which ranked fifth in terms of strategic influence. Chongqing and Tianjin were in the fourth and fifth places, respectively, reflecting their edge in policy resources as municipalities.


Wuhan ranked sixth, next only to Shanghai and ahead of Tianjin and Chongqing regarding comprehensive strength. As far as the central role is concerned, it ranked fifth between Chongqing and Tianjin, which indicates its growing strength as a central city out of urban agglomerations in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, according to the report.

Chengdu and Zhengzhou ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, according to the report. While the former was more advanced in social and cultural development, the latter had highlights in demographic development and central role.

National central cities are the weathervanes of China’s new model of urbanization. At the release conference, coordinated regional development was identified as essential to accelerating the construction of national central cities in the future. Currently, the principal contradiction in Chinese society is between unbalanced, inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing demand for a better life, underscoring the importance of coordinated regional development.

Jiang Hong, head of the Social Cognition and Behavioral Science Institute at SJTU, said that the construction of national central cities coordinates and integrates resources and driving forces in regional economic development, unleashing new productivity and opening up new markets while forming new modes of production and creating modern lifestyles that will drive the coordinated development of a region.

National central cities differ largely from manufacturing cities, said Ning Yuemin, a professor from East China Normal University. Manufacturing cities should perform well in a specific industry while national central cities should have radiating, service, driving and guiding effects, Ning said, adding that the influence of each central city radiates to the surrounding area.
Feng Kui, director-general of the Academic Board of the China Center for Urban Development under the National Commission of Reform and Opening-up, predicted that China will remain in the stage of rapid urbanization in the next 10 to 20 years, when its population will concentrate in national central cities.

In order to maximize the role of national central cities in promoting coordinated regional development, Liu Shilin, director of Institute of Urban Science at SJTU, suggested designating Northeast and Northwest China as the key areas for the planning of natural central cities in the future.

A Harbin-Changchun city cluster has taken shape in northeastern China. In addition to the strategy of Northeast Revitalization, a national central city can be fostered in the region as a new pole of growth, Liu said.

The northwest part of China is at the core of the Silk Road Economic Belt along which there are regional central cities like Luoyang, Xi’an, Lanzhou and Urumqi that play a critical role in coordinated regional development. Liu suggested fostering one or two national central cities in the region to symmetrize Tianjin, Shanghai and Guangzhou along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, thus making national central cities more balanced in space and function.


(edited by JIANG HONG)