Tomorrow (22 February) the Population Reference Bureau will hold an on-line discussion on the topic of whether or not China is likely to loosen its one-child policy. The Economist this past week reported on a different kind of population control taking place in China, which I discuss in Chapter 9--the limitation of people coming into cities. In particular, the government seems very concerned about the rapid growth of Beijing and is clamping down on people migrating from rural places and living in "informal" places such as underground air-raid shelters.
Rarely since the 1980s, when China’s strict controls on migration from countryside to town began to break down, has the capital appeared so determined to reverse the tide. A key event was an investigation last summer which found that Beijing’s population (those living in the city for six months or longer) had topped 19.7m by the end of 2009. This was 2m more than official figures had suggested. In a development plan published seven years ago, the government had aimed not even to reach 18m before 2020. The figures are a bit misleading, because Beijing municipality covers an area half Belgium’s size, with far-flung satellite towns and a rural expanse. But even the city proper has grown to more than 10m, from 8.5m a decade ago.
This is a reminder of why China has a much higher level of poverty than Egypt even though per capita income in China is higher than in Egypt, as I reported earlier. China has what one person who was quoted in The Economist article described as an apartheid system in which the urban population thrives economically essentially at the expense of the rural population, because the latter is legally forbidden from moving to the city and trying to improve their life by doing so.