This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Does Beijing Have a Population Problem or Not?

Last month I commented on a NYTimes story indicating that the Chinese government was on track to create a 130 million person megapolis centered on today's 7 million person city of Beijing. A more recent story in Slate does not mention the megalopolis plan, but instead focuses only on the role that Beijing itself is expected to play in that plan.
The government of the capital said in July that it planned to move the bulk of its agencies from downtown areas to the less populated Tongzhou District in the east over the next several years, a move authorities hope will shift 1 million people out of crowded downtown areas. The authorities have also been moving factories and major wholesales markets to the city’s outskirts or to neighboring Tianjin [site of that deadly chemical explosion two day ago!!] and Hebei provinces to comply with an order from the central government for Beijing to shed some functions that do not match its status as the capital. [note that this is part of the megapolis plan]
In a more controversial move, city authorities have in the past two years tightened requirements for children from migrant families to enroll in public schools. This is an apparent effort to rein in the growth in the number of migrant workers in Beijing. The capital had 8.82 million migrant workers—38 percent of the total population—at the end of 2014.
However, as with every plan, there are detractors. Slate found one here in the U.S:
Huang Wenzheng, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore [well, sort of, he received his PhD in biostatistics from there in 1998, but he does not appear to be a member of the faculty there, nor is he a member of the Population Association of America], wrote in an article published on Caixin’s Chinese website that the city’s population density ranked only 138th out of 224 cities around the world with populations of at least 2 million people.

The Chinese capital is more crowded than big cities in most developed countries, such as Tokyo, Paris, and New York, but is less cramped than cities in developing countries, including Brazil’s Sao Paulo and Ankara, in Turkey. “From a global perspective, it’s untenable to claim Beijing has too many people,” Huang wrote.
In other words, there are not too many people--there is too little infrastructure. This is all relative, of course, and it seems that the central government has decided that it is cheaper to move people than to build infrastructure.  Keep in mind, though, that the lack of infrastructure out in the suburbs was, sadly, one of the very things mentioned in the NYTimes story about the future of the megalopolis plan. This story and the previous suggest some tough times ahead in Beijing. 

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