Mapping China’s Economic Activity

Fully half of China's GDP comes from a smattering of major cities, many near the coast.

Image copyright Foreign Policy Group. Do not reproduce without permission.
Image copyright Foreign Policy Group. Do not reproduce without permission.
Image copyright Foreign Policy Group. Do not reproduce without permission.

It's not easy in the Chinese heartland -- at least, not yet. The country's GDP grew at 7.7 percent in 2013 to over $9.1 trillion dollars, which rates as the world's second-largest economy behind that of the United States. Yet China also faces the daunting reality of sharp regional inequality, with metropolitan areas on the east coast far richer than most of central and western China. In an early February inspection trip taken shortly after the Chinese Lunar New Year, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang jointly visited rural areas, vowing to close the gap between the east coast and the central and western regions. (In China, such early-year trips generally indicate a policy focus.)

Inspired by a similar map which highlights uneven economic activity in the United States, Foreign Policy compiled GDP figures reported by municipalities across China and found that 35 cities contributed just under half of China's GDP in 2013.

The map (below; click to enlarge) merits two caveats. First, the definition of a "city" in the PRC includes all counties, county-level cities, and city districts it governs. (Chongqing, for example, is a megacity in southwest China with a population of just under 30 million that covers 31,814 square miles, netting in smaller towns that lie far away from the bustling, recognizably urban center.) Second, multiple regions will sometimes take credit for the same dollar of GDP, such that the sum of reported numbers exceeds the top-line national statistic. Nonetheless, the below map provides a revealing look at just how much China's GDP growth machine depends on a few regions:

It’s not easy in the Chinese heartland — at least, not yet. The country’s GDP grew at 7.7 percent in 2013 to over $9.1 trillion dollars, which rates as the world’s second-largest economy behind that of the United States. Yet China also faces the daunting reality of sharp regional inequality, with metropolitan areas on the east coast far richer than most of central and western China. In an early February inspection trip taken shortly after the Chinese Lunar New Year, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang jointly visited rural areas, vowing to close the gap between the east coast and the central and western regions. (In China, such early-year trips generally indicate a policy focus.)

Inspired by a similar map which highlights uneven economic activity in the United States, Foreign Policy compiled GDP figures reported by municipalities across China and found that 35 cities contributed just under half of China’s GDP in 2013.

The map (below; click to enlarge) merits two caveats. First, the definition of a “city” in the PRC includes all counties, county-level cities, and city districts it governs. (Chongqing, for example, is a megacity in southwest China with a population of just under 30 million that covers 31,814 square miles, netting in smaller towns that lie far away from the bustling, recognizably urban center.) Second, multiple regions will sometimes take credit for the same dollar of GDP, such that the sum of reported numbers exceeds the top-line national statistic. Nonetheless, the below map provides a revealing look at just how much China’s GDP growth machine depends on a few regions:

 

Of those top 35 cities, 20 comprise one percent or more of China’s massive GDP. Below is a list of China’s one-percenters:

  1. Shanghai (3.80 percent)
  2. Beijing (3.43 percent)
  3. Guangzhou (2.71 percent)
  4. Shenzhen (2.55 percent)
  5. Tianjin (2.53 percent)
  6. Suzhou (2.29 percent)
  7. Chongqing (2.22 percent)
  8. Chengdu (1.60 percent)
  9. Wuhan (1.59 percent)
  10. Hangzhou (1.47 percent)
  11. Wuxi (1.42 percent)
  12. Nanjing (1.41 percent)
  13. Qingdao (1.41 percent)
  14. Dalian (1.34 percent)
  15. Shenyang (1.27 percent)
  16. Changsha (1.26 percent)
  17. Ningbo (1.25 percent)
  18. Foshan (1.23 percent)
  19. Zhengzhou (1.09 percent)
  20. Tangshan (1.08 percent)
Yiqin Fu is a regular contributor to FP's Tea Leaf Nation.

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