Urbanism has undergone significant development: 51.9% live in cities, but almost half live in villages. The village varies somewhat from region to region. Where intensive agriculture is practiced – as in the South – there are dense groups of houses scattered in the rice fields; elsewhere, however, the compact village dominates. In the North, the villages often retain the ancient fortified structures, deriving from the need to defend themselves from past incursions by nomads; in the Löss region there are villages excavated in the sedimentary layers, which offer ideal conditions of habitability. Villages are now largely organized into larger socio-economic structures. The migration to the cities was towards the end of the century. Massive XX, although planned on the basis of job opportunities created by new industrial and commercial enterprises. There has also been the birth of new cities, especially in the regions of more recent agricultural and mining conquest, while in rural areas many centers have taken on functions that, in the past, the economic and social structure based on the more or less self-sufficient village made superfluous. Urbanization in the modern sense was born in China with western commercial penetration: the Chinese city was, instead, at the origin, administrative center or military garrison or seat of the sovereign. The latter was indeed the first city; it had a square plan, enclosed by walls, and housed in the center the palace of the sovereign, the temple of the ancestors, the gardens. The trading quarters then developed around this essential structure. The urban expansion of the century. XIX destroyed the harmonious ancient structure, which in part is preserved only in Beijing and a few other cities, while the large port centers, such as Shanghai, Tianjin and Canton, took on the aspects of western cities, with the large central buildings housing the commercial companies, surrounding themselves with numerous poor suburbs. The old Chinese cities have been largely rehabilitated and equipped with adequate services, modern means of transport, expanding into new residential districts. The developments in urbanization are indicated by some figures: in 1953 there was an urban population of 89 million residents, which jumped to 234 million in 1989.
According to localtimezone, this population growth was not constant: very strong until 1959, it slowed down in subsequent years following the control exercised by the government on the movements towards the cities. In the decade 1950-60 alone, over 2000 cities were modernized and created from scratch approx. 200. China’s urban population is spread across a wide range of cities, many of which have recently exceeded one million, and some of which exceed 5 million. There are about 100 million-dollar cities (there were only a dozen in the mid-twentieth century) and the urban agglomerations with over 10 million people can include Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin. In Shanghai, the regional capital of Lower Chang Jiang, the first branches of foreign banks (American, French, Japanese) have returned to operate in China and which dramatically increase both foreign investments and tertiary activities. The latter are aimed not only at the financial branches, but also at technological innovation, for which it is expected that, by 2010, at least 1/5 of the industrial productions located in the area relate to optical fibers, robotics, biotechnology, etc. The evolution of Beijing, the ancient splendid capital of the Mongols, the arrival point of the Silk Road, for centuries a famous historical, cultural, artistic and industrial center, political-administrative center of China, and Tianjin, active port especially from the century onwards. XIX and today a first-rate commercial and industrial city. Economic development, in any case, feeds considerable flows of rural labor towards the cities, in particular, of the coastal strip, while the perspectives of the pioneer front open, towards the west, since the time of the Cultural Revolution, are reduced, with the aim not only to enhance the internal territories, easing the demographic pressure in E, but also to strengthen Han control over the ethnic minorities of those regions. Minorities that, for a long time ignored or underestimated by official statistics, make up the majority of the population of central-western China, with a low density and low degree of industrialization, from Inner Manchuria to Mongolia, from Shanxi to Xinjiang Uygur, from Yunnan to the immense Tibetan area. The slow and contradictory process of democratization allows such ethnic diversities to re-emerge, with possible consequences on regional balances, already strongly unbalanced by the concentration of economic development.
The most urbanized area is Manchuria, where there are several metropolises, whose growth took place almost entirely during the twentieth century. Shenyang (in Manchu Mukden) is the largest, developed as a commercial and then industrial center, with colossal plants that exploit the rich local deposits of iron and coal; not far from Shenyang arise, always with mainly steel and metallurgical functions, Fushun, Benxi, Anshan, which together form a conurbation comparable in a certain sense to the Ruhr. The region’s port outlet is Dailan, flanked by nearby Lüshun, the old Port Arthur. Other important cities of Manchuria, located on the railway line connected to the Trans-Siberian, are Changchun and above all Harbin, valued by the Russians in the Tsarist era and now home to many industries. In the Huang He plain, in addition to Beijing, various cities have assumed an important economic role, many of which are rich in vestiges of ancient Chinese civilization, today commercial centers with processing industries mainly linked to the agricultural economy of the region; however, some, such as Jinan, have strengthened other sectors, in particular the steel industry thanks to the exploitation of the mines of Shandong, a region that has one of the major Chinese ports in Qingdao. Even in the middle Huang He valley, some cities have developed as a mining function, such as Xi’an and Taiyuan (iron and steel industry, heavy mechanics). The Chang Jiang basin hosts, in addition to Shanghai, numerous large cities, some of ancient origin, such as Nanjing (Nanjing), valued in modern times, an industrial center that operates mainly in relation to the agricultural region of the lower Chang Jiang. In the middle section of the great basin stands Wuhan, one of the major Chinese cities, a river port and an active communications hub, home to a steel complex that exploits the iron ores of nearby deposits and coal from Sichuan. These mineral resources have led to the development of various other cities starting with Chongqing and historic Chengdu. On the southern coast of China there is a dense series of ports; the largest are Fuzhou, very suggestive, with its waterways, its bridges, its elegant architecture (it is called the “Venice of the East”), and Canton, whose fortunes are linked to the function of a large commercial emporium, home, among other things, of an international trade fair of great renown, but today also endowed with powerful industries. On the way to Mongolia, a large city that has recently received impetus is Lanzhou, located near the Great Wall, an ancient center on the Silk Road and today the seat of industries that exploit the mineral resources, especially oil, of the inland regions; another important city in the north is Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. On the railway that, through the Zungaria, leads to the border with Kazakhstan, Ürümqi, the fulcrum of the entire North-West, has experienced significant development. Finally, in Tibet the main center remains the capital Lhasa, which in the past had almost exclusively religious functions as the seat of the Dalai-lama.