“A staggering migration” of hundreds of millions to Chinese cities

A New York Times video highlights the large number of Chinese residents the government intends to resettle to cities in the new two decades. Three quick thoughts on the video:

1. Yes, the scale of urbanization in China is astounding. As the video notes, China’s urbanization rate has approached Western levels in a matter of decades while it took centuries in the West.

2. The video argues that the rapid urbanization in recent years was more natural while the planned urbanization in the next 15 years is more forced by the government. I think this is an odd choice of words: “natural” versus “forced.” This seems to borrow from a typical US/Western explanation that people are free to make choices between urban, suburban, and rural areas. It may feel this way for those with money but it obscures that there are plenty of social forces, such as economic opportunities or race/ethnicity, that “push” and “pull” people away from certain areas. “Forced” seems more correct for official government policy that will require people to move but as a sociologist, I would be very hesitant to suggest social process were inevitable or “natural” or that individuals are complete free agents who can live where they like.

3. The visual in the video is unique. I understand the purpose: to give people the sense of just how large this urban resettlement in China will be. And it is visually more interesting than a graph. At the same time, it is odd to put so many major metropolitan areas in a line. The cities are geographically disparate so why line them up?