Real Estate

A tale of megacities: China’s largest metropolises

Justina Crabtree; special to
Pedestrians walk past Chinese national flags displayed along Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

China boasts approximately fifteen cities with a population in excess of 10 million, which thereby qualify as "megacities."

Here, CNBC looks at eight of the largest, according to research by the OECD (based on figures by the National Bureau of Statistics of China) - and two urban development schemes with the potential to dwarf them all.


Bloomberg | Getty Images

Population: 34.0 million

Shanghai is China's most populous city, and with its 34 million residents, is also among the largest in the world.

Located on the Yangtze River Delta, the city ranked top on asset management firm Shroders' Global Cities index. Published in July this year, the index uses factors including disposable income and working age population to seek out the most "economically vibrant cities across the world."

Shanghai's cosmopolitan culture and over 20 year status as one of China's special economic zones (SEZ), which enables the implementation of more free market oriented policies, have contributed to it being considered a leading Asian metropolis.


Demolished residential buildings in Xiancun, an urban village in the Zhujiang New Town district of Guangzhou, as high commercial and residential buildings rise in the distance on March 3, 2016 in Guangzhou, China.
Zhong Zhenbin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Population: 25.0 million

Guangzhou, a city located in the southern Pearl River Delta region, is best known for being home to China's largest trade fair, the biannual Canton Fair.

The city's enormous manufacturing industry has led to it being dubbed the "world's factory," and it has drawn vast numbers of economic migrants from rural areas of China. Guangzhou is also an SEZ.


Getty Images

Population: 24.9 million

Beijing, despite being China's capital, ranked fourth on Shroders' global cities list, lower than Shanghai and Tianjin.

Contributing to the city's status on the world stage includes the planned construction of its second international airport, Daixing, which will boast the largest passenger terminal in the world – as well as hosting the Olympic Games in 2008. However, the city is also infamous for its poor air quality.


A woman holding an umbrella walks on an overpass in front of residential buildings in Shenzhen, China, on August 23, 2016.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Population: 23.3 million

Shenzhen, located just across the Chinese border from Hong Kong, ranked sixth on Shroders' Global Cities index.

Until the 1970s, Shenzhen was little more than a fishing village. Following its establishment as an SEZ, growth has skyrocketed. This is partly due to its progression from manufacturing to the provision of more niche high technology, as well as a financial services-based relationship with Hong Kong.


Night aerial cityscape of Wuhan, in Hubei province, China, taken in 2016.
Jie Zhao | Corbis News | Getty Images

Population: 19.0 million

Wuhan is considered the largest city in central China and is a major domestic transportation hub, inviting comparisons with Chicago.


A vendor looks at his mobile phone as he waits for customers in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China on September 7, 2016.
Wang Zhao | AFP | Getty Images

Population: 18.1 million

Chengdu in China's south western Sichuan province is world famous for its panda residents, rather than its humans. But, the city is a growing presence on an international scale, with over half of the Fortune 500 companies having established branches in the city.


Passengers looks out at the city skyline as they wait to board a cable car at a Yangtze River Cableway station in Chongqing, China, on April 12, 2016.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Population: 17.0 million

Described by many as "the biggest city you've never heard of," Chongqing lies on the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze rivers. Another unofficial moniker, "China's Detroit," refers to the city's prevalent automobile manufacturing industry.


People walk on a overpass beside a huge construction site in Tianjin, China on February 9, 2016.
Zhang Peng | LightRocket | Getty Images

Population: 15.4 million

Tianjin, located in China's north east, is not necessarily a household name. But, the city ranked third on Shroders' list of global cities.

Tianjin is a major seaport and considered the main maritime gateway to the country's capital. One of China's SEZs, the city's pillar industries include technology, automotives, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals.

Future megacity: Pearl River Delta region

A crane operates at a construction site whilst the China Resource Co. headquarters stand under construction in the background (center left) in Shenzhen, China, on August 23, 2016.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Expected population: 80 million

In 2008, the Chinese government unveiled plans to merge nine cities in the industrial Pearl River Delta region into a single megacity.

By 2030, the area – if nearby Hong Kong and Macau are also taken into account – could have an economy worth $2 trillion and a population of 80 million, according to strategy firm Enright, Scott & Associates.

The nine separate cities that form the merger include Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Future megacity: Jing-jin-ji

Smog in Beijing, China.
VCG | Getty Images

Expected population: 130 million

The Chinese government has long held plans to fuse the cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), "by relieving congestion in Beijing, moving polluting heavy industry away from the capital … planners hope to create a more balanced economic structure." WEF cite the current population of this area as 130 million, greater than the whole of Japan.

The dubbing "Jing-Jin-Ji" combines Beijing, Hanjin and "ji," an alternative name for Hebei.