Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 70 ›› Issue (4): 567-581.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201504005

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

China's floating population in the 21st century: Uneven landscape, influencing factors, and effects on urbanization

Tao LIU1(), Yuanjing QI2, Guangzhong CAO3()   

  1. 1. Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
    2. School of Soil and Water Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083, China
    3. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2014-02-17 Revised:2014-05-12 Online:2015-04-20 Published:2015-06-11
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41371166


China has witnessed unprecedented urbanization over the past decades. The rapid expansion of urban population has been dominated by the floating population from rural areas, of which the spatiotemporal patterns, driving forces, and multidimensional effects have been scrutinized and evaluated by voluminous empirical studies. However, the urban and economic development mode has been reshaped by the globalization and marketization processes and the socioeconomic space has been restructured as a consequence. How has the spatial pattern of floating population evolved against these backdrops? How has the evolution been driven by the interaction of state and market forces? What have been the contribution of population mobility to the urbanization of origin and destination regions and the evolution of China's urban system? The latest national censuses conducted in 2000 and 2010 offer the opportunity to systematically answer these questions. Analysis based on the county-level data comes to conclusions as follows. (1) The spatial pattern of floating population remained stable over the first decade of the 21st century. Three coastal mega-city regions, namely the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region, were major concentration areas. As the emergence and rapid development of other coastal mega-city regions, the coastal concentration area of floating population tended to geographically united as a whole, whereas the spatial distribution within each region variegated significantly. (2) Floating population gradually moved into provincial capitals and other big cities in interior regions and its distribution center of gravity moved northward around 110 km during the study period. (3) Compared with extensively investigated inter-provincial migrants, intra-provincial migrants had higher intention and ability to permanently live in cities they worked in and thus might become the main force of China's urbanization in the coming decades. (4) The spatial pattern of floating population was shaped jointly by the state and market forces in transitional China. While the impacts of state forces have been surpassed by market forces in the country as a whole, they are still important in shaping the development space of central and western China. (5) The massive mobility of population contributed a large proportion to the increase of urbanization levels of both origin and destination regions and reshaped China's urban system in terms of its hierarchical organization and spatial structure.

Key words: floating population, spatial pattern, urbanization, urban system, urban agglomeration, census, China