Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2022, Vol. 77 ›› Issue (2): 381-394.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202202008

• Population Geography • Previous Articles     Next Articles

China's changing population distribution and influencing factors: Insights from the 2020 census data

LIU Tao1,2(), PENG Rongxi1,2, ZHUO Yunxia1,2, CAO Guangzhong1,2()   

  1. 1. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
    2. Center for Urban Future Research, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2021-07-09 Revised:2021-11-11 Online:2022-02-25 Published:2022-04-25
  • Contact: CAO Guangzhong;
  • Supported by:
    Major Program of National Social Science Foundation of China(20&ZD173)


Using data of the latest three decennial censuses, this paper systematically analyzes the overall spatial pattern, changing trends, and influence mechanisms of China's population distribution since 2000. The study reveals that the general population distribution pattern of "dense east and sparse west" in China has not changed, which is determined by the differences in natural geographic environments on the two sides of Hu Line. In the first decade of the century, population concentration was mainly found in the southeastern area, but it has been observed in all regions in the recent decade. Provincial capitals have become the winners of population competition and the advantages of population growth of provincial capitals have been further strengthened in the recent decade compared with 2000-2010. However, the administrative power-led effects of the increasing dominance of provincial capitals will gradually weaken with the development of their provinces. The regional differentiation of population changes is also apparent: coastal region gradually forms a dense belt of population and towns with solid population attraction based on the development of urban agglomerations; the northeast region almost turns to a complete population shrinking status; central provinces still compete fiercely for population based on their capitals; the population of Sichuan, Chongqing, and Guizhou has stopped the decline and returned to growth; and the northwest region faces the risk of population loss. In addition, this paper finds that the driving factors of regional population growth have gradually changed from economic factors to both economic and amenity factors, and the difference of amenities among regions may become an important factor for future changes in China's population geography.

Key words: population distribution, Hu Line, spatial pattern, public services, population census, China