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close this bookThe Human Settlements Conditions of the World's Urban Poor (HABITAT, 1996, 233 p.)
close this folderIV. Recent trends in the human settlements conditions of the world’s urban poor
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. Latin America and the Caribbean
View the documentB. Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentC. North Africa and the Middle East
View the documentD. South Asia
View the documentE. India
View the documentF. East Asia and the Pacific
View the documentG. China

G. China

1. Urbanization and the growth of human settlements

China is the most populous country in the world, having approximately 20 per cent of the entire global population. Table 41 shows the growth of the urban population since 1975 and projects urban population growth to the year 2025. Whilst the total population of China has grown by almost 50 per cent during the last two decades, to 1.2 billion in 1995, the table demonstrates that the urban population has increased by 130 per cent over the same period. A word of caution must be introduced about the definition of the ‘urban’ population, however (in addition to the reservations raised in chapter I). Since 1964 each city has included subordinate counties and towns including an agricultural population whose socio-economic benefits and activities are determined by rural policies. The non-agricultural population of towns and cities therefore, is less than the figures shown for urban areas.

This urban growth occurs at a time when China’s rural population declines with an average of two million each year between 1995 and 2000. In fact between now and 2025 the rural population of China will contract with a projected total of more than 150 million people.

Table 47. Population growth, selected cities of China (1965-2015)


City population
(thousands)

Average annual population growth (per cent)

City

1995

2015

1965-
1975

1975-
1985

1985-
1995

1995-
2005

2005-
2015

Shanghai

15,082

23,382

0.5

0.8

2.0

2.6

1.9

Beijing

12,362

19,423

1.1

1.4

2.4

2.7

1.9

Tianjin

10,687

16,998

3.4

2.8

2.8

2.8

1.9

Shenyang

5,310

8,588

1.1

1.3

2.3

2.8

2.1

Wuhan

4,399

7,182

1.5

1.6

2.5

2.9

2.1

Guangzhou

4,056

6,591

0.2

0.6

2.1

2.8

2.1

Chongqing

3,525

5,788

1.1

1.3

2.4

2.9

2.1

Taipei

3,417

5,700

4.1

3.1

3.2

3.0

2.1

Chengdu

3,401

5,623

2.5

2.3

2.7

2.9

2.2

Harbin

3,303

5,425

1.5

1.4

2.3

2.9

2.2

Xian

3,283

5,472

1.8

2.2

3.1

3.0

2.2

Dalian

3,132

5,402

0.8

3.2

5.0

3.4

2.2

Jinan

3,019

5,250

1.1

3.7

5.4

3.4

2.2

Nanjing

2,965

4,919

1.4

1.7

2.6

3.0

2.2

Changchun

2,523

4,228

1.7

2.0

2.9

3.0

2.2

Taiyuan

2,502

4,189

2.3

2.2

2.8

3.0

2.2

Source: Based on United Nations, 1 994.

Despite strict family planning policies and controls on population movement between rural and urban areas, the urban population is growing rapidly - currently at an average rate of 3.4 per cent per year (see table 42) - and is expected to reach 443 million by the year 2000 and 830 million by 2025. As can be seen from the table the rate of urban growth is expected to decline, yet the growth in terms of people is still increasing. Each year during the next ten years an estimated 14.9 million people is added to China’s urban population. This figure will increase to 15.8 million during 2005-2015.

The growth rates in China’s largest cities is slightly less than that of the urban population. Yet, with average annual growth rates of between 2.5 and 3.0 per cent for the next ten years and then rates of about 2.0 for another ten year period, China will have 16 cities with a population of more than 4 million by 2025, compared to “only” six in 1995 (see table 47). The three largest cities, Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin, are projected to have populations of 23 million, 19 million and 17 million by 2025.

2. The nature and extent of urban poverty

In the urban areas of China, permanent residence registration has afforded guaranteed employment, access to rationed essential consumer items, and an elaborate enterprise-based labour-insurance system which involves not only health care, but also retirement and disability provision (Ahmad and Wang, 1991). In addition, other major items of consumer expenditure, on housing and transportation, for example, have also been heavily subsidized by the state. Until recently, this has ensured that basic nutritional standards and minimum levels of shelter, health care and education have been attained. Since the introduction of new economic policies after 1978, however, the liberalization of industrial and commercial activities has resulted in a dramatic growth of average incomes (see tables 48 and 49), and the emergence of relatively modest income disparities. At the same tune the relaxation of registration procedures has also seen the reappearance of rural-urban migration and the emergence of a large ‘floating’ population associated with the major cities. This floating population does not enjoy the benefits of registration and would therefore need a higher income level to achieve a comparable standard with registered urban dwellers. The growth of inflation during the late 1980s has also had an adverse effect on those on fixed incomes with the State Statistical Bureau reporting a decline in real incomes for 35 per cent of the population in 1988 (Ahmad and Wang, 1991).

Table 48. Urban household income distribution (per cent of all households), China (1982-1988)

Monthly income
(yuan)

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

Below 20

0.92

0.61

1.67





20-25

3.68

2.97


11.05

5.67

4.24


25-35

25.63

20.32

10.52




8.31

35-50

45.40

46.56

38.89

24.78

14.81

11.70


50-60

14.20

16.42

22.67

19.53

16.17

13.36

7.61

60-70




16.04

17.86

15.74

10.26

70-80




10.96

14.82

14.60

12.53

80-90




7.01

10.24

12.09

12.46

90-100




4.11

7.20

8.49

11.91

100-110




2.63

4.60

6.08

9.21

110-120

®10.17

®13.12

®26.25


3.05

4.35

7.25

120-130





1.83

3.03

5.32

130-140




®3.89

1.24

2.04

3.82

140-150





0.69

1.11

2.95

Above 150





1.62

3.17

8.36

All income groups

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

Note: Before 1985, the data are from a survey of families of staff and workers in cities. Since 1985, the data include retired people, self-employed labourers, personnel other than workers or labourers, and residents in county towns.

Source: Lin Zhiqun, 1991b (Updated by the Beijing Housing Reform Office).

Table 49. Incomes a per capita, China and expenditures (1982-1992)

Yeara

Average annual income per
family member (yuan)

Average annual living expenditureb
per family member (yuan)

1982

535

471

1983

573

506

1984

660

559

1985

749

673

1986

909

799

1987

1,012

884

1988

1,192

1,104

1989

1,388

1,211

1990

1,523

1,279

1991

1,713

1,453

1992

2,032

1,672

a: See note to table 48.

b: Living expenditure income refers to the total income of a family that can be used to sustain the daily life of that family.

Source: Lin Zhiqun, 1991b (updated by the Beijing Housing Reform Office).

Recognizing the difficulties associated with an absolute urban poverty line, Ahmad and Wang adopted three different measures for income poverty, firstly, they utilized a poverty line set at 50 per cent of average urban income; secondly, a per capita figure of Yuan 375 per annum; thirdly, a minimum figure of Yuan 300 per annum. The results are set out in table 50. The table shows that 28.2 millions (11.7 per cent of the urban population), were living in poverty in 1985 and 22.5 millions were experiencing ‘acute’ poverty (9.3 per cent of the urban population). These overall numbers fell in 1987 to 14.1 million and 9.4 million respectively, before rising sharply in 1988 to 19.8 million and 15.8 million.

In identifying those who might be affected by urban poverty in China, Ahmad and Wang (1991) concluded that pensioners on fixed incomes would be very vulnerable; the ‘floating population’ or ‘those looking for work’ were also likely to form a group affected by poverty; thirdly, disabled people were also at risk; and the final group were ‘those afflicted by natural disasters’. On average 100 million people in China are affected by natural disasters each year.

Table 50. Incidence of urban poverty, China (1985-1987)


Size of urban population below poverty line (millions)


1985

1987

1988

Poverty lines

Unadjusted

Adjusteda

Unadjusted

Adjusteda

Unadjusted

Adjusteda

U1 (50% of mean income)b

19.52

25.79

15.17

17.91

17.95

21.07

U2 (Y375 adjusted)c

22.31

28.20

11.98

14.11

16.84

19.80

U3 (Y300 adjusted)d

17.07

22.57

7.96

9.43

13.49

15.85

a: Unlike the Chinese official estimates, household distributions are adjusted for household size.

b: U1 = 50 per cent of mean income (i.e. Y349 in 1985, Y458 in 1987 and Y560 in 1988).

c: U2 = Y375 (1985 value, i.e. Y436 in 1987 and Y526 in 1988).

d: U3 = Y300 (1985 value, i.e. Y349 in 1987 and Y421 in 1988).

Source: Ahmad and Wang, 1991.

3. Housing and environmental conditions

During the 1980s a series of experimental reforms were carried out in different cities aimed at transforming urban housing from a welfare oriented system to one in which private ownership was encouraged under socialist conditions. The experimental phase culminated in the National Housing Reform Plan issued by the State Council in 1988. The Plan incorporated four main elements in an ambitious programme designed to be implemented in all towns and cities throughout China within three years. These elements were:

· The raising of rent levels. Rents had been set at historic levels (in the 1950s) and the effects of inflation by the late 1980s meant they no longer covered management and maintenance costs. The aim is to increase rents incrementally over time in order to cover these costs, as well as loan depreciation, interest, fees and taxes, insurance charges, and ultimately, reasonable profits.

· To establish a providential housing fund. With the objective of enabling people to invest more of their own resources in the housing sector it was seen as important to establish an institutionalized housing savings facility. Many cities have now established Housing Funds along the lines of the Providential Pension Fund in Singapore with both individuals and employers contributing a fixed amount of then- income into the Fund. Employees may subsequently draw on their savings for house purchase, or repairs and maintenance of their housing.

· The aim of raising rents and establishing institutionalized savings for the housing sector is to encourage the privatization of the housing stock through individual purchase arrangements. Despite creative discounting initiatives, only a relatively small proportion of the population can currently afford to purchase their accommodation, but it is hoped that the arrangements made will increase the numbers eligible over tune.

· To protect the interests of those households experiencing housing difficulties through upgrading programmes and subsidized rental schemes.

The reforms are in their infancy and problems with inflation have already revised the timescales over which the reform process is envisaged. But the State Council approved further measures designed to “deepen the process of urban housing reform” in 1994. These measures included a recognition of the need for an enhanced capacity for housing management; more sophisticated insurance, finance and borrowing systems; and arrangements to establish a healthy property exchange and repairs and maintenance market (Wang and Murie, 1994).

Table 51. Urban dwelling conditions, per household and capita, China (1982-1988)


1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

Usable floor area m2/household

..

32.0

33.0

39.1

41.8

43.3

43.5

Living floor area m2/household

23.3

24.1

25.5

29.2

30.9

31.9

31.9

Service floor area m2/household

..

7.9

7.5

9.9

10.9

11.3

11.6

Number of rooms per household

..

1.9

2.1

2.2

2.4

2.4

2.4

Usable floor area m2/capita

..

7.9

8.2

10.0

10.9

11.5

12.0

Living floor area m2/capita

5.6

5.9

6.3

7.5

8.0

8.5

8.8

Service floor area m2/capita

..

2.0

1.9

2.5

2.8

3.0

3.2

Source: Lin Zhiqun, 1991b.

Table 52. Urban household dwelling conditions (per cent), China (1982-1988)


1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

Unalloted householdsa

2.53

1.81

0.97

1.50

0.69

0.48

0.38

Over-crowded householdsb

21.76

19.93

16.07

12.54

10.20

7.92

6.71

Households with inconvenient space distributionc

9.27

10.00

9.59

8.71

7.60

7.55

7.77

Households with floor space of:


4-6 m2

29.20

27.18

25.55

19.44

21.21

19.07

15.90


6-8 m2

20.46

21.80

23.73

22.63

21.67

22.22

21.14


over 8 m2

16.78

19.28

24.09

35.18

38.63

42.76

48.12

Total

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.02

a: Unalloted households: households for whom no housing has been allocated because none is available; for example, newly married couples may have to live in their parents’ units that are already overcrowded.

b: Over-crowded households: households which live in dwellings with a floor area below the average minimum standard; (i.e. per capita living floor area of less than 4 m2).

c: Households with inconvenient space distribution: households living in a dwelling where separate bedrooms are not available for male and female children over 13 years or for married couples.

Source: Lin Zhiqun, 1991b.

In the meantime, housing investment in China has also received a major boost. Between 1979 and 1987 housing investment amounted to an annual average of 6.7 per cent of GNP and urban housing development received the equivalent of 3.1 per cent (Lin Zhiqun, 1991b). As a result there has been a steady improvement in housing conditions in larger urban areas. Table 51 demonstrates, for example, that the available floor area per household is steadily increasing, and so too is the number of rooms per household. At the same time, the percentage of households with housing difficulties of one sort or another is decreasing (see table 52), i.e. unallotted households (households without a unit); overcrowded households and those having insufficient space (i.e. with children over 13 years of different sexes, or two couples, sharing a room). Since 1983 the Chinese government has targeted these households with a series of special initiatives designed rapidly to upgrade the quality of the stock. Between 1986 and 1992, 6 million households benefitted from this programme (Song Chunhua, 1994), but by 1992, four million urban households still had less than 4 m2 per capita living space.

These figures show that improvements are being made on addressing the housing deficit in China. Yet, the challenge ahead is truly staggering. If each of China’s households are to get their own dwelling unit, it implies that some 8.6 million units are required each year to the year 2000, increasing to 10.5 million units per year between 2000 and 2005 (UNCHS, 19%). The number of households is currently increasing at a rate nearly three times that of population growth (see table 5), a situation unparalleled in any other region of the world. Despite a planned increase of investments in urban housing during the 1990s of approximately 2.5 times that spent during the 1980s, it is expected that by 2000 some 4.44 million urban households will still experience “housing difficulties”, i.e. some 6 per cent of all households. Some 270.000 households (0.4 per cent) are expected to experience “extreme housing difficulties” (Gu Yunchang and Gao Xiaohui, 1992).

4. Other infrastructural provision

For many years during the 1960s and 1970s there was very little investment in urban infrastructure of Chinese cities. Since 1978, however, there has been a major shift in investment, alongside urban housing provision, to improve the quality of the urban environment. Hence the per capita domestic water supply increased by 250 per cent between 1965 and 1992, and the percentage of the population with access to tap water increased from 74 per cent to 92 per cent over the same period. As may be seen from these and other statistics in table 53 there has been a rapid improvement in most aspects of urban infrastructure in China in recent years. At the same time, services such as water and transportation receive substantial public subsidies and costs to consumers are, therefore, very low. In 1989, for example, the average annual expense per urban dweller for transportation in the city was about 0.22 per cent of his/her living costs, and only one-third of all flats in urban areas have “independent kitchen and toilet facilities with their own water system” (Lin Zhiqun, 1991a).

5. Land availability

Whilst the centralized control of land use and stringent controls on population movement have prevented the kind of land speculation frequently found in urban areas in the capitalist economies, it has not entirely solved distributional problems for the urban poor, since those outside work units (i.e. the ‘floating population’), or in work units of low status or earning capacity, may fail to have their requirements for land acknowledged in the planning process. In order to avoid this problem, the Government of China has encouraged the formation of cooperatives for the latter under the reform process.

At the same time, market valuations are gradually being introduced into land development transactions and a process of residential differentiation is emerging as large-scale construction companies undertake major projects for sale rather than rent. The major urban development programmes are also stimulating a debate in China over issues of land supply for urban usage as opposed to agricultural production and in some cities, most notably Shanghai, there is an acute shortage of land for development (Dong Lulling, 1994).

Table 53. Basic conditions of urban public utilities, China (1965-1992)

Item

1965

1978

1980

1985

1990

1992

Running water supply


Total quantity of running water supplied per year (billions of ton)

2.63

7.88

8.83

12.80

38.23

42.98


Domestic consumption (billions of ton)

1.03

2.76

3.39

5.19

10.01

11.73


Domestic water supply per capita (tons)

19.7

44.0

46.8

55.1

67.9

67.9


Percentage of population with access to tap water (per cent)

74.0

81.0

81.4

81.0

89.2

92.5

Public transport


Total number (in thousands) of public vehicles (buses and trolley buses)

11

26

32

45

62

77


Total number of public vehicles (buses and trolley buses) per thousand people

0.16

0.33

0.35

0.39

0.48

0.59


Length of paved road (thousands of km)

24

27

29

38

95

97


Surface area of paved road (millions of m2)

210

225

253

359

892

952

Coal gas and liquified gas for public use


Total quantity of artificial coal gas supplied per year (billions of m3)

0.7

1.7

2.0

2.5

17.5

15.0


Domestic consumption (millions of m3)

320

666

833

1,071

2,741

3,053


Length of gas pipe lines (thousands of km)

2.4

4.7

5.6

10.6

16.3

20.9


Total quantity of natural gas supplied per year (millions of m3)

..

691

589

1,621

6,423

6,289


Domestic consumption of liquified gas (thousands of tons)

0.1

176

270

547

1,428

2,020


Population with access to natural gas (per cent)

3.0

13.9

16.8

22.4

42.2

52.4

Afforestation of cities


Area of green space (thousands of hectares)

26

82

86

159

475

534


Area of green space per thousand people (hectares)

0.43

1.06

0.96

1.37

3.22

3.45


Area of parks and zoos (thousands of hectares)

14

15

16

22

40

46

Health and sanitation


Garbage removed (millions of tons)

..

..

31

45

68

83


Faeces removed (millions of tons)

..

..

16

17

24

30


Length of sewer (thousands of km)

13

20

22

32

58

68

Note: Figures for 1986 and later are based on the total population, while figures before 1986 are based on the population under the administration of City Construction Departments. Per capita figures are based on the non-agricultural population of the total population in cities.

Source: Lin Zhiqun, 1991b.

6. Summary

Whilst the Government of China has made major strides to improve the quality of housing and the urban environment since 1978 it is also evident that housing conditions for the poorest groups are very basic. Only about a third of all flats in urban areas have independent kitchen and toilet facilities with their own piped water system. Moreover, housing conditions are likely to remain very modest for a long period to come. Despite a planned increase of investment in urban housing during the 1990s of approximately 2.5 tunes that spent during the 1980s, 6 per cent of all urban households is still expected to experience housing difficulties by the year 2000.