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Megacity 2020: The Pearl River Delta’s Astonishing Growth

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Megacity 2020: The Pearl River Delta’s Astonishing Growth

View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

In the late 1970s, the fertile river delta to the north of Hong Kong’s territory was primarily agricultural land. Shenzhen was an unassuming town of 30,000 people – with only one functioning taxi – and China was still very much a communist, rural country.

As the visualization above, by Time Out Hong Kong, demonstrates, the sleepy Pearl River Delta was on the cusp of an unprecedented growth spurt that would see cities expand and merge to become the largest contiguous urban region in the world.

A trickle becomes a flood

In 1979, the Chinese government – led by Deng Xiaoping – created four Special Economic Zones (SEZ) with the intention of attracting foreign direct investment and encouraging private enterprise.

The designation of Shenzhen and Zhuhai as SEZs was a strategic move to act as an “overflow” for businesses in Hong Kong, and the impact on the Pearl River Delta was profound and immediate.

A number of factors also helped contribute to the meteoric rise of the region: proximity to Hong Kong’s financial sector, a world-class seaport, a huge and inexpensive labor pool, cheap and abundant land, and few regulatory impediments to rapidly growing companies.

In the two decades after Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms, the GDP of the region grow by more than 10x and urbanization – bolstered by large-scale infrastructure projects – began in earnest.

To put the scale of this population clustering into perspective, here are the populations of cities within the Pearl River Delta in 2020 compared with modern-day metropolitan areas in North America and Europe:

chinese cities compared to western cities

Today, this compact region has a GDP equivalent to that of South Korea.

Megalopolis at the Gates

The explosive growth the Pearl River Delta has upended the regional balance of power.

At the close of the 20th century, Hong Kong was the undisputed economic powerhouse of the region. In fact, just prior to the handover from the United Kingdom to China, the city’s economic output was equal to a quarter of China’s entire GDP.

Today, the situation is markedly different. Hong Kong is no longer a separate entity, and its GDP represents a mere 3% of China’s.

This shift in the regional dynamic is causing trepidation in Hong Kong, where over 90% of the millennial population identifies as “Hong Konger” as opposed to “Chinese”. Although the government has agreed in spirit to maintain the city’s autonomy until 2047, recent actions suggest an eagerness to integrate the entire region into a seamless megacity.

The blurring of the lines appears to be well underway, as more than half a million people from the city now reside in Mainland China, up from approximately 150,000 a decade ago.

One physical manifestation of Mainland China’s push for an integrated region is the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge. This colossal infrastructure project is a 31 mile (50 km) connection that includes bridges, tunnels, and three man-made islands.

In China, where each project is more ambitious than the next, it’s only fitting that the world’s largest urban area will be connected by the world’s largest sea crossing.

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Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities

Where do the most billionaires live? For years, NYC has topped the list of billionaire cities, but 2020 marked a monumental shift.

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Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities in 2020

In 2020, the world gained 493 new billionaires—that’s one every 17 hours.

For the last seven years, New York City has been home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. However, last year marked a monumental shift in the status quo.

Beijing has unseated the Big Apple, and is now home to 100 billionaires. That’s one more billionaire than the 99 living in New York City.

Today’s map uses data from Forbes to display the top 10 cities that house the most billionaires.

Where do the Most Billionaires Live?

The richest of the rich are quite concentrated in cities, but some cities seem to best suit the billionaire lifestyle. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 billionaire capitals and the collective net worth of all the ultra wealthy that live there.

RankCityRegionNumber of BillionairesNet Worth of the City's Billionaires
#1Beijing🇨🇳 Asia100$484.3B
#2New York City 🇺🇸 North America99$560.5B
#3Hong Kong🇨🇳 Asia80$448.4B
#4Moscow🇷🇺 Europe79$420.6B
#5Shenzhen🇨🇳 Asia68$415.3B
#6Shanghai 🇨🇳 Asia64$259.6B
#7London 🇬🇧 Europe63$316.1B
#8Mumbai🇮🇳 Asia48$265.0B
#9San Fransisco🇺🇸 North America48$190.0B
#10Hangzhou🇨🇳 Asia47$269.2B

Some cities have some obvious billionaires that come to mind. New York’s richest person and former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is worth $59 billion. Beijing’s richest billionaire is the founder of TikTok (among other things), Zhang Yiming with a net worth of $35.6 billion.

In terms of the locations themselves, London, New York, and San Francisco are the only Western cities to make the list. Though New York was ousted from the top position last year, altogether the city’s billionaires are still worth more than Beijing’s.

One new city to make the top 10 list of billionaire cities was Hangzhou, the home of Jack Ma. It booted out Singapore from the 10th spot.

East Meets West

More than half of the top 10 cities are located in Asia, providing evidence of the shift eastwards when it comes to seats of wealth. Five of the six Asian cities listed are all in China.

What’s helped lead to this?

The country has seen an e-commerce boom, not in the least thanks to the pandemic. Additionally, the efficient handling of COVID-19 has allowed the economy to get back on track much more quickly than other countries. According to the BBC, 50% of China’s new billionaires have made their wealth either through tech or manufacturing.

Four of the Chinese cities on the list also had the biggest billionaire growth in 2020. Each of them gained more than 10 net new billionaires:

  • 🇨🇳 Hangzhou: 21
  • 🇨🇳 Shanghai: 18
  • 🇨🇳 Shenzhen: 24
  • 🇨🇳 Beijing: 33

The only other city to gain more than 10 new billionaires in 2020 was San Francisco with 11.

Now sitting at 698 billionaires, China is coming up on the 724 held by the United States. Beijing overtaking NYC could be the beginning of a larger tipping point.

Shifting Tides

Asia-Pacific’s collective 1,149 billionaires are worth $4.7 trillion, while U.S. billionaires are worth $4.4 trillion in total wealth.

Overall, it looks like the wealth tides may be turning as China continues to progress economically and more billionaires become based in the East over the West.

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The Population of China in Perspective

China is the world’s most populous country. But how does the population of China compare to the rest of the world?

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The Population of China in Perspective

China is the world’s most populous country with an astounding 1.44 billion citizens. Altogether, the size of the population of China is larger than nearly four regions combined: South America, Europe (excluding Russia), the U.S. & Canada, and Australia & New Zealand.

Using data from the United Nations, this unconventional map reveals the comparative size of China’s population next to a multitude of other countries.

Note: To keep the visualization easy to read, we’ve simplified the shapes representing countries. For example, although we’ve included Alaska and Hawaii in U.S. population totals, the U.S. is represented by the contiguous states map only.

A Historical Perspective

Looking at history, the population of China has more than doubled since the 1950s. The country was the first in the world to hit one billion people in 1980.

However, in 1979, in an attempt to control the burgeoning population, the infamous one-child policy was introduced, putting controls on how many children Chinese citizens could have.

While the government eventually recognized the negative implications of this policy, it appeared to be too little, too late. The two-child policy was introduced in 2016, but it has not yet reversed the current slowdown in population growth.

YearChina's Population (Millions)Annual Rate of Growth (%)Median AgeFertility Rate
1955612.22.00%22.26.11
1960660.41.53%21.35.48
1965724.21.86%19.86.15
1970827.62.70%19.36.30
1975926.22.28%20.34.85
19801,000.11.55%21.93.01
19851,075.61.47%23.52.52
19901,176.91.82%24.92.73
19951,240.91.07%27.41.83
20001,290.60.79%30.01.62
20051,330.80.62%32.61.61
20101,368.80.57%35.01.62
20151,406.80.55%36.71.64
20161,414.00.51%37.01.65
20171,421.00.49%37.01.65
20181,427.60.47%37.01.65
20191,433.80.43%37.01.65
20201,439.30.39%38.41.69

The fertility rate has been consistently falling from over 6 births per woman in 1955 to 1.69 in 2020. Today, the median age in China is 38 years old, rising from 22 in 1955. Longer life spans and fewer births form a demographic trend that has many social and economic implications.

Overall, China’s young population is becoming scarcer, meaning that the domestic labor market will eventually begin shrinking. Additionally, the larger share of elderly citizens will require publicly-funded resources, resulting in a heavier societal and financial burden.

Strength in Numbers

Despite these trends, however, China’s current population remains massive, constituting almost 20% of the world’s total population. Right now 71% of the Chinese population is between the ages of 15 and 65 years old, meaning that the labor supply is still immense.

Here are the populations of 65 countries from various regions of the world—and added together, you’ll see they still fall short of the population of China:

CountryPopulation Region
🇺🇸 U.S.331,002,651North America
🇨🇦 Canada37,742,154North America
🇧🇷 Brazil212,559,417South America
🇨🇴 Colombia50,882,891South America
🇦🇷 Argentina45,195,774South America
🇵🇪 Peru32,971,854South America
🇻🇪 Venezuela28,435,940South America
🇨🇱 Chile19,116,201South America
🇪🇨 Ecuador17,643,054South America
🇧🇴 Bolivia11,673,021South America
🇵🇾 Paraguay7,132,538South America
🇺🇾 Uruguay3,473,730South America
🇬🇾 Guyana786,552South America
🇸🇷 Suriname586,632South America
🇬🇫 French Guyana298,682South America
🇫🇰 Falkland Islands3,480South America
🇦🇺 Australia25,499,884Oceania
🇳🇿 New Zealand4,822,233Oceania
🇩🇪 Germany83,783,942Europe
🇫🇷 France65,273,511Europe
🇳🇱 Netherlands17,134,872Europe
🇧🇪 Belgium11,589,623Europe
🇦🇹 Austria9,006,398Europe
🇨🇭 Switzerland8,654,622Europe
🇱🇺 Luxembourg625,978Europe
🇲🇨 Monaco39,242Europe
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein38,128Europe
🇮🇹 Italy60,461,826Europe
🇪🇸 Spain46,754,778Europe
🇬🇷 Greece10,423,054Europe
🇵🇹 Portugal10,196,709Europe
🇷🇸 Serbia8,737,371Europe
🇭🇷 Croatia4,105,267Europe
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina3,280,819Europe
🇦🇱 Albania2,877,797Europe
🇲🇰 North Macedonia2,083,374Europe
🇸🇮 Slovenia2,078,938Europe
🇲🇪 Montenegro628,066Europe
🇲🇹 Malta441,543Europe
🇦🇩 Andorra77,265Europe
🇸🇲 San Marino33,931Europe
🇬🇮 Gibraltar33,691Europe
🇻🇦 Vatican City801Europe
🇬🇧 United Kingdom67,886,011Europe
🇸🇪 Sweden10,099,265Europe
🇩🇰 Denmark5,792,202Europe
🇫🇮 Finland5,540,720Europe
🇳🇴 Norway5,421,241Europe
🇮🇪 Ireland4,937,786Europe
🇱🇹 Lithuania2,722,289Europe
🇱🇻 Latvia1,886,198Europe
🇪🇪 Estonia1,326,535Europe
🇮🇸 Iceland341,243Europe
Channel Islands173,863Europe
🇮🇲 Isle of Man85,033Europe
🇫🇴 Faroe Islands48,863Europe
🇺🇦 Ukraine43,733,762Europe
🇵🇱 Poland37,846,611Europe
🇷🇴 Romania19,237,691Europe
🇨🇿 Czechia10,708,981Europe
🇭🇺 Hungary9,660,351Europe
🇧🇾 Belarus9,449,323Europe
🇧🇬 Bulgaria6,948,445Europe
🇸🇰 Slovakia5,459,642Europe
🇲🇩 Moldova4,033,963Europe
Total1,431,528,252

To break it down even further, here’s a look at the population of each of the regions listed above:

  • Australia and New Zealand: 30.3 million
  • Europe (excluding Russia): 601.7 million
  • South America: 430.8 million
  • The U.S. and Canada: 368.7 million

Combined their population is 1.432 billion compared to China’s 1.439 billion.

Overall, the population of China has few comparables. India is one exception, with a population of 1.38 billion. As a continent, Africa comes in close as well at 1.34 billion people. Here’s a breakdown of Africa’s population for further comparison.

CountryPopulation Region
🇳🇬 Nigeria206,139,589Africa
🇬🇭 Ghana31,072,940Africa
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire26,378,274Africa
🇳🇪 Niger24,206,644Africa
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso20,903,273Africa
🇲🇱 Mali20,250,833Africa
🇸🇳 Senegal16,743,927Africa
🇬🇳 Guinea13,132,795Africa
🇧🇯 Benin12,123,200Africa
🇹🇬 Togo8,278,724Africa
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone7,976,983Africa
🇱🇷 Liberia5,057,681Africa
🇲🇷 Mauritania4,649,658Africa
🇬🇲 Gambia2,416,668Africa
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau1,968,001Africa
🇨🇻 Cabo Verde555,987Africa
🇸🇭 Saint Helena6,077Africa
🇿🇦 South Africa59,308,690Africa
🇳🇦 Namibia2,540,905Africa
🇧🇼 Botswana2,351,627Africa
🇱🇸 Lesotho2,142,249Africa
🇸🇿 Eswatini1,160,164Africa
🇪🇬 Egypt102,334,404Africa
🇩🇿 Algeria43,851,044Africa
🇸🇩 Sudan43,849,260Africa
🇲🇦 Morocco36,910,560Africa
🇹🇳 Tunisia11,818,619Africa
🇱🇾 Libya6,871,292Africa
🇪🇭 Western Sahara597,339Africa
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo89,561,403Africa
🇦🇴 Angola32,866,272Africa
🇨🇲 Cameroon26,545,863Africa
🇹🇩 Chad16,425,864Africa
🇨🇬 Congo5,518,087Africa
🇨🇫 Central African Republic4,829,767Africa
🇬🇦 Gabon2,225,734Africa
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea1,402,985Africa
🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe219,159Africa
🇪🇹 Ethiopia114,963,588Africa
🇹🇿 Tanzania59,734,218Africa
🇰🇪 Kenya53,771,296Africa
🇺🇬 Uganda45,741,007Africa
🇲🇿 Mozambique31,255,435Africa
🇲🇬 Madagascar27,691,018Africa
🇲🇼 Malawi19,129,952Africa
🇿🇲 Zambia18,383,955Africa
🇸🇴 Somalia15,893,222Africa
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe14,862,924Africa
🇷🇼 Rwanda12,952,218Africa
🇧🇮 Burundi11,890,784Africa
🇸🇸 South Sudan11,193,725Africa
🇪🇷 Eritrea3,546,421Africa
🇲🇺 Mauritius1,271,768Africa
🇩🇯 Djibouti988,000Africa
🇷🇪 Réunion895,312Africa
🇰🇲 Comoros869,601Africa
🇾🇹 Mayotte272,815Africa
🇸🇨 Seychelles98,347Africa
Total1,340,598,147

Future Outlook on the Population of China

Whether or not China’s population growth is slowing appears to be less relevant when looking at its sheer size. While India is expected to match the country’s population by 2026, China will remain one of the world’s largest economic powerhouses regardless.

It is estimated, however, that the population of China will drop below one billion people by the year 2100—bumping the nation to third place in the ranking of the world’s most populous countries. At the same time, it’s possible that China’s economic dominance may be challenged by these same demographic tailwinds as time moves forward.

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