The Best Map for Understanding Modern China


The “cluster” map shown above (and below) is by McKinsey & Co. It illustrates four important points about modern China.

Point 1: China today is a series of clusters, not a continent.

China today is not an integrated continental economy. You don’t see infrastructure connecting each part of the country, like say in the United States. That is likely the future but not yet the present.

What you see today is a series of “clusters”. Each cluster contains 20-30 cities and typically has over 60 million people. For example, Beijing / Tianjin in the North is actually a cluster of 28 cities – all tightly interconnected by roads, rail and other infrastructure. Qingdao, well known for its beer, is actually part of a 35-city cluster.


Point 2: These +60M person city-clusters are the vast majority of the economy.

China today has more than 20 of these clusters. And each is about the size of a large European country. According to government plans, China’s main clusters will cover 80% of the GDP and 60% of the population.

Point 3: Urbanization and infrastructure are mostly about building clusters.

Much of the highly publicized high speed rail and other infrastructure projects are about creating clusters. It is about making it possible for people and goods to travel cheaply and quickly within a cluster. Some of the projects connect the clusters.

Point 4: Clusters are making China more, not less, heterogeneous.

Clusters vary by income, demographics and social structure. Shenzhen, the original migrant mega-city, is younger than Guangzhou, its cousin 3 hours away. Shanghai has more rich people than nearly all of the inland clusters combined. And in Beijing, household sizes are shrinking faster than in any other cluster.


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