My Favorite Map for Understanding Modern China

The “cluster” map shown above (and below) is originally by McKinsey & Co. I think it really illustrates three important points about modern China.

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

China today is not yet an integrated continental economy. You don’t see infrastructure seamlessly 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” – with each cluster containing 20-30 cities and typically over 60 million people. For example, Beijing / Tianjin in the North is actually a cluster of 28 cities – all increasingly interconnected by roads, rail and other new infrastructure. Qingdao, well known for its beer, is actually part of a 35-city cluster.



Point 2: These +60M person 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 (closer to France and Germany than Greece or Austria). 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. The key metric to watch is the logistics cost within clusters, which has been falling fast.

Thanks for reading. – jeff


I write and speak about digital China and Asia’s latest tech trends.

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