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Spatial and Temporal Evolution of Urban Systems in China during Rapid Urbanization


  • Huan Li

    () (Collaborative Innovation Center for China Economy, School of Economics, Nankai University, Tianjin 300071, China)

  • Yehua Dennis Wei

    () (Key Research Institute of Yellow River Civilization and Sustainable Development & Collaborative Innovation Center on Yellow River Civilization of Henan Province, Henan University, Kaifeng 475001, China
    Department of Geography, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9155, USA)

  • Yuemin Ning

    () (Centre for Modern Chinese City Studies, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China)


The structure of urban hierarchy and the role of cities of different sizes have drawn considerable scholarly interests and societal concerns. This paper analyzes the evolution and underlying mechanisms of urban hierarchy in China during the recent period of rapid urbanization. By comparing scale changes of seven types of cities (megacity, large city, Type I big city, Type II big city, medium-sized city, type I small city and type II small city), we find that allometry is the main characteristic of urban hierarchical evolution in China. We also test the validity of Zipf’s law and Gibrat’s law, which broaden the scope of existing studies by including county-level cities. We find that urban hierarchical distribution is lognormal, rather than Pareto. The result also shows that city size growth rates are constant across cities of different types. For better understanding of the mechanisms of urban hierarchical formation, we measure the optimal city size and resource allocation by the Pareto optimality criterion and non-parametric frontier method. The main findings are as follows: (1) scale efficiency is still at a relatively low level among the seven types of cities; (2) the economic efficiency of megacities and large cities is overestimated when compared to economic-environmental efficiency. Hence, this paper has two policy implications: (1) to correct factor market (land, labor and infrastructure investment) distortions among different types of cities for the improvement of efficiency; (2) to strengthen rural property rights to improve social equity, as well as land use intensity.

Suggested Citation

  • Huan Li & Yehua Dennis Wei & Yuemin Ning, 2016. "Spatial and Temporal Evolution of Urban Systems in China during Rapid Urbanization," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(7), pages 1-17, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:7:p:651-:d:73614

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    urban hierarchy; Zipf’s law; Gibrat’s law; total-factor productivity; China;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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