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A new Chinese report discusses the issue in depth, calling the battle for population a "life and death struggle" in which one city wins and the other dies.
China enjoyed the demographic dividend from 1980 until 2014. Population increased by 324 million, or 38 percent, and the 18 to 64 age group saw 12 years of continuous growth. This helped fuel urbanization as every city could enjoy population growth.
Now, the one-child policy is reaping its dividends. The age cohort for family formation has stabilized and the rising cohorts are smaller. Even without delayed or lowered rates of marriage and childbirth, there would be a decline in household formation in the coming decade as the population falls.
Population density already started to fall in some cities:
In fact, even though the demographic dividend was positive in the early part of the 21st Century, the population war between cities has already begun. According to Beijing BCL research, the average population density of 39,007 townships in China is 873 people / km. By 2010, it climbed to 977 people / sq km as population growth trends continue, but over this 10 years, 33% of cities saw population density decline, while only 9% of cities saw sharp growth.Some provinces have seen more movement than others. Of every 100 people moving, 12.76 were from Sichuan province, 9.93 people from Hunan, 9.14 people from Anhui, 8.25 people from Jiangxi, 7.24 people from Henan.
Overall, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong has become a net emigration area to a minimum number, and the total net migration rate was the highest of the three main centers to absorb. Tianjin, Zhejiang, Fujian, Xinjiang moderate net immigration rate type. Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, Chongqing, Sichuan, Heilongjiang, Henan, Guizhou high net emigration rate area; Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Jilin low net emigration rate provinces, aside from Hebei the rest are all in the middle and west.The report also notes that cities such as Beijing still have lots of physical room for development. It could drain surrounding regions of population for years to come. For cities in the middle and west of China, they have to find a way to stop emigration and keep population within their borders.
Provinces also see migration within their borders. Zhengzhou attracts 40 percent of Henan migrants, while 60 percent leave the province. The rest of cities in Henan experience a drain.
Finally, the report concludes that migration would follow Zipf's Law were it not for restrictions on development. Even with restrictions, the authors expect first- and second-tier populations will grow. They suggest developers ignore concerns about population limits and continue building in first- and second-tier cities.