Skip to main content
Log in

Re-examination of Zipf’s law and urban dynamic in China: a regional approach

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
The Annals of Regional Science Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Recent efforts have been made to interpret spatial-temporal evolution of urban system using Zipf’s law. The debates remain whether Zipf’s law holds true for large and diverse countries with long urbanization history, and how varied geographical settings with different socioeconomic conditions affect city-size distributions. This research investigates China’s urban system dynamics through expanded Zipf’s law at national and regional level. First, the paper revisits urban system dynamic theories and recent applications of Zipf’s law. The city data from 1960 to 2000 are then used to analyze rapid changes of urban systems in China through Zipf’s plots of cities over the entire nation and in six macro regions, respectively. The paper also examines top ten city rank changes nationally and regionally to examine temporal trajectories of key cities and the impacts on urban systems over space. Three types of Zipf’s law reflections are found over six China’s macro regions, based on the similarities of temporal dynamics of urban systems.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Batty M (2006) Rank clocks. Nature 444: 592–596

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berry BJL (1961) City size distributions and economic development. Econ Dev Cultural Change 9: 573–588

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bettencourt L, Lobo J, West G (2008) Why are large cities faster? Universal scaling and self-similarity in urban organization and dynamics. Eur Phys J B Condens Matter 63(3): 285–293

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Casetti E (1972) Generating models by the expansion method: application to geography research. Geograph Anal 4: 81–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chen Y, Zhou Y (2008) Scaling laws and indications of self-organized criticality in urban systems. Chaos Solitons Fractals 35(1): 85–98

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duranton G (2006) Some foundations for Zipf’s law: product prolifration and local spillovers. Reg Sci Urban Econ 36: 542–563

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dutt A, Xie Y, Das Y (1994) Comparative rank-size analysis of cities—China and India. In: Dutt C, Aggarwal N (eds) Asian City. Kluwer, Dordrecht

  • Fan CC (1999) The vertical and horizontal expansions of China’s city system. Urban Geograph 20: 493–515

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Frank AG (1969) Latin America: underdevelopment or revolution. Monthly Review Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Gabaix X (1999) Zipf’S law for cities: an explanation. Q J Econ 114(3): 739–767

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gangopadhyay K, Basu B (2009) City size distributions for India and China. Phys A Stat Mech Appl 13: 2682–2688

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Giesen K, Südekum J (2011) Zipf’s law for cities in the regions and the country. J Econ Geograph (in press)

  • Henderson JV (1974) The sizes and types of cities. Am Econ Rev 64: 640–656

    Google Scholar 

  • Ioannides Y, Overman H (2003) Zipf’s law for cities: an empirical examination. Reg Sci Urban Econ 33: 127–137

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kamal-Chaoui L, Leman E, Rufei Z (2009) Urban trends and policy in China. OECD Regional Development Working Papers OECD publishing

  • Ma LJC (2002) Urban transformation in China, 1979-2000: a review and research agenda. Environ Plan A 34: 1545–1569

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosen K, Resnick M (1980) The size distribution of cities: an examination of the Pareto law and primacy. J Urban Econ 8: 165–186

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rozenfeld H, Rybski D, Gabaix X, Makse H (2009) The area and population of cities: new insights from a different perspective on cities. NBER working paper No. 15409

  • Scott A (2008) Resurgent metropolis: economy, society and urbanization in an interconnected world. Int J Urban Reg Res 32(3): 548–564

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shi Y, Hamnett C (2002) The potential and prospect for global cities in China: in the context of the world system. Geoforum 33: 121–135

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Song S, Zhang K (2002) Urbanization and city-size distribution in China. Urban Stud 39: 2317–2327

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Soo K (2002) Zipf’s law for cities: a cross-country investigation. London School of Economics, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Soo K (2007) Zipf’s law and urban growth in Malaysia. Urban Stud 44(1): 1–14

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • SSB (State Statistical Bureau) (1994, 2000, 2001) China statistical yearbook. China Statistics Press, Beijing

  • SSB (State Statistical Bureau) (1999) Cities China 1949–1998. New China Press, Beijing

  • Wallerstein I (1974) The rise and future demise of the world capitalist system: concepts for comparative analysis. Comp Stud Soc Hist 16: 387–415

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wallerstein I (1979) The capitalist world economy. Cambridge UP, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallerstein I (1984) The politics of the capitalist world economy. Cambridge UP, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Wei Y (2007) Regional development in China: transitional institutions, embedded globalization, and hybrid economies. Eur Geograph Econ 48(1): 16–36

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wei Y, Ye X (2009) Beyond convergence: space, scale, and regional inequality in China. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie (J Econ Soc Geography) 100(1): 59–80

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Xie Y, Dutt AK (1990) Regional investment effectiveness and development levels in China. GeoJournal 20: 393–407

    Google Scholar 

  • Xie Y, Ye X (2007) Evolution of urban system in China. In: Pomeroy G (ed) Geographic perspectives on cities, regions and society, Volume One. Concept Publishing

  • Xie Y, Batty M, Zhao K (2007) Simulating emergent urban form using agent based modeling: desakota in the Suzhou-Wuxian Region in China. Ann Assoc Am Geograph 97(3): 477–495

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Xu Z, Zhu N (2009) City size distribution in China: are large cities dominant?. Urban Stud 46(10): 2159–2185

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Xu Z, Harriss R (2010) A spatial and temporal autocorrelated growth model for city rank-size distribution. Urban Stud 47(2): 321–335

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zipf GK (1949) Human behavior and the principle of least effort: an introduction to human ecology. Addison Wesley, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xinyue Ye.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ye, X., Xie, Y. Re-examination of Zipf’s law and urban dynamic in China: a regional approach. Ann Reg Sci 49, 135–156 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00168-011-0442-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00168-011-0442-8

JEL Classification

Navigation