Ahmad, S.  (2021) Cities of dragons and elephants – Urbanization and urban development in China and India. Regional Studies,  doi: 10.1080/00343404.2021.1879488

Key messages

China and India, the most populous countries in the world, accommodate over one-third of the global population. Both countries have a similar level of rural population (23% of the population lives in rural grid cells), but the majority of Indians live in urban centres (54% versus China’s 41%) rather than urban clusters (India’s 24% versus China’s 37%) as per the degree of urbanization (European Commission, 2015). Given the similarities and differences, particularly at development stage and trajectory, China and India can learn from each other to achieve sustainable development outcomes.

By understanding why and where to urbanize in the context of China and India, this edited volume makes a timely contribution to urbanization and urban development debates. This book is divided into nine parts after an introductory chapter: (I) Urbanization and Rural Development; (II) Urban System; (III) Migration; (IV) Land and Housing; (V) Capital Flow and FDI; (VI) Infrastructure; (VII) Human Capital; (VIII) Congestion and Pollution; and (IX) Poverty and Inequality in Urbanization. Each part consists of two or three chapters (a total of 21 chapters) and deals with Chinese and Indian urban issues separately, rather than comparatively.

The key message from this book is that China’s and India’s urbanization are in the form of megacities that face the challenge of liveability and equality within and across cities. Based on robust empirical analyses, this study makes four policy recommendations to achieve efficacy, equity and sustainability:

  1. ensuring the efficiency of factor markets by removing the institutional barrier to migration in China and integrating labour markets by reducing language and cultural differences across regions in India;
  2. instrumenting central–local fiscal transfer to equitable public services and quality of life;
  3. ensuring the optimal exploitation of management and technology to build liveable and equitable cities (e.g., large-scale efficient urban transits, e-governance and green technologies); and
  4. setting up accountable and efficient governments for urban management and development.


These recommendations are made with reference to China and India, but are equally applicable to other emerging economies.