China had 660 cities by the end of 2003, of which 11 had populations of more than four million in the urban area; 22 had between two and four million; 141 had between one and two million; 274 had between 500,000 and one million; 172 had between 200,000 and 500,000; and 40 had fewer than 200,000.
In the course of city planning, China implements the principle of "strictly control over the size of large cities, rational development of medium-sized cities and active development of small cities." Medium-sized cities with populations of under 500,000 and small cities with populations fewer than 200,000 have grown rapidly since the 1980s and the large cities with populations of over one million have developed satellite cities and towns in a planned and positive way.
Beijing is a municipality directly under the Central Government and the capital of China. It is not only the nation's political center, but also its cultural, scientific and educational center, and a key transportation hub. Situated on the northern edge of the North China Plain, it is sheltered by chains of mountains to the west, north and east. Its southeastern part is a plain. Beijing's temperate continental climate produces four clearly contrasted seasons: a short spring, rainy and humid summer, long and cold winter, and a very pleasant autumn. Beijing emerged as a city as far back as the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC), when it was known as Ji. During the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), it was the capital of the State of Yan. Ji remained a city of strategic importance and a trade center for the north for well over a thousand years. Then, in the early 10th century, under the name of Yanjing, it became the secondary capital of the Liao Dynasty. Between 1115 and 1911, it served as the capital of the Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties in succession, thus becoming a storehouse of Chinese culture, and leaving many historical legacies. Among these, the Imperial Palace, the Great Wall, the site of Peking Man at Zhoukoudian, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the Ming Tombs have been put on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.
Since it became the nation's capital in 1949, especially since the 1980s, the rapid urban development of Beijing has brought tremendous changes to the city's appearance. Beijing of today, with its many broad roads and tall buildings, while preserving the features of the ancient capital is truly a modern international city.
Shanghai, a municipality directly under the Central Government, is China's largest city. Advantageously located, Shanghai is halfway down China's mainland coastline, where the Yangtze River empties into the sea. As an important comprehensive industrial base and port, Shanghai plays an essential role in the national economy. Major industries include metallurgy, machine-building, shipbuilding, chemicals, electronics, meters, textiles and other light industries, in addition to its highly developed commerce, banking and ocean shipping industry. The Pudong New Zone, separated from the old city by the Huangpu River, is now undergoing vigorous development and construction. The opening and development of the Pudong New Zone is intended to put it on a par with the world's best within several decades, as a modern, multi-functional, export-oriented district, thus laying the foundation for the transformation of Shanghai into an international economic, banking and trade center, and a modern international metropolis.
Another municipality directly under the Central Government, Tianjin is a major industrial and commercial city in north China. About 120 km from Beijing, Tianjin is an important port for ocean and offshore shipping, and foreign trade. Tianjin's traditional industries include iron and steel, machine-building, chemicals, electric power, textiles, construction materials, paper-making and foodstuffs, plus some emergent industries such as shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing, petroleum exploitation and processing, and the production of tractors, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, watches, TVs and cameras.
Also a municipality directly under the Central Government, Chongqing is the largest industrial and commercial center in southwest China, and a hub of land and water transportation in the upper Yangtze valley. Chongqing is a comprehensive industrial city, with advanced iron and steel, chemicals, electric power, automobile manufacturing, machine-building, shipbuilding, construction materials, textiles, foodstuffs and pharmaceutical industries.