Is Guangzhou the largest city in the world?

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The official JetPunk Biggest Cities in the World Quiz has Guangzhou / Shenzhen as the largest city in the world, with a population of 47.6 million in 2021. This is based on citypopulation.de, one of the main sources used by many JetPunk quizzes.

If you look further at citypopulation.de, it lists that Guangzhou (or the Northern Pearl River Delta in China) includes the administrative areas of Dongguan, Foshan, Jiangmen, Shenzhen and Zhongshan. These cover an area of 27,000 square km, which is larger than Rwanda or North Macedonia.

Map of Guangdong province in Southern China. Guangzhou (9), Dongguan (10), Foshan (8), Jiangmen (18), Shenzhen (21) and Zhongshan (19) are all considered a single urban agglomeration according to citypopulation.de. Note that in this map, the darker the red the higher is the GDP per capita

So is Guangzhou the largest city in the world? This really depends on where you stop counting the people. There are generally three ways to define population of a city, namely:

1. City proper - the area within the city limits, i.e. boundaries of a single jurisdiction. The problem with this method is that different countries define their city limits differently. In China, the so-called "city" is more equivalent to prefecture or county in other countries. It includes vast area of nearby towns, smaller cities and countryside that are administered by the "city" government. In some extreme cases, such as the city of Chongqing, it covers an area larger than Czechia.

2. Urban area - continuous built-up area around a city within a labour market and excludes any rural land, i.e. areas that are lighted up at night.

3. Metropolitan area - urban core area(s) and the surrounding satellite cities, towns and rural/semi-rural areas in between, that are within the same labour and housing market, i.e. people commute in between.

The Municipality of Chongqing covers 82,403 sq km and a city proper population of 32 million

Different websites use different definitions. Citypopulation.de uses the metropolitan area population but it sometimes ignores the single market criteria and includes vast area surrounding a city. Hence it often hugely exaggerates a city's population. In contrast, demographia.com uses urban area population. It only considers Foshan as part of Guangzhou, and others like Dongguan and Shenzhen are separate cities. As such, Guangzhou-Foshan is only ranked 10th in the world, with a population of 21.5 million (it's still huge). Some other sources mix up the different definitions so it is not really comparing apples to apples, e.g. the UN World Urbanization Prospects consider Yokohama as part of Tokyo, but Incheon a separate city to Seoul. Anyway I have a quiz on the largest cities based on 5 different sources and you can see what I mean:

100 Largest Cities (according to different sources) Map Quiz

As you can see, three of these regard Tokyo as the largest city in the world, while the other two list Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta as the largest.

Although the Pearl River Delta may be considered a single continuous built-up area as the adjacent cities grow and are starting to merge into a huge agglomerate, they do not form a "single labour market", i.e. people living in Guangzhou do not commute to Shenzhen daily for work or study and vice versa (may be in future they will, but not yet).

Satellite image of the Pearl River Delta in 2014 

Guangzhou and Shenzhen are two distinctive cities. The two cities are 104 km apart (straight line distance measured from their respective city government offices). They have very different histories (Guangzhou is over 2000 years old, while Shenzhen was "created" in the last 40 years), different economies (Guangzhou is a trading hub while Shenzhen is now the "silicon valley" of China), and their people speak different languages (Guangzhou locals speak Cantonese while Shenzhen people migrated from all over the country and mostly speak Mandarin). Moreover, their southern neighbours Hong Kong and Macau are Special Administrative Regions (SARs) outside Guangdong province. However, the boundaries are being blurred and there is a push by the central government to create a single megalopolis called the Greater Bay Area, covering 9 cities in Guangdong plus Hong Kong and Macau.

The green area plus Hong Kong and Macau in red are to become an integrated economic area called the Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macau Greater Bay Area  

The concept comes from similar megalopolis such as the Greater Tokyo AreaBoston-Washington corridor and San Francisco Bay Area.

Greater Tokyo Area in dark green
Northeast megalopolis between Boston and Washington DC

The Greater Bay Area has a population of 86 million people (more than Iran, Turkey or Germany), covering an area of 56,000 sq km (similar to Croatia), and a combined GDP of US$1.64 trillion in 2018 (similar to Russia's economy).

The cities are connected via high speed railway, the Humen Pearl River Bridge connecting Dongguan and Guangzhou, the 55-kilometre Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, and the 51-kilometre Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge currently under construction. The goal is to create the so-called "1-hour living circle" where citizens can commute inside the Greater Bay Area within an hour. When that happens, it may be able meet the "single labour market" criteria and can truly become the world largest city.

Metro, train, light rail, tram and high speed rail map of the Greater Bay Area
Humen Pearl River Bridge connecting Dongguan and Guangzhou
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

Regardless, Guangzhou is one of the largest and most important cities in the world. I bet most of you have not even heard of Guangzhou before JetPunk. But if I use the old English name Canton it may ring a bell, as the Cantonese language, cuisine and culture are more widely known around the world. Therefore, it is quite pathetic concerning that there are only three English quizzes about Guangzhou so far on JetPunk (one of which was created by me):

Guangzhou Airport (CAN) Destinations

Guangzhou or Shenzhen?

Countries with embassies and consulates in Guangzhou

In addition, I created two bilingual quizzes on Guangzhou and Shenzhen Metro:

广州地铁车站地图 Guangzhou Metro Map Quiz

深圳地铁车站地图 Shenzhen Metro Map Quiz

and there are two map quizzes on the Pearl River Delta:

Cities of the Pearl River Delta

Pearl River Delta Cities Map Quiz 珠三角城市群

So how much do you know about Guangzhou and the Greater Bay Area? Would you like to see more quizzes about it on JetPunk?

Guangzhou
Shenzhen
Dongguan
Foshan
Zhuhai
Huizhou
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Level 54
Sep 22, 2021
Good info, never knew that from now, i knew that guangzhou is not largest city
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Level 55
Sep 22, 2021
Amazing blog! This has to be one of my favorites tbh lol
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Level 65
Sep 22, 2021
Great blog! I compared some things to the Bay Area, which is definitely a Metropolitan Area. I never really questioned citypopulation.de lol but I guess they exaggerate some things.
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Level 56
Sep 22, 2021
Great blog! When I saw it I though it was going to be some short blog basically saying Well, according to blah blah blah it is but blah blah blah says it isn’t. This is really elaborate!
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Level 73
Sep 23, 2021
It'd be great to see more content on places that are really important yet somewhat obscure like Guangzhou. Great blog
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Level 65
Sep 25, 2021
guangzhou isn't exactly obscure...