Hangzhou City Profile
- Stephanie Wu

Hangzhou is a city with over 2,200 years of history, which has seen drastic developments over the recent decades, whether in terms of its economy or people's standard of living. However, there is a group of people that have been left out in this process of urbanisation, not being able to fully immerse themselves to the city of Hangzhou. I hope that this city profile will allow for a better understanding towards this group of people: citizens or migrate workers living under poverty or are homeless.

An Investigation on Poverty and Homelessness in hangzhou

Background and Overview

Hangzhou is a city that is home to 21.1 million people, with an area of 34,585 km2. Being the capital of the Zhejiang Province, which is located in Eastern China, in between Shanghai and Ningbo. Hangzhou was declared by the Emperor Qin as a part of his empire in the 222 BC, around the time of the Qin dynasty. This is when Hangzhou first experienced urban growth. It was also during this period of time that the West lake, an attraction that Hangzhou is best known of, is formed from the Qiantang River. Hangzhou continues to flourish over the next 1000 years so, and rising to become the capital of the Song Dynasty, known as Lin'an back then. After the Grand Canal was constructed during the Sui Dynasty, Hangzhou became the Southern Terminal of the Grand Canal. This allows for rural-urban migration to Hangzhou - the capital of the empire, moving from the Yellow River Valley in the northern part of China to the South.

Functional Zones

Hangzhou East Railway Station ("Hangzhou East Railway Station").

Even though China is overall an LEDC, Hangzhou on its own can be considered as a MEDC as it has a birth rate of 9.09 per million and a death rate of 2.77 per million ("Population & Employment"), both within the range of birth rate and death rate of a MEDC (10~16 birth per 1000 people and 20~45 deaths per 1000 people) ("MEDCs and LEDCs"). The life expectancy of Hangzhou is also higher than 80 years old, which also justifies it as a MEDC ("Life expectancy of Hangzhou residents exceeds 80").

Hangzhou's economy has been developing rapidly since 1992, and experienced industrialization: many industries start to take up a greater proportion in the GDP sector. Today Hangzhou is an important industrial city in China, with some of the most important industries being light industry and textile industry - as Hangzhou is known for the silk of high quality that it produces. The information technology industry has also been developing tremendously in the recent years, with one example of that being the Alibaba Group, China's biggest online commerce company that provides online sales services of various kinds ("What is Alibaba?").

Alibaba Headquarters in Binjiang District, Hangzhou.


Some of the functional zones in Hangzhou include the CBD (central business district): the Qianjiang CBD, which is located in the Southeast side of Hangzhou and right next to the Qiantang river, which separates the city in the middle. A central business district is the commercial or business centre of a city. The Qianjiang CBD consists of a high concentration of retail and office buildings. The goal of the Qianjiang CBD is to serve as Hangzhou's cultural, economical and political centre, as well as to have an influence in the Yangtze River Delta area ("Qiangjiang CBD").

Residential Areas

Chonhua residential area, which is located in the Southeastern part of Hangzhou.

Chonhua residential area.

Industrial Areas

Sandun Industrial Area, which is located in Sandun town in the Northwestern part of Hangzhou.

Sandun Industrial Area.

Investigation Questions

What is the situation of poverty in Hangzhou, and what are the issues and challenges faced by people living under poverty?

Even though being one of the major cities in China, poverty may not be a major issue in Hangzhou, I believe in every city there is always a group of people that are struggling to deal with poverty, whose stories and experiences are worth exploring. Having investigated into the situation of poverty in both Shanghai and Istanbul, I hope to draw parallels between that and the situation in Hangzhou, as well as to come up with suggestions to reduce poverty after analyzing the data collected. This investigation will focus more on the situation of homelessness and problems with housing, which I believe is the best way to understand poverty in an insightful way.

Sub-question 1: What is the housing situation of people living under poverty in Hangzhou?

Sub-question 2: What are some of the existing measures to deal with poverty carried out by governments?

Sub-question 3: Why do people become homeless / poor?


1. Create a relevant, clear and focused research question, and 3 sub questions focusing on different aspects of the issue.

2. Identify sources that provide general background information of Hangzhou, its culture and history. Examine aspects of the sources that are relevant to the topic.

3. Identify sources that provide specific information on the situation of poverty in Hangzhou, which describes the causes, consequences of poverty, and what is being done to solve the issue. Examine the effectiveness of such methods.

4. Search for interviews of homeless people, and thus examine the nature of the problem according to their responses.

5. Find and examine relevant sources on the website of Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau.

6. Find and examine relevant photos and diagrams that allow me to gain a deeper insight into the situation of poverty in Hangzhou.

7. Find and examine relevant maps that allow me to gain a deeper insight into the situation of poverty in Hangzhou. This can be done by looking at the distribution of settlement, the land terrain, transportation networks and public amenities.

8. Analyze patterns and trends in data, and provide suggestions as to what can be done to solve the issue in the future.

9. Document all sources using the MLA format.

Sources of background information on Hangzhou

Source 1: The website of About Travel has an article that summarizes the history of Hangzhou over 2,200 years, from the Qin dynasty, where it is declared by the Emperor Qin as a part of his empire in the 222 BC. Hangzhou continues to flourish over the next 1000 years so, becoming the capital of the Song Dynasty. This website also explains some of the factors contributing to the increase in population, as well as gaining prosperity. However after the collapse of the Qing dynasty, Hangzhou lost its economic status to Shanghai, but still remained as one of the biggest cities in China. I find this website helpful in terms of providing historical information on the city that I am investigation, and help me to identify some of the issues related to poverty that is a result of its unique history.


Source 2: The website of China Regional Briefing has a page dedicated to providing information of the economics side of Hangzhou, including an overview of the economics, investment opportunities, tax incentives, land policies, financial support and foreign exchange policies. It summarizes the economic opportunities available in Hangzhou, as well as the developments in terms of economics planned by the government. Since poverty is closely related to economics, gaining an understanding of the general economics of Hangzhou will help me to have a better understanding of the factors contributing to the reducing poverty rates of Hangzhou, and thus provide suggestions of what Hangzhou can do to further reduce the situation of poverty. I can also explore how effective these economical developments are to reduce poverty.


Source 3: The Background Information page on the website of Hangzhou: A Paradise in South China has some detailed description on the geography of Hangzhou, where it is located in, its population and its growing economy, while the history and culture section described how Hangzhou has over 400 years of history and is one of the six ancient capitals. It was the capital of the song Dynasty, during which the Great Canal, a canal connecting Hangzhou and Beijing, was built. This source gives some quick but detailed information on the aspects of Hangzhou that is related to my investigation, as understanding its history and culture can help me to better connect with the issues of poverty that Hangzhou is currently facing.


Sources on the Situation of Poverty and Homeless in Hangzhou

Source 1: An article from South China Morning Posting, which talks about the slum clearance plan currently taking place in Hangzhou, which forms a huge part of the government’s development plan. The Hangzhou government is spending 20 billion yuan to redevelop the slums in the city and improving the overall infrastructure, in order to provide citizens with a better housing condition. The project is estimated to take place in 5 counties across the city in a span of 3 years. This source answers the main question of the current situation of poverty in Hangzhou, as well as sub-question 2, that the measures taken by the Hangzhou government to reduce poverty.


Source 2: The website of Poverty Organization has a page titled Poverty in China: Inequalities, Migrant Workers & Access to Education. It talks about how poverty starts to emerge as a result of corruption in society as well as the population explosion in the recent years. The situation of poverty in China is currently pretty alarming, and it also provides data on the income of people living under poverty. It also states that extreme poverty takes place between the boundaries of cities and rural areas, and in addition, migrant workers from rural areas, some of whom are really poor, are often exclude from the city and faces discrimination. This source is useful because it is a respond to sub-question 3, of how people become poor, as well as some of the consequences and other problems in China caused by poverty.


Source 3: An article from the Chinese Website Caihuanet that talks about the government introducing a new public housing policy, where citizens who could not afford to buy the house can first rent the house for 5 years, and the rent must be lower than 20% of the family’s annual income. This helps citizens, especially those living under poverty, to gain an access to proper housing, and thus improving their living condition. This source responds to sub-question 1 and 2, which talks about the housing situation of people living under poverty in Hangzhou, as well as some of the existing measures introduced by the government to reduce poverty.



Satellite image of Hangzhou ("Google Maps").

Pictured above is a map of Hangzhou in the form of Satellite Image. The map above shows that the west side of Hangzhou is relatively hillier, while the east side is relatively flat, forming a delta with Shaoxing. The terrain might have been one of the factors that contributed to the east side of Hangzhou being more developed than the west side. The city centre of Hangzhou is located in the central part, as indicated by the dropped pin of the Hangzhou Guchengqiang Exhibition Hall. This is also where the Qianjiang CBD is located in. The Qiantang river runs along the middle of the city, as shown fromthe map above.

Map of Hangzhou ("Google Maps").

Pictured above is a 2D map of Hangzhou. Since the west side of the city is hillier, and thus less developed than the rest of the areas in the city, it can be inferred that the poverty rates in those areas would be relatively higher. Another reason that his area could be relatively poorer and less developed could be due to the fact that it is further away from Shanghai, the economical centre of China, which is to the East of Hangzhou.


A school in the rural area of Hangzhou that mainly accepts kids of migrate workers (“杭州缔鼎举办“暖洋洋”爱心慈善公益系列活动”).

This photo shows a school in rural Hangzhou that only accepts the kids of migrant workers. As seen from the picture, the condition of the school is pretty poor; as there is no proper canteen, the kids has to squad or sit on the stairs while eating their lunch. They do not even seem to have proper bowls, which is likely to be due to the fact that metal bowls are harder to wear out. The kids do not seem to have much food either; as seen from the bowls that they are holding, most of their food seemed to be rice. This photo has allowed me to gain an insight to kids in Hangzhou that are living under poverty.

A tailor shop in Hangzhou ("政策与民生脱节 中国城镇贫困人口升至5000万。”)

Pictured above is a tailor shop in Hangzhou. As seen from the picture, the only room of the shop is crowded with fabrics, clothes and sewing machines. The conditions seemed to be quite poor, as the sewing machines used are very old fashioned. The kid, having nowhere to lie down, can only lie down on the mat on top of the fabric. He might be the child of the women that is sewing behind here, and they may live in this room. This also indicates that the shop might be run by a family. It can be inferred that since the area of the shop is really limited, probably because it would be more expensive to rent a bigger shop, which would be beyond the owner’s affordability. This photo thus shows the struggles of people trying start a family business in Hangzhou due to the soaring rents.

Quantitative Data

Gini coefficient in China from 2004 to 2014 ("Gini index: inequality of income distribution in China from 2004 to 2014").
Monthly salary in different provinces in China. Zhejiang province ranked 7th in the country. (“港人月入少於$23,495會餓死嗎?”).

The table above shows the lowest average monthly salary of different provinces in China, which is ¥1,470 for Zhejiang, the province where Hangzhou is located in. The lowest average monthly salary for Zhejiang is ranked fifth in the nation, which is considerably high according to the national data. Thus it can be seen that Zhejiang province is one of the slightly more affluent provinces in China. However there is a pretty substantial wealth gap even within the province, which is not shown in the table above.

The 10 China Cities With Most Expensive Home Prices.")

The table above shows the ranking of the average real estate price per square meter of cities in China. This shows that the standard and costs of living are quite high in Hangzhou, ranked among some of the most expensive cities in China. As noticed from the graph above, Hangzhou ranked number 6 in the Chinese cities, with ¥19,500 square meter. A house that is 150 square meter would cost almost 3 million, which some may find quite expensive, and even so for the people living under poverty.

The graph above shows the Gini coefficient of China from 204 to 2014. Even though the Gini coefficient has decreased by 0.4 from 2004 to 2014 after a sharp increase, it is still much higher than the warning level of 40 set by the United Nations. This means that there is an extremely unequal distribution of wealth within China, especially within the more wealthy provinces along the coast, for example Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian.

Housing affordability of cities around the world.

The graph above shows the housing affordability of various cities in China with comparison to other major cities in the world, according to the prices per metre square. As seen from the graph above, Hangzhou ranked sixth among all the cities, and third among Chinese cities, which is in the top 25% in terms of expensiveness. Thus it can be seen that the high prices of real estates may contribute to homelessness, as people especially like migrant workers, many of whom come from poor areas and are only capable of simple jobs with low pay due to them receiving very limited proper education, may find it hard to afford an apartment. Therefore by building more public housing, the price of real estate can be lowered effectively.

Qualitative data

By connecting with the Hangzhou Urban Bureau through looking over their website for information on the situation of poverty in Hangzhou, I found myself gaining more insight towards the issue of poverty and homelessness.

Established in 1984, Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau deals with planning and developing the city effectively, as well as planning for the social and economic development of Hangzhou, which is the capital of Zhejiang Province. It also aimed to improve functions of urban areas and promoting economic and comprehensive social developments, which are published in the master plan. The plan aims to build an inclusiveness city with increasing access to equal opportunity, as well as to improve the living standards of citizens.

Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau.

The information provided in the website are able to answer quite a lot of my investigation questions, including the current situation of poverty in Hangzhou, what the government is trying to do to improve the situation and people’s livelihood, as well as the effectiveness of the measures taken. It also helps me to identify the responsibility and role of the Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau in reducing poverty in Hangzhou, and to understand why such measures are taken. This can be done by looking through the Master Plan published by the bureau. I think this is a good resource to gain an understanding of the Hangzhou government’s stance on the issue.

Plan for Hangzhou's future development.

Responding to Sub-Question 2:
What are some of the actions taken by the government towards the issue?

According to the Master plan issued by the Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau, the main goal of which is to encourage social developments and promoting economic activities, particularly  in the east side of the city. One of the most prominent example of such include changing Xiaoshan and Yuhang from cities located east of Hangzhou to districts, which puts them under Hangzhou's administration. This would increase the area that is under Hangzhou's control, which allows for more opportunities of development and interaction. In fact Xiaoshan district is where the Hangzhou International Airport is located in, and there is also an Economic & Technological Development Zone in the area. A lot of public housing have also been built in the areas. In the case of Xiaoshan district and as for the year of 2013, the targetted number of public housing has been successfully built. With more public housing, it ensures that citizens will be able to afford housing more easily and helps to reduce the number of homelessness.

In addition, under the section titled "Development and control of the space of towns and villages", it can be seen that the government is also trying to build residential settlements, both cheap and expensive ones, in the rural areas of the city, incorporating local elements and characteristics into the buildings. This on one hand allows the rural areas to be developed with the increasing economic activities, and on the other hand allows more apartments to be available in Hangzhou, which would help to lower both the price in the market and encourage equal access to shelter.

The Hangzhou government also provides housing subsidy and tax refund to people who are living under poverty, and particularly for migrant workers, who can receive a subsidy of as much as ¥ 1,000,000, depending on their age and where they are from. Migrate workers can receive more subsidy than local citizens, which means that the hangzhou government is trying to help the migrate workers to better adapt to the society. The government's goal is to reduce poverty by 2020 ("Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau").

The development plan of Hangzhou as released by the Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau ("Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau").


Below are some quotes that comments on the lives of migrant workers under poverty from the Borgen Project, a project that investigates into the causes and consequences of poverty in different cities across the world:

"These migrant workers... who have made up the largest percentage of the city’s growth in the past few years, often live in the poorest conditions."

"Migrant laborers often work in labor, construction, factories as well as the service sector."

"Their wages tend to be lower than those of Shanghai residents and their living conditions incredibly poor. Just down the street from the newest high apartments and office buildings, it is not unusual to see old neighborhoods crowded with huts full of migrant laborers."

"Many laborers, ... come from even poorer rural villages. While their wages are low, the income is often still better than what could be made back home."

"Addressing this issue, as well as reforming the hukou system to allow for migrant workers to access health, education and other public services, will help further reduce the poverty and inequality that persists in China as a whole." ("The Borgen Project")

Explanation and Analysis

There are a number of factors that contributed to homelessness in Hangzhou. One of such factors include the high numbers of rural-urban migration, which reached 2.75 million in 2007. As seen from the data collected above, particularly the quote, these population mainly come from areas that are really poor, and received really limited education in the area that they are from. Thus they are only capable of rather simple jobs that requires limited techniques, mostly physical works, and in turn gets really low pay, usually much lower than local citizens. They find it really hard to afford proper housing in Hangzhou with the very little pay that they get, and so they will often choose the cheaper alternative: which leads to "neighborhoods crowded with huts full of migrant laborers". Therefore they are forced to live in extremely poor housing conditions.

Another factor that contributes to homelessness Hangzhou is the expensive real estate price, which is among the highest in China. This leads to not only the migrant workers, but also local citizens finding it hard to afford proper apartments in Hangzhou. As an alternative, they would either choose smaller apartments, but for most of the unfortunate ones, they are left with no choice but sleep on the streets of Hangzhou. Migrant workers are usually excluded in the government welfare system, and thus they often do not have the chance to gain access to public housing, making them more disadvantageous than local citizens. There is a correlation between the real estate price and the number of homeless people in Hangzhou.

As I walked along the streets of Hangzhou during Project week around downtown Hangzhou, I noticed that there are a few beggars sitting on the overhead crossing around the Hangzhou Tower area. Most of them are quite old, and do not seem to be locals. They were wearing shabby clothes, some of them even seemed to be injured. I used to have the misconception that migrant workers are usually young people, or at least people in their thirties and forties, but then I realised that the issue itself is far more complicated. These old people are not likely to come to Hangzhou on their own, but rather with their families, their sons and daughters. The must be living in temporarily built houses that are really crowded, or the whole family might just sleep on the streets.I realised that homelessness and poverty is a very complicated issue. Hopefully the situations of migrant workers and his/her family living under extreme poverty can be reduced with the increasing economical and social development in Hangzhou.

Looking into Future

While the government is making its efforts to strike poverty, supports can also be provided to organizations working to reduce poverty. More of such organizations should be set up, allowing the sharing information on how to buy necessities with a cheaper price, as well as how to get help from social workers or government organizations. More support groups can also be set up among migrant workers community, providing a platform for the people who just resided to the neighbourhood to support each other, as well as for the people who have lived longer providing advices for people who just moved in.

In terms of suggestions to the government, I think the issue of poverty should be given the priority when planning the policies for social developments, and more effective plans or policies to reduce poverty in the long-term should be introduced. Since knowledge and skills is one of the main area that these migrant workers are weaker one, an example of the possible plans would be to provide monthly subsidy for people with their monthly income lower than a certain level for them to attend educational courses. Free or discounted technical courses can be provided to people who just moved to Hangzhou, in order to equip them with the skills essential to make a living in Hangzhou and adapt to the different lifestyles. The government should also ensure that migrant workers are not excluded in the social welfare system, and instead provide them with extra financial support to ensure that they have a stable housing. The amount of financial support should depend on the number of people in each family. This would demonstrate the inclusiveness of Hangzhou by ensuring that everyone is equal no matter where they come from.

As long as there is a pretty big wealth gap between the urban and rural population, rural-urban migration would exist as people would move to the cities in search for more opportunities and a better life, which will leads to issues such as poverty and homelessness. As for the common discrimination towards migrant workers, the result of which I believe is the differences in the level of education between local citizens and migrant workers. I think at the end of the day it all comes down to education: educating the migrant workers to help them better adapt to the lifestyle in Hangzhou, educating the local citizens to become more accepting towards migrant workers, and educating the relevant government officers to deal with the situation of poverty more effectively. At the same time, more interaction between the local and migrant workers communities should also be encouraged, and more activities can be organised in places like community centres.


“The 10 China Cities With Most Expensive Home Prices.” China Wisper. Peter. 4 Jul 2013. Web. 20 May 2015. <http://www.chinawhisper.com/the-10-china-cities-with-most-expensive-home-prices/>

"The 10 China Cities With Most Expensive Home Prices." 2013 Demographic Affordability. N.p.. 31 Jan 2013. Web. <http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2013/01/2013-demographia-housing-affordability-survey/>

"Gini index: inequality of income distribution in China from 2004 to 2014." The Statistics Portal. N.p.. N.d.. Web. 25 May 2015. <http://www.statista.com/statistics/250400/inequali...>

"Overall Master Plan." Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau. N.p.. N.d.. Web. 25 May 2015. <http://www.hzplanning.gov.cn/index.aspx?tabid=e5214dd2-eeb0-4802-b2b3-f66230625e60>

“港人月入少於$23,495會餓死嗎?” etnet. N.p.. 10 Oct 2010. Web. 20 May 2015. <http://lifestyle.etnet.com.hk/column/index.php/wealth/central/20453>

“杭州缔鼎举办“暖洋洋”爱心慈善公益系列活动。”Zuimenglingxi. N.p.. N.d.. Web. 20 May 2015. <http://zuimenglingxi.lofter.com/tag/%E7%88%B1%E5%BF%83%E6%8D%90%E5%8A%A9>

“政策与民生脱节 中国城镇贫困人口升至5000万。” 中国之声。N.p.. 8 Apr 2011. Web. 20 May 2015. <http://cn.rfi.fr/%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD/20110804-%E6%94%BF%E7%AD%96%E4%B8%8E%E6%B0%91%E7%94%9F%E8%84%B1%E8%8A%82-%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E5%9F%8E%E9%95%87%E8%B4%AB%E5%9B%B0%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E5%8D%87%E8%87%B35000%E4%B8%87/>

Comment Stream