Space in Chinese vs Western cities

Sep 2018
17
Germany
#1
I wanted to ask, how "cramped" Chinese cities over history were, compared to Western cities.


How much people per 1000 square meter were there for example in Rome and the Han capital? Or in an average Roman vs. Han city?
Same goes for Song/Ming/Qing vs. Western European cities.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,039
#2
I had read somewhere that ancient Chinese cities were less densely populated than their Western counterparts. You can see this in the famous Chinese mural "Along the River during the Winning Festival", which shows the Chinese city Kaifeng was being g rather spacious,.much more so than what you see in the ruins of Pompeii or the Roman port city of Ostia.

Tertius Chandler in his "Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth" thought Chinese urban density was low (75 persons/hectare vs the more typical 100/hectare) because "ofnthe Chinese refusal to sleep below anyone", but Chandler's work is 40 years old, and newer data may have invalidated some of his conclusions.

In the "Remaking the City Street Grid" Grammenos, Lovegrove.pg 14= it said the ancient Chinese "Book of Rites" specified that in an ideal city the 9 major N/S streets should be 9 times a chariot width (30 m), which is wider than what you find in Roman amd Greek cities. Roman Timgad had streets around 15m wide, while Pompeii had streets typically 2 to 4m wide. Wider streets imply lower population densities in Chinese cities. ("The Traffic Systems of Pompeii" Eric Poehler). This lower density matches what we see in the "Along the River Festival". Also, you don't see multi-story apartment buildings in Chinese cities like Roman insulas, which you can still see at the Roman port Ostia.
 
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#3
From Wikipedia I learn that the capital of China in the Han dynasty, Chang'an (Xi-an), had a 25km wall and had 9 districts, each divided into 160 wards of about 50-100 families each. This suggests a population of about 250,000, in an area of around 3200 hectares. Even if most of the area was taken up by a few palaces and public buildings, that still implies a relatively low density of population. Contemperoneous Imperial Rome was less than 2000 hectares, and a population of about a million (estimated from the quantity of grain that was imported into the city), so it was as densely packed as Hong Kong is today, without the benefit of very high skyscrapers. Fragments of the map of the city have come down to us, confirming that most of it was very closely built.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,039
#5
Chang An was a lot less densely populated than Linzi. In the warring states period, Linzi was said to be so densely populated that people were brushing against each other on the streets.
If sieges are frequent , a more densely packed city is easier to defend, less wall length needed to surround the city, and hence fewer defenders needed to man the wall, less wall to construct and maintain.

After the Warring State period, China was mostly united, and there were relatively fewer sieges, so there was less incentive to make the Chinese cities more compact and densely populated. The Warring State period was a period of intense warfare by all accounts.
 
May 2009
1,240
#6
Rome was definitely more densely populated than any Chinese city at the time. I don't think it was until the Tang/Sung era that Chinese cities exploded in terms of commerce and population. The Sung period especially saw lots of changes in city life. Wards were no longer walled by that point so there was more freedom of movement. Commerce was also no longer restricted to concentrated markets but was scattered throughout the city. Architecture was also effected because a lot of merchants and artisans preferred to live above their shops, so two-story buildings became more common, at least in some major cities. Sung Hangzhou (Lin'an) supposedly had a police post every 200 paces with soldiers on hand at each one to maintain peace and watch for fires (police/firefighting duties tended to overlap back then). That much of a police presence suggests a pretty dense and lively population. And there are many descriptions of Hangzhou being extremely crowded.
 
Sep 2018
17
Germany
#7
My thanks for the answers.



In "The Age of Confucian Rule" Dieter Kuhn claims, that Chang'an was over 2 times larger than Kaifeng, but that most of its area, was used for agriculture, with most citizens planting crops in their districts. Kaifeng was a "real city" in the western understanding of the term, since it mostly housed non agricultural workers, craftsmen, people who provided services, as well as artists and intellectuals.



He writes, that (walled) Kaifeng covered 49 square kilometers, which was "13 times the size of 1292 Paris" and had a population (in the prefecture) of 1,3 million vs. 59.200 in Paris (this is the only comparison he makes). This would mean that a citizen of Kaifeng had only around 60% of the space of a citizen of Paris. Later on he makes a comparison like this himself: "The northeastern boroughs of the old city housed 79,500 inhabitants, while the eastern borough of the new city was home to 134,000 residents. 50 or more people per 1,000 square meters lived door by door, including an unknown number of unregistered households. Compared to Paris 1292, with its 59,200 inhabitants living on 3,78 square kilometers (16 persons, per 1000 square meters), the population of the song capital was 2 to 3 times as dense".



This description opens many questions. Firstly is 1292 Paris representative for a high medieval western city? Let alone for Roman times, or early modern cities, when it comes to population density?

Secondly, his own numbers (50 people per 1000 vs. 16 people per 1000), contradict his own statement about "2 to 3 times as dense", since the numbers show a density above 3 times.



Thirdly there are also the numbers for the prefecture, which when divided by the seize of the walled city give a larger number.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,039
#8
My thanks for the answers.



In "The Age of Confucian Rule" Dieter Kuhn claims, that Chang'an was over 2 times larger than Kaifeng, but that most of its area, was used for agriculture, with most citizens planting crops in their districts. Kaifeng was a "real city" in the western understanding of the term, since it mostly housed non agricultural workers, craftsmen, people who provided services, as well as artists and intellectuals.
The famous Chinese painting "Along the River Duirng the Qingming Festival" shows even Kaifeng as for less crowded than what you see of a medieval European city or ancient Rome", with wider streets and mostly single story buildings.



He writes, that (walled) Kaifeng covered 49 square kilometers, which was "13 times the size of 1292 Paris" and had a population (in the prefecture) of 1,3 million vs. 59.200 in Paris (this is the only comparison he makes). This would mean that a citizen of Kaifeng had only around 60% of the space of a citizen of Paris. Later on he makes a comparison like this himself: "The northeastern boroughs of the old city housed 79,500 inhabitants, while the eastern borough of the new city was home to 134,000 residents. 50 or more people per 1,000 square meters lived door by door, including an unknown number of unregistered households. Compared to Paris 1292, with its 59,200 inhabitants living on 3,78 square kilometers (16 persons, per 1000 square meters), the population of the song capital was 2 to 3 times as dense".
The 59,200 for Paris seems too low. I read a source that gave the population of Paris as 160,000 in 1250, and 220,000 in 1300. London had a population 80,000 in 1300, and France had a much larger population than England.

This description opens many questions. Firstly is 1292 Paris representative for a high medieval western city? Let alone for Roman times, or early modern cities, when it comes to population density?

Secondly, his own numbers (50 people per 1000 vs. 16 people per 1000), contradict his own statement about "2 to 3 times as dense", since the numbers show a density above 3 times.



Thirdly there are also the numbers for the prefecture, which when divided by the seize of the walled city give a larger number.
Well, his numbers.for Paris population seem low.compared to others I have seen, by around 2 to 3 times, which would mean the density of Paris was 2 to.3 times.highrt than what he assumed.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,039
#9
Rome was definitely more densely populated than any Chinese city at the time.
Was Rome any more densely populated other.ancient Mediterranean cities?


I don't think it was until the Tang/Sung era that Chinese cities exploded in terms of commerce and population. The Sung period especially saw lots of changes in city life. Wards were no longer walled by that point so there was more freedom of movement. Commerce was also no longer restricted to concentrated markets but was scattered throughout the city. Architecture was also effected because a lot of merchants and artisans preferred to live above their shops, so two-story buildings became more common, at least in some major cities. Sung Hangzhou (Lin'an) supposedly had a police post every 200 paces with soldiers on hand at each one to maintain peace and watch for fires (police/firefighting duties tended to overlap back then). That much of a police presence suggests a pretty dense and lively population. And there are many descriptions of Hangzhou being extremely crowded.
Descriptions like "crowded" are subjective, and don't really give us an accurate idea of how densely populated the Chinese cities were. And the alleged amount of police doesn't seem be based on actual records, but more rumor.

The only picture I have seen of a Song dynasty city depicts a far less densely populated than contemporary European cities. Are there ancient or medevial illustrations that show Chinese cities densely populated? The evidence I have seen so far from several different sources pre modern Chinese cities has lower population per area.
 
Feb 2011
6,112
#10
This is the Song painting "Along the River During the QingMing Festival" (1085-1145 AD). Most of the painting takes place OUTSIDE the city walls. The following is what was immediately within the city walls:



The most crowded area in the painting is actually outside the city wall, because there's a 'rainbow bridge' which acted as a choke-point for human traffic, and because a lot of pedestrians seem to like standing on the bridge looking at the ships traveling past:



As a side note this type of bridge design was also produced later by Leonardo Da Vinci, so the 'Rainbow Bridge' design in the East is called the 'da Vinci Bridge' in the West:



This is a painting of the Paris market called "Le Chevalier Errant" (1403-1404 AD)


Not sure how much we should treat this as an accurate reflection in terms of population density, as the people aren't drawn to scale. Some of the people are shown to be the size of houses.
 
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