millisphere (noun): A discrete region populated by roughly 1000th of the world's population. Around seven million people but anywhere between 3.5 and 14 million will do.

More than half us now live in metropolitan areas and the trend is for people to move to the city; the bigger the city the greater the pull and big cities are getting bigger.

There are now 26 cities with a metropolitan population greater than 14 million and another 36 between 7 and 14 million. Some cities need to be divided up to be counted as "millispheres". For example the island of Manhattan (pop 7 million) at the centre of New York (20 million) qualifies as a millisphere. With Wall St and the United Nations headquarters "Manhattan" can be read as an influential economic/political millisphere, but that is for another column.

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Beijing has been one of the largest cities in the world for the last 800 years - it was the world's largest from the 15th to the 19th century and is currently 6th largest and is the second largest Chinese city, after Shanghai.

The population of Beijing (pop 21 million) can be divided in a number of ways. In the Beijing municipality there are 18 million in urban districts and 3 million in rural villages (many Asian cities include extensive pockets of farmland). More importantly, 13 million people in Beijing hold a "hukou" and 8 million don't.

A hukou is the Chinese household registration card which gives the holder rights to healthcare, education, employment and housing provided by the local authority - similar to the US social security card. Hukou holders were divided into rural and urban in an attempt to halt migration to the city and it discriminates against rural hukou holders. Something like 200 million Chinese workers have chosen to move to a city without their hukou.

Beijing can be conceived as a millisphere of "permanent" residents and another millisphere of residents who are not eligible for the benefits.

Spatially the modern Chinese city consists a "core" of hukou holders surrounded by a ring of non-hukou workers living in shanty towns and supplying the labour to build Xi Jinping's "Chinese dream". It is estimated that China has another eight million people who have no hukou at all, not even a rural one, and who are forced to live outside the system.

The population of Beijing hit 14 million in 2004 and has grown by half as much again since.

Between 2000 and 2009 Beijing's urban extent quadrupled and the acreage under cultivation shrank. The rivers flowing through Beijing, historically subject to flash floods and changing course, have been captured to supply the city's reservoirs. Dry riverbeds have been converted to parkland.

During the 2013 "Airpocalypse" heavy smog struck Beijing and most of Northern China affecting 600 million people and making air pollution a serious social concern. The municipality is working on getting energy and water intensive industries out of Beijing.


The city runs the world's largest fleet of natural gas buses and Beijing's subway is the busiest and second-longest in the world. Beijing has over five million cars and is presently phasing out one million cars with "low emission standards". "Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us," said Xi Jinping when he was reinstalled as Chinese President and commander of the People's Liberation Army at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress last month.

The October 14 edition of the Economist called Xi Jinping "The world's most powerful man," but he is only the president of the world's second-largest economy and the USA is still number one. Headed for Beijing is the world's "second most powerful man", US president Donald Trump, from New York.

What's up top for Trump is the flood of Chinese Fentanyl (an opioid) entering the USA via "underground logistics". Up top for Xi is stamping out corruption in the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China (endemic under Hu Jintao) and being the "Great Helmsman" and avoiding a Soviet-style collapse of empire.

Fred Frederikse
Fred Frederikse

When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians' Club