Depending on whether you are counting the city proper, or the wider urban area, or the municipal area, the population of Chongqing is either 8.5 million (the city proper), 18.4 million (the wider urban area) or 30.1 million (the municipal area).

This confusion has led to some people calling Chongqing the largest city in China, and even the largest city in the world.

City proper8.5 million
Wider urban area18.4 million
Municipal area30.1 million

In reality, although the Chongqing city proper is still a massive city of over 8 million people, the overall Chongqing municipality covers a massive area, most of which is urban, rather than rural.

How do you define a city like Chongqing?

The difficulty is that China defines a few really big areas, including Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, as municipalities. But in reality, they are a combination of proper urban cities, suburbs, satellite cities, and all of the rural countryside in between them.

Chongqing is divided into 38 different sub-divisions, including 17 counties (four of which are autonomous) and 21 districts.

To give you an indication of how much of Chongqing is actually rural, a China Daily article recently noted that the municipality’s population including 23.3 million farmers. One in three of those farmers (8.4 million) are actually migrant workers.

If the municipal area of Chongqing (30.1 million people) were a country, it would be the 45th largest in the world, about the same size as Venezuela. Despite this, Chongqing’s massive population still accounts for less than 2.5% of the total population of China.

Where is Chongqing?

Chongqing is in the centre of China. It is situated at the mouth of the Jailing River, as it enters into the Yangtze River, China’s largest and most important inland waterway.

Chongqing population
Because of this central location, Chongqing has become an economic, manufacturing and transport hub, and one of the most important strategic cities in the country.

The city has a long history as a strategically important city and trading centre. In 1890 became the first inland Chinese city to be opened up to foreigners, and from 1937 to 1945 it was the provisional capital city of China, home to the government of Chiang Kai-shek.

Chongqing city has grown rapidly over the past sixty years, from a population of of just over 1 million in 1950 to over 8 million today.

Today it is one of four directly controlled municipalities in China (the others are Tianjin, Shanghai and Beijing). These four municipalities have a great deal of autonomy but, at the same time, report directly to the government in Beijing rather than any regional government. Chongqing is a direct controlled municipality partly because of its size and economic importance, and partly to allow the central government more oversight over the massive, and strategically vital, Three Gorges Dam project.

Minority groups in Chongqing

Although the majority of the people who live in Chongqing today are Han Chinese, the municipality is also home to a number of minority groups, including more than one million Tujia and 500,000 Miao people. People from these minority populations are mostly located in the east and south of Chongqing.

The most commonly spoken language is Sichuanese Mandarin. A few minority languages are also spoken, including Xiang, Hakka, Miao and Tujia.

Chongqing population by year

The table below details the Chongqing population in selected years from 1949 to 2015.

Year Population Percentage change
1949  1.0 million  n/a
1979 6.3 million 528.2%
1983 13.9 million 120.4%
1996 15.3 million 10.1%
1997 28.7 million 88.0%
2000 28.5 million -0.9%
2005 28.0 million -1.8%
2008 28.4 million 1.5%
2012 28.9 million 1.6%
2013 29.7 million 3.0%
2014 29.9 million 0.7%
2015  30.1 million  0.7%

The data in the table demonstrates rapid growth during from the 1950s to the 1990s. Although population declined slightly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has been steadily growing since 2008.