Daily chart: Going to town | The Economist Daily chart Going to town Jan 18th 2012, 15:09 by The Economist online .. Over half of China's people now live in urban areas FOR a nation whose culture and society have been shaped over millennia by its rice-farming traditions, and whose ruling party rose to power in 1949 by mobilising its put-upon peasantry, China has just passed a remarkable milestone: its city-dwellers now outnumber its rural residents. New data from the National Bureau of Statistics show that of Chinaâ€™s 1.35 billion people, 51.3% lived in urban areas at the end of 2011. In 1980 less than a fifth of Chinaâ€™s population lived in cities, a smaller proportion than in India. Over the next ten years the government remained wary of free movement, even as it made its peace with free enterprise. Touting a policy of â€œleaving the land but not the villages, entering the factories but not citiesâ€, it sought industrialisation without urbanisation, only to discover it could not have one without the other. Even now, its ratio of city-dwellers is, if anything, low for an economy at its stage of development. America reached the 50% mark before 1920. Britain passed it in the 19th century. Go further back, however, and Chinaâ€™s cities dazzled the world. It is likely that one thousand years ago, the Song Dynasty capital of Kaifeng was the worldâ€™s most populous city. Marco Polo, who visited China in the 13th century, claimed that Hangzhou was â€œthe most splendid city in the worldâ€ with 13,000 bridgesâ€”although later estimates suggest the true number was 347.