Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2018, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (4): 477-494.doi: 10.1007/s11442-018-1485-x

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Understanding spatial structures and organizational patterns of city networks in China: A highway passenger flow perspective

Wei CHEN1,2,3(), Weidong Liu1,2(), Wenqian KE4, Nyuying WANG5   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    3. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    4. Institute of Geography, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350007, China
    5. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2017-05-23 Accepted:2017-06-26 Online:2018-03-30 Published:2018-03-30
  • About author:

    Author: Chen Wei (1989-), PhD Candidate, specialized in economic geography and regional development. E-mail:

    *Corresponding author: Liu Weidong (1967-), PhD and Professor, specialized in economic geography and regional development. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41530751, No.41471113, No.41601165


The use of multi-perspective and multi-scalar city networks has gradually developed into a range of critical approaches to understand spatial interactions and linkages. In particular, road linkages represent key characteristics of spatial dependence and distance decay, and are of great significance in depicting spatial relationships at the regional scale. Therefore, based on highway passenger flow data between prefecture-level administrative units, this paper attempted to identify the functional structures and regional impacts of city networks in China, and to further explore the spatial organization patterns of the existing functional regions, aiming to deepen our understanding of city network structures and to provide new cognitive perspectives for ongoing research. The research results lead to four key conclusions. First, city networks that are based on highway flows exhibit strong spatial dependence and hierarchical characteristics, to a large extent spatially coupled with the distributions of major megaregions in China. These phenomena are a reflection of spatial relationships at regional scales as well as core-periphery structure. Second, 19 communities that belong to an important type of spatial configuration are identified through community detection algorithm, and we suggest they are correspondingly urban economic regions within urban China. Their spatial metaphors include the administrative region economy, spatial spillover effects of megaregions, and core-periphery structure. Third, each community possesses a specific city network system and exhibits strong spatial dependence and various spatial organization patterns. Regional patterns have emerged as the result of multi-level, dynamic, and networked characteristics. Fourth, adopting a morphology-based perspective, the regional city network systems can be basically divided into monocentric, dual-nuclei, polycentric, and low-level equilibration spatial structures, while most are developing monocentrically.

Key words: space of flows, city network, urban economic region, urban system, monocentric structure, polycentric structure, community detection