This article examines the relationship between urban land development and municipal finance in a Chinese regional economy undergoing rapid urbanization. Drawing upon insights from the perspective of political economy, this article identifies a strategy by which land-centered urbanization has been actively pursued as a means of revenue generation in response to the reshuffling of state power. The territorialization of state power is realized through the expansion of urban space into the rural vicinity and the conversion of rural land into high-valued urban development to a greater regional extent. In contrast to the urbanization of capital observed in the global North, where an overaccumulation of capital leads to a sequential switch of the circuits of capital, urbanization in China has been pursued as a strategy to mobilize and accumulate original capital. Contrary to conventional wisdom, urbanization has not been an outcome responsive to economic growth; instead, it has been an active driving force instrumental to regional transformation. This article calls for greater attention to be directed to the interrelationship between land development, local public finance, and urbanization in the ongoing transformation of the Chinese political economy.
After reunifying China in 1927, the Nationalist government proposed a comprehensive planning proposal, the Capital Plan (shoudu jihua), to reconstruct the war-torn city of Nanjing into a modern capital, despite the fact that the infant republic was still threatened by internal strife and external aggression. This article discusses the complex politics involved in the reconstruction of Nanjing from 1927 to 1937, illustrating the way in which the Nationalist state tried to transform China’s urban development. It focuses on why unified planning ideas could not be generated during the planning process, and why these ideas did not turn fully into practice during the implementation process. By studying the aborted effort in planning Nanjing, knowing in what particular dimensions the state excelled and in what other dimensions things went wrong, this article analyzes the unevenness of state capacity in Republican China.
This article examines the formation and transformation of urban entrepreneurialism in the context of China’s market transition. Using the case study of Kunshan, which is ranked as one of the hundred “economically strongest county-level jurisdictions” in the country, the authors argue that two phases of urban entrepreneurialism—one from the 1990s until 2005, and another from 2005 onward—can be roughly distinguished. The first phase of urban entrepreneurialism was more market driven and locally initiated in the context of territorial competition. The second phase of urban entrepreneurialism involves greater intervention on the part of the state in the form of urban planning and top-down government coordination and regional collaboration. The evolution of Kunshan’s urban entrepreneurialism is not a result of deregulation or the retreat of the state. Rather, it is a consequence of reregulation by the municipal government with the goal of territorial consolidation.
Tse-kang Leng, National Chengchi University and Academia Sinica
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The development of high-tech industrial parks (HTIPs) has become a salient phenomenon in China’s economic and urban development. Current studies regarding the development of HTIPs tend to focus either on the active role of the local government or on the consequences of technological innovation that those parks may have brought about. Very few studies have paid attention to the intrinsic relationship between the process of space production in building HTIPs and the effect on urban development. To fill this theoretical gap, this article considers developing HTIPs as a territorial project through which both central and local states seek to promote economic growth by reorganizing their territories so as to facilitate capital accumulation based on building high-tech industrial parks. The authors use Beijing’s Zhongguancun and Shanghai’s Yangpu areas as examples to show the active role played by district governments in promoting and using the symbol of “high tech” to develop industrial estates. In the end, due to the HTIPs’ quick tax-generating potentiality, their construction has given rise to commodity housing and commercial projects which district governments are much more enthusiastic to pursue. The property-led high-tech development projects have paradoxically generated a negative impact on sustainable high-tech development.
Max D. Woodworth, University of California, Berkeley
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Ordos Municipality, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has emerged as one of China’s wealthiest places, with an economy driven by massive expansion of the local coal industry. This essay examines how this formerly poor region has experienced breakneck urban growth, becoming a resource-driven frontier boomtown. The frontier boomtown urbanism of Ordos highlights the impulse toward urban construction of the periphery that aspires to catch up with the metropolitan center and to articulate its own centrality through such urbanity.
Max D. Woodworth, University of California, Berkeley
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In this article, the authors examine the social and spacial organization of irrigation systems in the Hetao region (in current-day western Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region) during the late Qing and early Republican periods. Counter to Karl Wittfogel’s thesis on the inevitability of centralized state bureaucracy in the formation and management of a “hydraulic civilization,” the authors suggest that non-state actors played a decisive role in the construction of irrigation systems in this region on the northern periphery of the Chinese empire and the frontier of agricultural expansion. Their findings are more closely in line with Clifford Geertz’s work in Bali and other more recent studies of irrigation societies, in that they demonstrate that the land-owning Mongol aristocracy, Han Chinese immigrant cultivators and traders, as well as the Catholic Church formed a network of land conversion agents, labor supply, construction management, and finance. These networks of non-state actors were decisive in building extensive hydraulic projects and shaping a multinucleated territorial politics in the northern frontier of the empire.
This paper focuses on the relatively successful experience of territorialization by a group of aborigine migrants in metropolitan Taipei, northern Taiwan. The aborigine migrants of the Amis established a self-built community in a marginal site along the riverbank of northern Taipei that was constantly under the threat of floods and of eviction and forced relocation by the government. But eventually the settlers and the government came to an agreement regarding on-site relocation, and the municipal authority granted special land use rights to the settlers. Several historical processes help explain their success. First, the rising political discourse of Taiwan Independence in the past decade has provided the aborigine migrants with political legitimacy and support. Second, Taiwan’s social activism has been developing rapidly since the 1990s, as its electoral democracy takes shape and matures; the aborigine migrants’ rights to the city were an integral part of this social mobilization. Third, the reinforced identity and solidarity within the community in question helped form a coherent front at the moment of confrontation and negotiation with the government. Finally, a group of professional and progressive planners have been actively involved throughout the territorialization process, acting as planners, brokers and coordinators.
Building upon decades of global market flows, population migrations, digital technology, and accelerated inter-connectedness, the twenty-first century is facing remarkable urban transformations (Harvey 1990, 2005; Sassen 2001; Holston 1999; Brenner 2004). In 1800, 3 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. In 2008, that figure reached over 50 percent (PRB 2011). Such processes are most evident in the emerging nodes of an inter-referencing urban Asian renaissance (Roy and Ong 2011). Eight of the world’s ten megacities (those with populations over ten million) are in Asia. In postreform China, which is conscious of its rising power and eager to catch up with worldly pursuits, city building has reached the scale, intensity, and audacity of a revolution (Campanella 2008; Ren 2011). What characterizes this dramatic urban transformation in China? Who are its major players and winners, and who is marginalized or excluded? What cultural meanings and lifestyles are visibly forged? How are these processes intertwined with nationalistic aspirations, social divisions, and political contestations? What analytical insights and theoretical reflections can we gain at this historical juncture from an urban postmodern linking China, Asia, and the rest of the globe? These are some of the issues in the minds of Asian scholars across the disciplines. I hope this review will provide an opening for us to engage in multiple conversations, hence my citing the works of many colleagues.
The two books reviewed here clarify how China addresses the problem of internal diversity. All states have to address this issue to some extent. Multiethnic empires like the Qing chose a strategy that recognized the separate political, legal, and social rights of communal groups (Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and the rest), as long as those groups accepted the overarching authority of the emperor. The Qing also drew in part on a far older Chinese vision of the imperium as a set of increasingly distant tribute zones, where people became less politically integrated and less civilized as one moved out from the center. While not all Chinese dynasties viewed themselves in this way, the Qing shared this broad mode of governance with many other empires in world history.