Academic journal article Independent Review

One Party, Many "Vassals": Revival of Regionalism in China and Governance Challenges of the Party State

Academic journal article Independent Review

One Party, Many "Vassals": Revival of Regionalism in China and Governance Challenges of the Party State

Article excerpt

Nationalization of Chinese Regions

Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times), a popular and influential newspaper in China focusing on international news, introduced the concept of Quanguohua (nationalization of the entire country) in two editorials in January 2011, on the eve of the Spring Festival--the traditional Chinese New Year ("Quanguohua" 2011; "To Build a National Consensus" 2011). The editorials assert that China is undergoing a process of nationalizing socioeconomic standards within its own territory to reduce the urban-rural gap and regional disparities. Moreover, the process is so tremendous and profound that it is comparable to, if not greater than, that of globalization. Truly, the challenge of regional differences and inequality is most vividly reflected in the annual Chunyun (Spring Festival travel season), when several hundred million people travel to their hometowns for family reunions and for the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.

The concept of Quanguohua highlights an increasingly serious problem in China: regional heterogeneity in development. In fact, regional differences and disparities in China are not a new phenomenon. In socioeconomic terms, the coastal areas in eastern and southern China have been more prosperous than the other parts of the country, in particular the interior regions, and the disparities between the rich and poor regions have been exacerbated over the past three decades. An Economist article published in February 2011 (All the parities in China 2011) compared Chinese provinces with different countries and showed how these provinces differ considerably from one another in terms of total gross domestic product (GDP), GDP per capita, population, and exports. Some provinces themselves would rank fairly high in the global league. For example, Guangdong's GDP ($665 billion at market exchange rates) is almost as high as that of Indonesia ($703.2 billion); the output of both Jiangsu ($596 billion) and Shandong ($574 billion) exceeds that of Switzerland ($527.9 billion); Guangdong ($362.4 billion) and Jiangsu ($207.5 billion) export as much as South Korea ($363.5 billion) and Taiwan ($203.7 billion), respectively; and Shanghai's GDP per person ($22,983) is as high as that of Saudi Arabia ($22,850)--at purchasing power parity. On the other extreme, one of the poorest provinces, Guizhou, has an income per head ($3,335 that closely matches that of India ($3,480).

In fact, these regional differences have been evident for a long period, and since 1998 the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) consistently publishes an annual report on China's national human development. A persistent issue highlighted in the report is regional disparity. It is vividly represented in a table comparing the Human Development Index (HDI) of Chinese provinces (see, e.g., UNDP 2010, 132). There is a huge difference between high-HDI provinces and low-HDI ones. The HDI of Shanghai, for example, is equivalent to that of Portugal, whereas the HDI of Tibet, one of the poorest regions in China, is similar to that of Laos. In between are a few provinces that are on par with the level of high-HDI countries, but most other provinces fall into the medium-HDI category. Thus, we observe a China that has an uneasy collection of heterogeneous regions.

More profound, the issues of regional differences and disparities have raised a fundamental problem in China: the lack of nationwide coherence and the governance challenges faced by the central government. China has long been recognized as a unitary state with a high degree of centralization and homogeneity. However, the call for China's nationalization by Huanqiu Shibao, which is also affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Renmin Ribao (People's Daily), warns us that this view may be a very superficial understanding of the country. The massive intrastate migrations alone indicate that China is not as homogenous as we perceive it to be. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.