Cities in China: Recipes for Economic Development in the Reform Era

By Jae Ho Chung | Go to book overview

2

Guangzhou and Tianjin

The struggle for development in two Chinese cities

Peter T.Y. Cheung


Introduction

China's economic reform since 1978 has engendered the emergence of a dozen growth poles-cities and special economic zones (hereafter SEZs)-along its 'gold coast.' 1 Since the early 1980s, Shenzhen and other SEZs have established themselves as pioneers in market reform, foreign trade, and acquisition of foreign capital. Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, has undertaken a major effort to reform its economy and open up to the world. Other nearby cities in the Pearl River Delta like Foshan, Nanhai and Zhongshan have also emerged as new engines of economic growth. 2 Since 1990, backed by strong support from the central government and facilitated by its strategic location in the booming Yangtze Delta, Shanghai, and especially its Pudong district, has forged ahead to become China's premiere commercial and financial center. 3 Taking advantage of its status as the national capital and a cultural center, Beijing has not only recast its infrastructure and communication facilities, but also consolidated its position as a major commercial, industrial, and transportation hub. Similarly, Qingdao and Dailan have both risen as new focal points of manufacturing and trade in northern China. What, however, distinguished Tianjin from these flourishing cities was its conspicuous lack of a distinctive model of economic development and special achievements.

The variations in development paths of Guangzhou and Tianjin can be generally attributed to three key factors. First, the geographical context and historical legacies of these two cities have defined the broad parameters for their subsequent development. In fact, these 'givens' were important considerations for the central government to grant them preferential policies in the reform era. Such conditions, however, do not adequately explain their specific developmental experiences. On the contrary, their variations can be attributed to preferential policies and development strategies adopted by their leaders. If it were not for central preferential policies, these two cities would not have been able to embark upon a path of rapid growth in the 1990s. Nonetheless, if these two cases are examined in greater detail, the more entrepreneurial strategies formulated by Guangzhou's leaders were important in explaining why the city was able to speed up economic growth in the late 1980s and surpass Tianjin in the 1990s. Tianjin's

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