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

By Jae Ho Chung | Go to book overview

4

Preferential policies, municipal leadership, and development strategies

A comparative analysis of Qingdao and Dalian

Jae Ho Chung

Despite the radically transformed relationships between Beijing and localities, our research focus on local government in post-Mao China has been largely limited to provinces and villages. While the province is undoubtedly still the most crucial level of local administration, the steady growth of sub-provincial governments-sub-provincial cities in particular-and the dramatic expansion of their role in economic management during the reform era necessitate the diversification of our research interests. 1 Owing to their comparative advantages in articulating local interests, executing central and provincial policies, and monitoring micro-compliance, sub-provincial cities perform an indispensable role in the complex process of economic reform. Most importantly, they spread 'developmental ideologies' and distribute opportunities of reform both intra-and inter-provincially. Vertically, they work as 'agents' of the center, not without a considerable degree of discretion, in carrying out policies of reform and opening. Horizontally, they constitute 'corridors' of development by linking foreign capital with domestic businesses. 2 Despite their crucial importance, however, sub-provincial cities have rarely been studied in the light of their contributions to reform, with the notable exceptions of the special economic zones (SEZs) and Wuhan. 3

This study, based on the assumption that there may be a more or less common recipe for development shared by China's coastal cities, addresses the following questions. What kind of factors promote economic development in sub-provincial cities? Where does the locomotive of development reside and where do incentives for growth come from? And how are they put to use in concrete terms? Theories of state-led export-based growth, which explicate the remarkable success of the East Asian Newly Industrializing Economies (NIEs) fail to account for local variations in post-Mao China. While most coastal cities were opened up during the 1980s to support the national strategy of export-led growth, some became highly successful while others lagged behind. Among the centrally administered cities, Shanghai was very adept in pushing for growth, while Tianjin was caught up even by Guangzhou. Among the SEZs, Shenzhen was the most successful, while Shantou fell into near oblivion. Similar variations can be found among 'coastal open cities, ' with Guangzhou and Ningbo leading the group, while Nantong and Beihai are muddling through.

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