Urbanization with Chinese Characteristics? China’s Gamble for Modernization

by Kristen Looney and Meg Rithmire

Overview — If the Chinese Communist Party has its way in the coming decades, it will urbanize hundreds of millions of people, transform agriculture, and sustain economic growth--all without political instability. This paper details the risks and opportunities of China’s new-style urbanization reforms, arguing that proposals for urbanization and economic transformation are not a radical departure from the institutions that have structured Chinese society for the last 30 years.

Author Abstract

Contemporary discussions of urbanization and urban construction in China tend to focus on “ghost towns” on the one hand or urbanization as China’s silver bullet to growth and reform on the other. In this paper, we detail what China calls its “New Urbanization Policy.” While these plans aim to formalize previously informal movements of land, people, and capital between urban and rural, the new urbanization does not upend China’s longstanding duality between those categories. The central goals of the new urbanization are to manage urbanization so as to generate domestic demand and reorganize agricultural production without experiencing destabilizing social and political pressures. If successful, the CCP will forge a new path of urbanization, building cities before recruiting urban citizens. The process, however, entails possibilities of yet other social dislocations, including concentrated poverty, ill-planned cities, skyscraper villages, and rural landlessness.

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