Comparative Politics Sub-nationalism

The Rise of China’s Cities

Original Presentation: “China’s Cities: New Centres of Political Power and Economic Growth,” Session on “Emerging Trends in China Studies: Politics & International Relations,” 3rd All India Conference of China Studies, organized by the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi and Hariprasanna Biswas Centre for India-China Cultural Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, 20-21 (20) December 2010.


Summary: Centre-province relations in China have for some time now been a major focus of Chinese studies around the world, including in India. Very few however, attribute much agency to the provinces themselves except in the form of a source of fissiparous tendencies that include challenging the centre’s authority over issues of political self-interest and/or identity. However, provinces also have often tangled with the central government over economic policies and goods and in the post-reforms China, these have been a very important area of conflict between Beijing and the provinces. Many provinces have for example, objected to central government policies that impose excessive fiscal demands on them, while others have demanded preferential policies that would allow them to development their economies faster or to protect jobs and industries in their jurisdictions.

Even as these contestations have continued, China’s cities have risen as sites of power and opportunity in recent decades with huge potential impact on the territorial and administrative integrity of the provinces. Preliminary findings on the rise of China’s cities suggest that the central government has encouraged this new contest between provinces and their cities as a way of keeping provincial authorities under control in some instances. There is, meanwhile, also an economic logic driving the growth of cities in China, namely one of encouraging the development of economic growth hubs in the weaker and less developed provinces.