This book introduces readers to the current social and economic state of China since its restructuring in 1949.
* Provides insights into the targeted institutional change that is occurring simultaneously across the entire country
* Presents context-rich accounts of how and why these changes connect to (if not contradict) regulatory logics established during the Mao-era
* A new analytical framework that explicitly considers the relationship between state rescaling, policy experimentation, and path dependency
* Prompts readers to think about how experimental initiatives reflect and contribute to the 'national strategy' of Chinese development
* An excellent extension of ongoing theoretical work examining the entwinement of subnational regulatory reconfiguration, place-specific policy experimentation, and the reproduction of national economic advantage
During a keynote address to global leaders at the 2016 B20 meeting in Hangzhou, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, emphasised how China's developmental approach remains predicated on 'crossing the river by feeling for stones' (mozhe shitou guohe ??????).1 While the application of this metaphor is not novel, its recurring reference by the Communist Party of China () more than 60?years after its introduction by Chen Yun, the Vice Premier of the first governing regime led by Mao Zedong, is noteworthy.2 Chen advocated a measured approach to change during the early 1950s after China entered an entirely new historical phase as a nation-state - hence the term 'new China' - and could not rely on past experiences for guidance. All the newly-victorious CPC knew was what it did not want, namely the inherited institutions associated with feudalism, imperialism and bureaucratic capitalism. When Mao's economic programs failed to meet expectations after three decades of 'transition to socialism' (shehui zhuyi guodu ??????), Chen (1995: 245; author's translation) insisted again on a tentative approach to change in December 1980: 'We want reforms, but also firm steps.which means "crossing the river by feeling for stones." The steps should be small initially, the movement gradual'. Deng Xiaoping, then newly appointed as paramount leader of the CPC, fully endorsed Chen's exhortation as 'our subsequent guiding agenda' (Deng 1994a: 354; author's translation). Read against this 'agenda', Xi's reference to 'feeling for stones' in Hangzhou almost four decades later raises a theoretically-significant question on post-1949 Chinese political-economic evolution: if the necessity to feel for 'stones' indicates a preference for stable foundations within the capricious 'river' of global economic integration, (how) have these foundations shifted from their Maoist origins?
Some answers, this book argues, could be derived from an emergent geographical trend of 'feeling for stones' across China - the intensifying institution of experimental socioeconomic policies within territories designated as 'nationally strategic new areas' (guojia zhanlüe xinqu ??????). Newly established regulatory authorities in these intra-urban territories have been delegated the power to 'move first and experiment first' (xianxing xianshi quan ?????) with exploratory reforms deemed to be of national significance. These reforms have become integral to the legitimacy of the CPC - and in particular its socialistic rule - as it negotiates the demands of global economic integration (Lim 2014). To be sure, the demarcation of urban frontiers to drive national-level reforms is not a policy innovation per se; it could be argued that the first wave of marketising reforms in four 'Special Economic Zones' () - Shantou, Shenzhen, Xiamen and Zhuhai - generated more transformative impacts on China's developmental pathway during the post-Mao era. After all, the SEZs set in motion the collective willingness to welcome foreign capital, relinquish the Maoist notion of self-sufficiency and tap into what was otherwise idling rural surplus labour. This said, there was very little between the SEZs by way of policy differentiation or positioning within the global economy.3 On the contrary, a distinguishing feature of this recent series of 'nationally strategic' experimentation is the considerable expansion of its territorial platforms, policy scope, and socioeconomic spheres of influence.
First designated was Pudong New Area in Shanghai. Approved in 1990, the territory has since transformed into a world-renowned city-regional 'motor' - or 'dragon head' (longtou ??), in popular parlance - of China's economic growth.4 Subsequent experimentation only (re)gained intensity in 2006, however, after the Hu Jintao regime assigned 'nationally strategic' status to the Binhai industrial region in Tianjin. Three more similar territories were instituted during Hu's tenure, namely the Liangjiang New Area in Chongqing; the Nansha New Area in Guangzhou, which has since been co-opted into a broader Guangdong Free Trade Zone () that includes two other zones previously also termed 'nationally strategic', Hengqin and Qianhai; and the Zhoushan Archipelago New Area off the coast of Zhejiang province. The pace and geographical spread of experimentation grew after Xi Jinping took over the CPC leadership in 2013. At the time of writing, the Xi regime officially assigned 'nationally strategic' status to 13 additional 'new areas' across all major regions in China (see Figure 1.1). These are, namely, Guian New Area, Xixian New Area, Qingdao Xihaian New Area, Dalian Jinpu New Area, Chengdu Tianfu New Area, Changsha Xiangjiang New Area, Nanjing Jiangbei New Area, Fuzhou New Area, Yunnan Dianzhong New Area, Harbin New Area, Changchun New Area, Nanchang Ganjiang New Area and Baoding Xiongan New Area. Viewed holistically, this geographical trend suggests the desire to seek out new 'stones' have never been stronger than at any otherstage of 'crossing the river'. On Shifting Foundations aims to explain and evaluate this phenomenon.
Figure 1.1 New frontiers of reforms: China's 'nationally strategic new areas', 1990-2016.
Source: Author, with cartographic assistance by Elaine Watts.
At one level, this division and differentiation of Chinese state spatiality could be construed as a proactive attempt on the part of the CPC to engage with the global system of capitalism through its own variant of instituted uneven development. Simultaneously, however, the growing pace of change is symptomatic of increasingly severe strains within the national regulatory structure. During the build-up to China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the Chinese central government issued an unprecedented admission that its GDP-focused developmental approach of the past three decades was undertaken in tandem with 10 structural challenges (delineated in Table 1.1). One prominent example can be seen in the extensive extraction of natural resources and low-cost dumping of waste into the biosphere in the pursuit of GPD growth. Similarly, the rollback in rural welfare provision and municipal governments' corresponding denial of (already-minimum) social benefits to rural residents who migrate into and support urban economies generated huge savings that were consequently re-directed into capital-friendly, supply-side projects (Oi 1999; Whiting 2001; He and Wu 2009). Accompanying this rollback was the proliferation of social contradictions that collectively exemplify the fragile social contract that constituted the so-called Chinese economic growth 'miracle'.
Table 1.1 China's 10 socioeconomic challenges, identified in the proposal of the 12th Five-Year Plan.
Source: Suggestions on the 12th Five-Year Plan by the Communist Party of China (p. 3, Mandarin document; NDRC 2011). Author's compilation and translation from Mandarin.
- Increasing constraints of resource environments
- Relationship between investment and consumption is unbalanced
- Income distribution gap widened
- Scientific and technical innovation capacity remains weak
- Asset structure is unsatisfactory
- Thin and weak agricultural foundation
- Lack of coordination in urban-rural development
- Coexistence of contradictory economic structure and employment pressures
- Apparent increase in social contradictions
- Persistent structural and systemic obstacles to scientific development
Rather than tackle these challenges head on at the national scale, central policymakers chose to develop and test potential solutions within each of the designated 'new areas'. Herein lies a key relationship that will be further examined in this book: the institution of 'nationally strategic' experimental policies through territorial reconfigurations. Specifically, the built environment, administrative boundaries and industrial compositions of targeted city-regions have been repurposed to generate new conditions for reforms. Each 'new area' is charged with experimenting with a predetermined range of national-level initiatives that have been formulated with local conditions in mind.
For instance, experimental policies in Liangjiang New Area in Chongqing built on the broader regional program to develop the western interior (more on this program shortly). To facilitate this, the Chongqing government deepened its reform of another national-level institution - the urban-rural dual structure (chengxiang eryuan jiegou ??????). This was and remains a direct...