Economic reform, urban proximity and small town development in China: a tale of two towns

Liu, Kai (2008) Economic reform, urban proximity and small town development in China: a tale of two towns. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis studies small town development in contemporary China (1978-present). It focuses on the socioeconomic impact of economic reform on small town development, with particular emphasis on how gradually released market forces enable urban proximity to play different roles to determine the developmental trajectory of small towns. The research design chooses two economically prosperous towns with different degrees of urban proximity, in which fieldwork is conducted. Xihongmen town is located in suburban Beijing and Zhulin town is located in a rural area of Henan province. The research focuses on government, firms and people as three key elements of small town development, and systematic comparisons have been used as the key research strategy throughout.

The main research findings are as follows: 1) Xihongmen town's government has been transformed into a sophisticated, bureaucratic and complex organisation and the role of leadership in local development has declined over the years, but a simple and hybrid governmental structure was founded in Zhulin town and the personal capacity of local leaders still plays a vital role in local development; 2) The industrial environment in Xihongmen town is dynamic and an upswing has been observed in the local industrial structure (from the primary to the secondary and tertiary sectors), but Zhulin town still relies solely on the ongoing government-led entrepreneurship; its private sectors are underdeveloped and the industrial structure remains unchanged, and some key firms have even relocated themselves to larger cities duo to the constraints of the local infrastructure; 3) The local residents of Xihongmen town enjoy much more secure livelihoods, with multiple income sources, welfare and flexible job opportunities available in the local area, but the residents of Zhulin town rely primarily on the local government to provide non-farming jobs and both income sources and job opportunities are very limited to the local area.

The thesis concludes that the economic reform initiated in 1978 played a key revitalising the rural industries and hence laid the foundations for the growth of small towns. The rural reform policies gave rural areas advantages over urban ones in the early stages of the reform. The evolving policy frameworks gradually lifted the various constraints and enabled urban proximity, a previously less important factor under the centrally planned system, which became the key factor to differentiate the developmental trajectories of small towns. The thesis further explains that proximity has multi-dimensional impacts on the socioeconomic development of small towns. On the one hand, small towns that enjoy close proximity to cities can benefit enormously from economies of scale and urban spillover effects, and this advantage could be further reinforced during the course of ongoing urbanisation. On the other hand, urban proximity could also have impacts on the social structures/orders of small towns, which in turn could affect their economic outcomes. For those towns with low degrees of urban proximity, a high level of community solidarity generated from dense clan/kinship networks might also act as a force to motivate their economic development. However, the latter type is certainly more vulnerable and requires the right blend of a number of historically contingent factors, which are path-dependant and difficult to replicate.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Song, L.
Shaw, I.
Keywords: Cities and towns, China, Henan Sheng (China), Beijing (China), economic conditions
Subjects: H Social sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 13266
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 30 May 2013 07:26
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2016 03:30

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