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j.1467-9906.1996.Tb00380.x Chinees Urbanization, State Policy and the World Economy

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  CHINESE URBANIZATION STATE POLICY AND THE WORLD ECONOMY FENGXIANG SONG Kansas Health Institute MICHAEL TIMBERLAKE* Kansas State University ABSTRACT: The usual Third World pattern of urbanization does not apply to Chinese urban development. China has not experienced the overurbanization and imbalances that ojien accompany growth in cities elsewhere. China’s unique urban pattern results from national policies aimed at shaping urban growth. When those policies were relaxed there was a tendency for Chinese urban patterns to conform with those of other Third World nations. Periods of less control corresponded with periods of experimen- tation with elements of a market economy and China’s entry in the world economy. The authors explore the debate between urban bias theory and world system theory by con- sidering how global structures and processes interact with local or national policies. Urbanization patterns in less developed countries in the 20th century are frequently described as distorted, characterized by high rates of growth in the urban proportion and the size of the urban population, by overurbanization and poverty, and by extreme urban primacy (Preston, 1979; Beirer, 1976; Bairoch, 1975, 1982). Overurbanization reflects the massive surplus of labor in cities relative to limited job opportunities. City population growth has occurrred in the absence of labor absorbing economic development. In most countries of the Third World one finds cities with huge informal labor sectors, massive poverty, many city dwellers living in squatter settlements and shanty towns, and significant * Direct all correspondence to: Michael Timberlake Depurtmenr of Sociology Anthropology and Social Work 204 Waters Hall Kansas Stare University Manhattan KS 66506-4003. JOURNAL OF URBAN AFFAIRS, Volume 18, Number 3, pages 285-306 Copyright 1996 by JAI Press Inc. All ri hts of reproduction in any form reserved. ISSN: 0735-2166.  286 JOURNAL OF URBAN AFFAIRS I Vol. WNo. 3 7996 numbers of homeless people (London, 1987). n many countries the most glaring urban problems of this sort are to be found in a primate city. Primacy exists when the urban pop- ulation of a country is concentrated disproportionately in the largest city and secondary cities are few and much smaller. “The major city-usually the national capital-has far outpaced other cities in its growth rate, it encompasses a disproportional share of the nation’s economic, political, cultural and educational activities, and receives a large share of total investment from the national government and overseas” (Goldstein, 1988, . 21). In contrast to the usual Third World pattern of urbanization, urban development in China seems to “have unusual characteristics that deviate from many underdeveloped countries.” China does not suffer from overurbanization and other structural imbalances. “Urbaniza- tion (especially on a large scale) is a positive feature in China” (Bradshaw & Fraser, 1989, pp. 986, 87). This paper examines urbanization patterns in China over the last 40 years, noting various changes and relating them to China’s urban policy and its changing global relationships. Though not as detailed as we would like, data on Chinese urbanization allow us to esti- mate the quantitative nature of urban development in the People’s Republic of China. This exercise will permit us to join a theoretical debate on how best to account for urbanization patterns in less developed countries in general. The current state of this debate has, until very recently, been deadlocked between interpretations that stress the importance of exter- nal international factors, such as economic dependency, and those that give primacy to internal factors, for example, the effects of states’ policies favoring cities at the expense of rural areas. The most recent research on overurbanization sustains a version of this debate by calling for research into the ways in which internal dynamics articulate with processes and structures that operate globally. Examining the case of China puts a new twist on this line of research because: Its urbanization patterns are atypical of most other less developed countries, it has not been highly involved in international economic relations, and for many years its state policies favored inland and rural areas (Aguignier, 1988; Kueh, 1989). Of course, China’s relatively low involvement in the capitalist world economy is not accidental. Since the revolution, Chinese policymakers have acted aggressively to first, withdraw and then to insulate their country from deep entanglement in the processes of the world system. However, since the mid-l980s, hina has increasingly reengaged with the world economy, or to use the phrase preferred by China (and Chinese scholars), China has “opened up”. Examination of changes in China’s urban pattern since this recent opening of the country to the global economy demonstrates that both state policies and world system processes must be considered. However, the case of China may also suggest that urban biased state policies are not necessary for overurbanization to emerge in less developed countries. Instead, along with increasing involvement in the global economy, it seems suf- ficient to merely relax the aggressive antiurban policies that were in force until China’s opening up. Thus, the earlier research and theory pitting world system explanations of urbanization patterns against explanations centered on state policies are called into ques- tion. Instead, in the case of China, state policies relating to urbanization are seen to be interlinked with that country’s deepening involvement in the world economy. At this point in the history of the world system, even the remarkably strong Chinese state does not appear capable of achieving global reintegration without relaxing its antiurban policies and experiencing overurbanization.  I Urbanization Patterns in China I 287 EX P LA1 N N 0 THIRD WORLD U R B ANlZATlO N PATTERNS Social science research on world development in the 1950s and 1960s focused consider- able attention on the purportedly distorted urbanization patterns observed in less developed countries. Noted were the rapid rates of urbanization, many occurrences of high levels of urban primacy, and overurbanization (Davis & Golden, 1954; Gibbs & Martin, 1962; Sovani, 1964). These matters received renewed attention beginning in the early 1980s with the introduction of dependency theory and world system theory into the discourse on mac- rolevel social change (Karsarda & Crenshaw, 1991; Smith & Timberlake, 1993). Theorists and researchers emphasizing supposedly internal factors, such as state policy and class structure, are usually associated with the so-called urban bias approach and see themselves as challenging global political economy perspectives of Third World urbanization patterns. Urban Bias: lntranational Approach Urban bias refers to the national policies, often promoted by a narrow group of elites, that favor cities at the expense of rural areas (Lipton, 1977, 1984; Guglar, 1982). In fact, rural poverty and high rates of urban growth in many Third World countries are said to be caused, in part, by the fact “that urban elites funnel an inordinate share of the resources of their societies into large cities, which have become ‘centers of power and privilege”’ (Lon- don & Smith, 1988, p. 455). Lipton stresses aspects of developing countries’ class structures in accounting for distorted urban development, noting that urban bias is based on convergent interests (Lipton 1984). The basic argument is that many underdeveloped nations implement investment, tax, pricing, and other policies so as to disproportionately favor urban areas and the ruling class. These urban biases create a disparity between coun- try and city, translating into higher living standards for urbanites and drawing migrants from rural areas. Both rural “push”, due to rural adversity (Firebaugh, 1979), and urban “pull”, due to bright lights of urban life, contribute to rapid urban inmigration (London, 1987). Thus class structures and national policy are seen as internal factors underlying urban bias and, therefore, overurbanization (and, perhaps, urban primacy). Cross-national research that directly tests urban bias theory is rare, probably because the data on domestic investment, taxes, and price twists are not readily available for large num- bers of Third World countries. However, several studies indirectly evaluate the urban bias argument by using proxies that should be highly correlated with urban biased state policies (Bradshaw, 1985, 1987; London, 1987; London & Smith, 1988). In a study of China, Nolan and White (1984) analyze state policy effects on urbdrural differences in income, consumption, output per worker, and intersector savings flows. Their conclusion is that urban bias and rural bias have some support in China, depending on which aspects of the urban bias thesis and what time period are stressed. There is strong urban bias in terms of the fact that the disparity between rural and urban areas has been widened and tight control of urban inmigration has been achieved. Industry has taken the lion’s share of state investment and the increasing industrial share of total agricultural and industrial output (41 n 1952 to 69 n 1981) and there has been only a small industrial contribution to farm input (about 4 in 1980s) and, at the same time, there has been tight control of farm marketing (Nolan & White, 1984). However, dur- ing the ten-year cultural revolution there were aggressive state policies aimed at diverting  288 I JOURNAL OF URBAN AFFAIRS I Vol. 1WNo. 3/1996 resources from town to country and intersectoral trade strongly in favor of agriculture. Dur- ing this period the educational and medical care gap between the two sectors was considerably reduced. One may argue this is evidence supporting rural bias. Based on these seemingly contradictory facts, Nolan and White (1984, p. 62) claim that China’s case sug- gests “the political divide between city and country is less important than that between state and society”, which may transcend the sectoral interests. On the one hand, industrialization needs capital accumulation, which comes from extracting surplus from the vast majority population of rural agricultural producers. On the other hand, the regime, acting on the basis of MaoistMarxist ideology, acts in support of the rural majority in order to maintain its political legitimacy. Examining regional, rather than urban-rural differences, Yeh and Xu (1984) found that the variation in urbanization level and urban primacy among provinces is the product of government policies that guide urbanization and industrialization in China. This conclu- sion is consistent with the findings by Bradshaw and Fraser (1989) that all urban areas in China enjoy higher quality of life (QL) levels than rural areas, but the large coastal cities do not have a higher QL than the western and inland cities. Both patterns result from govern- ment industrial and urban policies aimed at aggressively developing the western and inland new and small or medium size cities while, at the same time, controlling the eastern and large cities, as well as limiting the socioeconomic polarization between urban and rural and between large cities and small cities. This may suggest that urban bias in China may not always be consistent across time, but state policies, either toward rural areas, cities, or par- ticular regions (noncoastal) constitute extremely important influences on urban growth and distribution patterns. World System: International Approach Peripheral position in the world system, and the various international economic relations this entails, constitutes the basis of the external argument for explaining Third World urbanization patterns. The theoretical argument is that various mechanisms reproducing this hierarchical division of labor exacerbate aggregate overurbanization by shaping the nature of industrialization and stimulating vigorous urban population growth. Often, for- eign investment in peripheral manufacturing is concentrated in export and luxury consumer products that are unlikely to stimulate dynamic, self-sustaining industrial devel- opment. Moreover, foreign investment in agriculture is often inappropriately capital intensive, export-oriented, and involves little subsequent processing. Rural-urban migra- tion is encouraged because rural labor is made redundant and the possibility of urban employment may be remote but is perceived as the best chance for many. Foreign investment dependence stimulates growth in the tertiary and informal sectors, while inhibiting growth in the industrial labor sector. Penetration by foreign capital results in a slowed rate of industrialization, an excessively capital intensive manufacturing sector, and displacement and impoverishment of the agricultural population. The outcome may be directly translated into excessive growth and inflation of the tertiary labor force (Evans & Timberlake, 1980) which, in turn, contributes to overurbanization n that the urban popula- tion grows more rapidly than the industrial labor sector (Smith, 1987; Chase-Dunn, 1989). Cross-national studies provide considerable support for this perspective. According to Kentor (1981, p. 201) and Timberlake and Kentor (1983), dependence upon foreign capital
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