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China’s “New Regionalism”: Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy


The study of Chinese political economy has experienced a sea change since the late 1990s; instead of debating the origins and direction of national reform, scholars have turned to examining the origins of local economic variation. This article reviews recent work in the regional political economy of contemporary China. In keeping with a movement in comparative politics toward analyzing subnational politics, the “new regionalists” seek to identify and explain meaningful heterogeneity in the Chinese polity and economy. Yet they go further than simply using subnational cases to generate or test theories about Chinese politics. Instead, they propose that subnational political economies in China are a function of endogenous change rather than a reaction to national priorities. After identifying differences between the “new regionalism” and previous studies of decentralization in China, the author discusses this work according to the theoretical approaches (institutional, ideational, and sociohistorical) used to explain the origins of regional differences. She concludes by examining the limitations of the new regionalist agenda in comparative and historical context and suggesting that scholars move past unconditional acceptance of the causal power of “socialist legacies” and instead attend to the importance of changes in the post-Mao administrative hierarchy.

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