restricted access Urban and Regional Governance in China: Introduction
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Urban and Regional Governance in China:

In the age of globalization and social-spatial restructuring, cities and regions have become the focus of social and economic changes and governance.1 Over the past decade, extensive studies have been conducted on changing urban and regional governance in transitional China.2 The articles included in this special issue further enhance our understanding of China’s urban and regional governance and restructuring. This introduction summarizes the major findings of these articles and proposes some suggestions for future research. The articles in this issue were originally presented at the International Conference “Urban and Regional Governance in China: Retrospect and Prospect of 10 Years of Research” held at Nanjing University, Nanjing, from 1 to 2 July 2012. The conference was jointly organized by the Department of Urban Planning and Design & Research Centre of Human Geography at Nanjing University and the Urban and Regional Development Programme [End Page 1] (currently named Research Centre for Urban and Regional Development) of Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. This conference is a continuation of three previous international conferences on China’s urban and regional governance organized by Nanjing University in 1999, 2000, and 2001. The articles have been substantially updated and revised since the conference. The authors include established and promising scholars based in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the West. They examine China’s changing urban and regional governance from different themes and perspectives, including intercity railway planning, adjustment of administration regions, growth coalition, regional planning, province-leading-county reform, and land use policy.

Accompanying the triple processes of globalization, decentralization, and marketization in post-reform China,3 cities and regions have undergone dramatic economic and political restructuring, resulting in increasing attention to issues of urban and regional governance. Many scholars have debated the governance issues at both urban and regional scales since the late 1990s.4 Indeed, the idea of governance can be found in the early literature on the changing role of central government and local governments, although the term “governance” was not clearly adopted at that time. The most influential perspective in explaining the changing governance is the changing relation between the central government and local governments. The local government has become an active agent and played a strong role in urban and regional development. The representative theses include “local state corporatism,” “local governments as industrial firms,” and “local development state.”5

Since 2000, a burgeoning literature on China’s changing urban and regional governance has emerged. At the urban scale, Western theories, such as growth coalition, urban regime, entrepreneurial city, and politics of scale, have been borrowed to analyze the complex phenomena of governance restructuring in transitional China.6 These studies have advanced our understanding of China’s urban governance restructuring. At the regional scale, regionalization, regional planning, and intercity cooperation are three major research areas.7 Generally speaking, these studies argue that China shares some similarities with Western counterparts in governance restructuring, but some unique features still exist due to different social, economic, cultural, and political contexts. Because governance issues are always evolving with social, political, [End Page 2] and economic changes, this collection includes the latest works on China’s urban and regional governance, reflecting new trends and new problems.

Jiang Xu and Yanyan Chen examine politics in the making of the railway plan from the perspective of “politics of scale,” using the case of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) Intercity Railway Network. The intercity railway planning in the PRD is a good case for illustrating the “realpolitik” due to the involvement of various actors from different government levels and intense interactions among them. A two-dimensional approach, interscalar politics and intercity relations, is adopted in their analysis, which is helpful for understanding relations of different governance scales in decision making.

This article has three key observations. First, there is an institutional vacuum in terms of interscalar and intercity bargaining. Most often, cities cannot resolve conflicts among them by themselves. Higher level governments, including the Ministry of Railway and Guangdong provincial government, play a coordinated role in regional coordination. This echoes the...