In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction
  • You-Tien Hsing, Guest Editor (bio)

Analyses of the local state in China in the past three decades have made a major contribution to the theorization of the state. By observing the active role of the local state in the economic transformation in post-Mao China, we have learned that the local state can no longer be treated as a passive agent, subordinate to the principality of the central state; nor is it sufficient to view the local state merely as a crisis manager.1 Because of the dynamic interaction between different levels of the Chinese state and the blurry line between policy making and implementation, we have also learned that the relationship between the central and local states can not be adequately portrayed as a dichotomy. Furthermore, the organization of the Chinese state compels us to recognize that a decentralized form of authoritarianism seems to have helped state power sustainability in the globalizing market economy.

A growing number of studies on the unprecedented pace and scale of urban expansion in China since the 1980s have been undertaken in parallel with the theorization of the local state. Researchers have focused primarily on the motor of urbanization, mechanisms of rural-urban migration, and changing regime of land rights. The key role of the local state is made plain in this body of research, as most changes are invariably dominated by the state and its policies. The concept of "state-led urbanization" is representative of this analytical thrust. It posits that state-based planning power, state land tenure, and state control over rural-urban mobility establish conditions in which the local state supersedes the market and consequently dictates the direction and pace of urban growth in Chinese cities today.2 [End Page 1]

In this special issue, we take this direction of investigation further and try to bridge the studies of the state and the studies of the city by employing the concepts of space production and territoriality. We define space production as the spatial dynamism of the politics of accumulation and distribution and territoriality as spatial strategies and strategization to consolidate power and secure autonomy. In such spatial analyses, the relationship between the state and the city is treated as a set of power processes among the state, the market, and society over the control and occupation of places, hence turning a place into a territory.

We use the following set of tools to operationalize these concepts: First, following the geographical tradition of treating space as more than a passive container of social processes,3 we see the city as a territorial entity playing an active role in the making of China's post-Mao political economy. Instead of regarding the city as being "led" by the state or by any other source of higher-order power, like the "market," we see the urban process as a formative force in social transformation and a definitive element in the making of the local state. By this alternative logic, the city and the local state build each other. More specifically, while the local state mobilizes resources to try to expand the city, the very struggle over urban expansion comes to define, legitimize, and consolidate urban-based local state power.

For sure, there are many cases of unsuccessful, scandalous, and even disastrous urban projects undertaken by the local state, some of which delegitimize and destabilize local states and their overly ambitious and/or incompetent leaders. Successful or not, however, urban construction has become the key mechanism of local state building. Local accumulation is dependent on land sales and land development, whereas the local state apparatus grows in tandem with urban expansion. New towns, high-tech industrial zones, and university towns start off as development-oriented construction projects, but are completed as territorial additions under the jurisdiction of urban governments. Local state leaders aspire to be landowners, planners, financiers, builders, and boosters all at once. As a result, local politics come to center on the politics of urban development projects, which then define the dynamics of the local state and its relations vis-à-vis the market and society. As local state building is inextricably linked to city building, the local state can also be...


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pp. 1-11
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2020
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