Article | China Quarterly | December 2013

Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China

by Meg Rithmire


Despite common national institutions and incentives to remake urban landscapes to anchor growth, generate land-lease revenues, and display a capacious administration, Chinese urban governments exhibit varying levels of control over land. This article uses a paired comparison of Dalian and Harbin in China's Northeast to link differences in local political economies to land politics. Dalian, benefitting from early access to foreign capital, consolidated control over urban territory through the designation of a development zone, which realigned local economic interests and introduced dual pressures for enterprises to restructure and relocate. Harbin, facing capital shortages, distributed urban territory to assuage losers of reform and promote economic growth. The findings suggest that 1) growth strategies, and the territorial politics they produce, are products of the post-Mao urban hierarchy rather than of socialist legacies, and, 2) perhaps surprisingly, local governments exercise the greatest control over urban land in cities that adopted market reforms earliest.

Keywords: China; land politics; urban planning; local government; Northeast China; property rights; Urban Development; Property; Government and Politics; China;


Rithmire, Meg. "Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China." China Quarterly, no. 216 (December 2013): 872–895.