Article | World Politics | January 2014

China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy

by Meg Rithmire


The study of Chinese political economy has undergone 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 essay reviews recent work in 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 "new regionalism" and previous studies of decentralization in China, I discuss this work according to the theoretical approaches (institutional, ideational, and socio-historical) used to explain the origins of regional differences. I conclude 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.

Keywords: China; political economy; Economy; Government and Politics; China;


Rithmire, Meg. "China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy." World Politics 66, no. 1 (January 2014).