Meg Rithmire

F. Warren McFarlan Associate Professor of Business of Administration

Photo of Meg Rithmire

On leave academic year 2016-2017

Meg Rithmire is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit, where she teaches the course of the same name in the MBA required curriculum. Professor Rithmire holds a PhD in Government from Harvard University, and her primary expertise is in the comparative political economy of development with a focus on China. Her first book, Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015), examines the role of land politics, urban governments, and local property rights regimes in the Chinese economic reforms. A new project, for which Meg is conducting research in Asia 2017-2018, investigates why, when, and how Asian countries have opened to globalisation over the past thirty years. The research has two components; first, examining government policies that facilitate the internationalisation of domestic firms, and, second, understanding firm strategies for managing transnational investments, especially in emerging and frontier markets where political and institutional uncertainties abound. She is a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies at Harvard. In 2015, she won the Faculty Teaching Award in the Required Curriculum. 

Featured Work



  1. Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights under Reform

    Meg Rithmire

    Land reforms have been critical to the development of Chinese capitalism over the last several decades, yet land in China remains publicly owned. This book explores the political logic of reforms to land ownership and control, accounting for how land development and real estate have become synonymous with economic growth and prosperity in China. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and archival research, this book tracks land reforms and urban development at the national level and in three cities in a single Chinese region. The study reveals that the initial liberalization of land was reversed after China's first contemporary real estate bubble in the early 1990s and that property rights arrangements at the local level varied widely according to different local strategies for economic prosperity and political stability. In particular, the author links fiscal relations and economic bases to property rights regimes, finding that more "open" cities are subject to greater state control over land.

    Keywords: Property; China;


    Rithmire, Meg. Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights under Reform. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. View Details

Journal Articles

  1. Land Institutions and Chinese Political Economy: Institutional Complementarities and Macroeconomic Management

    Meg Rithmire

    This article critically examines the origins and evolution of China’s unique land institutions and situates land policy in the larger context of China’s reforms and pursuit of economic growth. It argues that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has strengthened the institutions that permit land expropriation—namely, urban/rural dualism, decentralized land ownership, and hierarchical land management—in order to use land as a key instrument of macroeconomic regulation, helping the CCP respond to domestic and international economic trends and manage expansion and contraction. Key episodes of macroeconomic policymaking are analyzed, with the use of local and central documents, to show how the CCP relied on the manipulation and distribution of the national land supply either to stimulate economic growth or to rein in an overheating economy. China’s land institutions, therefore, share “complementarities” with fiscal and financial institutions and benefit powerful political actors while imposing costs on marginal ones.

    Keywords: China; economic reform; land politics; macromanagement; Government and Politics; Macroeconomics; China;

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

    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). View Details
  3. Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China

    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. View Details

Working Papers

  1. Urbanization with Chinese Characteristics? China's Gamble for Modernization

    Kristen Looney and Meg Rithmire

    Contemporary discussions of urbanization and urban construction in China tend to focus on “ghost towns” on the one hand or urbanization as China’s silver bullet to growth and reform on the other. In this paper, we detail what China calls its “New Urbanization Policy.” While these plans aim to formalize previously informal movements of land, people, and capital between urban and rural, the new urbanization does not upend China’s longstanding duality between those categories. The central goals of the new urbanization are to manage urbanization so as to generate domestic demand and reorganize agricultural production without experiencing destabilizing social and political pressures. If successful, the CCP will forge a new path of urbanization, building cities before recruiting urban citizens. The process, however, entails possibilities of yet other social dislocations, including concentrated poverty, ill-planned cities, skyscraper villages, and rural landlessness.

    Keywords: Urban Development; Problems and Challenges; China;


    Looney, Kristen, and Meg Rithmire. "Urbanization with Chinese Characteristics? China's Gamble for Modernization." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-083, January 2016. View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Governing the 'Chinese Dream': Corruption, Inequality and the Rule of Law

    Rafael Di Tella, Meg Rithmire and Kait Szydlowski

    Xi Jinping assumed his position as head of China's fifth generation of leaders in 2012. Xi was head of both the People's Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party, which had ruled China since 1949. Xi inherited a country far more unequal than the one that Mao Zedong, Communist China's first leader, had left behind in 1978. The growth of markets had made China much wealthier, but also generated many social problems, including inequality, corruption, and social protests. This case discusses China's political and economic development in the 20th century to situate Xi's—and China's—contemporary challenges.

    Keywords: China; Growth; inequality; Wealth and Poverty; social stability; perceptions of inequality; chinese dream; chinese political thought; corruption; Equality and Inequality; China;


    Di Tella, Rafael, Meg Rithmire, and Kait Szydlowski. "Governing the 'Chinese Dream': Corruption, Inequality and the Rule of Law." Harvard Business School Case 715-023, December 2014. (Revised November 2015.) View Details
  2. Pittsburgh

    Eric Werker, Meg Rithmire, Benjamin Kennedy and Andrew Knauer

    The case narrates the development of Pittsburgh from the 1940s to 2012. It analyzes the collapse of the steel industry in the early 1980s, the city's subsequent decline, and the city's later re-emergence as a hub for higher education, the tech sector, and the healthcare industry. Attention is given to the public-private partnerships that emerged in Pittsburgh, as well as the economic development and taxation initiatives pursued by different mayors.

    Keywords: google; population; city growth; shale; PNC; Tom Murphy; Luke Ravenstahl; Public-private partnership; Tax increment financing; brownfields; Renaissance; Industry Clusters; Industry Growth; City; Business and Government Relations; Taxation; Giving and Philanthropy; Nonprofit Organizations; Higher Education; Technology Industry; Health Industry; Steel Industry; Education Industry; Pittsburgh;


    Werker, Eric, Meg Rithmire, Benjamin Kennedy, and Andrew Knauer. "Pittsburgh." Harvard Business School Case 713-035, January 2013. (Revised October 2015.) View Details
  3. The “Chongqing Model” and the Future of China

    Meg Rithmire

    Since opening to the global economy in 1979, but especially since entering the WTO in 2001, China's economy grew at rates around 10% annually by attracting FDI and promoting exports. After the financial crisis that began in 2008 and depressed demand in the United States and Europe, China's growth began to slow, and vulnerabilities in its economy came to light. It became clear to many in China that the growth strategy that got China from 1978 to the present was unsustainable and that the country needed a new strategy to resolve the country's regional inequalities, stimulate domestic consumption, and create growth less vulnerable to global contractions in demand. At exactly this time, between 2007 and 2012, the provincial municipality of Chongqing in China's mountainous southwest became the fastest growing city in China with GDP growth averaging over 15%. Chongqing's growth was the result of a suite of economic and social policies that had been dubbed the "Chongqing Model," a controversial bundle of reforms that promised public and private sector growth with benefits more equitably shared by all citizens. Yet critics found the model politically suspect and over reliant on state-owned enterprises and debt-driven investment. When the city's preeminent leader was publicly fired following a sensational murder scandal, the region's new leaders—and indeed China's new leaders—had to weigh in on the "Chongqing Model." Would it signal a new path to prosperity for post-WTO China?

    Keywords: China; Public Sector; Private Sector; Developing Countries and Economies; Macroeconomics; Public Administration Industry; China;


    Rithmire, Meg. "The “Chongqing Model” and the Future of China ." Harvard Business School Case 713-028, December 2012. (Revised July 2013.) View Details

    Research Summary

  1. Overview

    by Meg Rithmire

    Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights under Reform

    Published October, 2015

    China since the 1980s has been the scene of unprecedented efforts at urban construction and growth, even in the absence of privatization of ownership over land. These efforts were made possible by the separation of land use and ownership rights and, therefore, the initiation of markets in land in the late 1980s. This book examines the emergence of property rights practices over urban land and property at the national and subnational levels in China. At the national level, I draw on government documents and other Chinese sources to analyze the decision to initiate land markets in 1988, the first national experience with real estate markets, and policy changes thatreorganized land, fiscal, and financial institutions in the 1990s. At the subnational level, I rely on a controlled comparison of three cities in a single region—China’s Northeastern “rustbelt”—to examine how different local political economies differently configured property rights practices. The book advances a novel theoretical argument about the politics of property rights as endogenous to the process of political reform. I emphasize the roles of political bargaining (the articulation and recognition of property rights claims as a form of political accommodation) and moral argument (competing claims to legitimacy) in property rights change. The empirical contribution of the book concerns the centrality of property rights to China’s local and national economic development strategies. Property rights were deployed as political and economic resources at the local and national levels, figuring prominently in various groups’ efforts at capital accumulation as well as state strategies of political inclusion and appeasement. Ultimately, by illuminating subnational practice in land politics and national level development of land institutions, this book puts land at the center of explaining the unique evolution of Chinese capitalism in its first three decades.

    Keywords: China; land politics; urban planning; China;

    1. Recipient of the 2015 Charles M. Williams Award for Teaching Excellence.

    2. Received the 2015 HBS Student Association Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Required Curriculum.