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. In particular, she focuses on the role of urban governments and land control in China’s economic reforms. She is a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies at Harvard.
China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy
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.
Rithmire, Meg. "China's 'New Regionalism': Subnational Analysis in Chinese Political Economy." World Politics
Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China
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.
Rithmire, Meg. "Land Politics and Local State Capacities: The Political Economy of Urban Change in China." China Quarterly
The “Chongqing Model” and the Future of China
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?
Developing Countries and Economies;
Public Administration Industry;
The Roots of Local Territorial Control: Housing Privatization and Enterprise Reform in the 1980s and 1990s
Why are some local governments able to consolidate control over urban territory and some are not? Drawing on a paired comparison of two cities--Dalian and Harbin in the Northeast--Professor Rithmire investigates variation in land politics in initially similar cities. Dalian, benefitting from early access to foreign capital, consolidated control over urban territory by first segregating the new and old economies, then later introducing dual pressures for enterprises and their workers to restructure and relocate. Harbin, facing capital shortages, treated urban territory as a resource for distribution to assuage losers of reform by privatizing housing and encouraging enterprises to diversify their economic activities. As a result, officials in Harbin struggle with long-time claimants to urban land, while Dalian's local government has consolidated control over the city's territory.
Keywords: Governance Controls;
Government and Politics;
Foreign Direct Investment;
Rithmire, Meg. "The Roots of Local Territorial Control: Housing Privatization and Enterprise Reform in the 1980s and 1990s." Lecture at the New England China Seminar, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, February 2012.
Closed Neighborhoods in Open Cities: The Political Logic of Spatial Change in Urban China
Keywords: Civil Society or Community;
Government and Politics;
Rithmire, Meg. "Closed Neighborhoods in Open Cities: The Political Logic of Spatial Change in Urban China." New York University, China House, April 2011.
Subnational Political Economy and Land Politics in China
Professor Rithmire’s ongoing book project examines the politics of land control during China's transition from state socialism. In urban China, agents of the state—everyone from local and central bureaucracies to public enterprises to members of the working class—as well as agents outside the state, such as entrepreneurs and migrants, stake claims to urban land. Despite that the same formal regulations govern land ownership in urban China, cities vary greatly in local land politics. In some cities, local governments (and specific bureaucracies within those local governments) have successfully established themselves as monopoly holders of property rights, executing showcase and development projects at will and encountering little successful resistance to relocation campaigns. On the other extreme, other urban landscapes look more like a pastiche of local claims, where informal claimants outmaneuver local authorities and thwart efforts at remaking urban territories. Using three case studies in the Northeastern Chinese "rust belt region," I argue that local governments exert different kinds of control over land based on the sequencing of their exposure to market reforms and global capital and their relationship to the central state. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the cities that were exposed to global capital and market forces early and widely in which we find the most local state control over land.
This research, focusing on the process of land commodification in the 1980s and 1990s, speaks not only to comparative debates about the emergence of property rights, but also to contemporary debates about land politics in China.
In this book and in other work, Professor Rithmire draws on archival and interview data collected during fieldwork in China as well as quantitative data collected at the local level using spatial analysis and mapping.