Local state and administrative urbanization in post-reform China: A case study of Hebi City, Henan Province

Yungang Liu, Guanwen Yin, Laurence J.C. Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


China's rapid growth over the last three decades has attracted much academic attention. In the post-reform era, economic growth has been paralleled by rapid urbanization. China's urbanization experience has been shaped heavily by the state through national urban policies as well as through local administrative means. Much has been written about large Chinese cities in the more developed coastal regions, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but little is known about the process of city-making in medium-sized and small Chinese cities, especially those in the less developed central and western regions of the country. This paper sheds light on the processes of urban transformation in Hebi, a medium-sized inland city in Henan Province, emphasizing the critical role that the local state has played in city-making, the mechanisms and processes of change, and the resultant impacts on the city. As a mining city, Hebi has been threatened by depleting natural resources. To invigorate the city, a new city center has been built to attract new enterprises. Through intensive interviews and fieldwork conducted in 2007 and 2008, we examine what the city government of Hebi has done to turn the newly constructed urban space into a new administrative and economic center of the city. With the establishment of new enterprises, the local economy has been diversified, although coal continues to be a major component of Hebi's economy. The role of the local state in the production and development of the new urban space is direct and forceful. As local state policies on urban development have been implemented by strong administrative means, we conceptualize the contemporary Chinese model of urbanization as "administrative urbanization". One problem with this kind of state-dominated urbanization and city-making is that the needs of the people are not fully considered, and it is unclear who the major beneficiaries are. More case studies are needed to determine how economic and political forces are driving China's land-based urban development, the extent to which local states are understood as entrepreneurial, profit-seeking and pro-growth, the relationship between the local state and other stake-holders in local urban development, and who has benefited from administrative urbanization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-117
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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