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China's Key Cities: From Local Places to Global Players

ECONOMY / ENVIRONMENT / SPOTLIGHT / May 3, 2016

By Xiangming Chen
China’s geographically uneven growth plays a key role in regional integration by creating more varied and largely beneficial global connections. In this article, Xiangming Chen takes a new look at China’s key cities and how they not only drive China’s local and regional economic growth but also serve as bridges to link China’s varied local economies to regional and global markets.
 
China projects a huge and continually growing profile and impact on the world stage. Much of this Chinese influence globally is often anchored to and channelled out by its key cities. Shanghai towers over all these cities in what it stands and functions for China, as the country’s financial and trade centre, largest port (also the world’s top container port), and gateway to China’s huge domestic market. As such, Shanghai gets a lot of attention from the global business community, especially when its stock market tumbled recently and sent shock waves around the world.
Besides Shanghai, a variety of other cities have become more important for China, and the world economy, for that matter. A number of these cities are well known for their significant historic and contemporary economic and cultural roles such as Guangzhou and Xi’an. Other cities have risen from unknown origins to prominent economic centres like Shenzhen. There are also some much less known cities that have grown into new regional hubs with strong global connections. You most likely have not heard about them, names like Ruili and Yiwu.
In this article I take a new look at China’s key cities by focusing on two of their salient features. These cities are drivers of China’s local and regional economic growth. They also serve as bridges to link China’s varied local economies to regional and global markets. I examine both roles in how they play out in similar ways across four very different cities in scale and other dimensions: Shanghai, Chongqing, Yiwu, and Ruili (see their locations on Map 1 below).
 
map1(1)

Map 1: The Location of Four Key Cities in China: Shanghai, Chongqing, Yiwu and Ruili

 

 
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About the Author
Xiangming Chen is the Dean and Director of the Center for Urban and Global Studies and Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Global Urban Studies and Sociology at Trinity College, Connecticut, and a distinguished guest professor at Fudan University, Shanghai. He has published extensively on urbanisation and globalisation with a focus on China and Asia. His most recent book, with Sharon Zukin and Philip Kasinitz, is Global Cities, Local Streets: Everyday Diversity from New York to Shanghai (Routledge, 2015) with a companion website at http://www.globalcitieslocalstreets.org/.
References
*I express my gratitude to Yu Xue in Shanghai for her assistance in gathering the most up-to-date data in Figures 1 and 2. This article also draws from some of my collaborative work with former and current students at Trinity College, and research partners in the United States and Shanghai.

  1. This figure was adapted from Figure 4 in Xiangming Chen, 2007. “A Tale of Two Regions in China: Rapid Economic Development and Slow Industrial Upgrading in the Pearl River and the Yangtze River Deltas.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 48 (2-3): 167-201.
  2. Ren, Yuan, Jiaming Sun and Jing Gan. 2015. “Shanghai: The Rise and Future of China’s Premier Global City,” Chapter in Research Handbook on Asian Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen, Sarah Moser and Ratoola Kundu (Edward Elgar Publishing, forthcoming).
  3. Chen, Xiangming. 2014. “Steering, Speeding, Scaling: China’s Model of Urban Growth and Its Implications for Cities of the Global South.” Pp. 155-172 in The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South, edited by Susan Parnell and Sophie Oldfield. London and New York: Routledge.
  4. Chen, Xiangming and Julia Mardeusz. 2015. “China and Europe: Reconnecting Across a New Silk Road,” The European Financial Review (February-March): 5-12.
  5. Figure 11.1 in Xiangming Chen, Anthony Orum and Krista Paulsen. 2012. Introduction to Cities: How Place and Space Shape Human Experience. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  6. Burchill, Billy. 2015. “The Diverse Effects of Globalization: Yiwu, China and Hartford, CT.” A senior thesis for the Urban Studies Program, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.
  7. Same as Note 6 above.
  8. See Chen, Xiangming and Curtis Stone. 2013. “China and Southeast Asia: Unbalanced Development in the Greater Mekong Subregion.” The European Financial Review (August): 7-11.
  9. Chen, Xiangming and Curtis Stone, “Relocating the City in Transborder Spaces: Relative Urbanity, Catch-up Development, and Contested Governance in the China-Southeast Asia Borderland.” Chapter under preparation for The SAGE Handbook of Urban Sociology: New Approaches to the Twenty-first Century City, edited by Ricky Burdett and Suzanne Hall (Sage Publishers, forthcoming).
  10. Shan Juan. 2014. “Clinic on frontier of AIDS care,” China Daily, July 10, p. 7; extracted from http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2014-07/10/content_17709424.htm.










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