Capital, state and labour in China's 'compressed urbanisation': A brief history of Dongguan city

Authors: Steven Rolf*, University of Bristol
Topics: China, Urban Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: China, political economy, gpn/GVC,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galerie 4, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the long aftermath of the global crisis of 2008, China’s astonishing growth spurt is finally showing signs of slowing. This paper provides a truncated political-economic history of Dongguan, Guangdong province: a microcosm containing all the key elements of China’s accelerated period of capitalist development. Dongguan provides an interesting lens through which to study three aspects of China’s growth story and how they are confronting transformed conditions in the wake of the crisis. (1) Foreign capital and global production networks were crucial to China’s story, especially compared with the previous East Asian Tigers. In Dongguan, waves of Hong Kong, Taiwanese, followed by Japanese and US capital, funded much of the city’s growth in export-oriented factories. Many older investments are increasingly shifting away from Dongguan in the wake of the global slowdown. (2) Complex reconfigurations of scalar state relations - diffusing economic management while centralising political control - allowed Dongguan to flourish under the radar of the central and provincial states; though its double digit growth rates - and strucutral weaknesses of its economy - have made it an increasing target of economic governance strategies. (3) Dongguan was host to upwards of 7 million internal Chinese migrants at last count, and the immense flexibility requirements of global industries are borne by these workers. Their increasingly organised resistance has begun to pay off, with wage rises and gradually improving conditions, while the political atmosphere they confront is increasingly repressive. What does a downturn mean for this dynamic?

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