Local Practice in National Territorial Reform: Reexamining the Long-Term Development of State Space in China

Authors: Guanchi Zhang*, Harvard University
Topics: Political Geography, China
Keywords: Territorial Reform, Local Government, Urban-rual Divide, State Space
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Countries around the globe constantly carry out ambitious territorial reforms to reshape state space through the creation and differentiation of local governmental units, but are not always able to achieve what they intend to. One critical link is whether viable local practices--backed by multi-level coalitions and persuasive discourses--can be created to bring together omniscient yet opaque central directives and concrete spatial orders on the ground. The permitted differentiation of local states allows social forces to validate, reinforce, or redefine and subvert central directives. In doing so, they turn local states into workable and livable human territories that have enduring effects on state space. In my paper, I exam the continuity of two major territorial reforms in modern China. In the 1950s-- the heyday of command economy marked by rigid urban-rural divide, a radical and short-lived experiment to amalgamate central cities and rural peripheries into single government units provided alternative local practices to relink urban and rural China. The rediscovery and revival of this earlier experiment in the 1980s allowed central and local reformers to create powerful coalitions that pushed forward city-centered marketization but also pave the way to later uneven development. Overall, I suggest reexamining the critical role of local territorial practice in shaping the long-term development of state institutions and state space.

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