Residential Inequalities in Urban China under Spatial Restructuring

Project: Research project

Project Details


Ever since the implementation of the paid transfer of land use rights in the late 1980s, China’s major cities have undergone immense spatial structuring. A coalition between municipal governments and real estate interests has emerged to exploit the huge rent gaps, arising largely from institutionalized segmentation of urban and rural land tenures. To counteract the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, the Chinese government designated real estate and auto production as growth engines. Accompanying this was the ending of the welfare allocation of housing in 1998. Accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 implied the subjection to the full force of globalization, a consequence of which was world city formation. The world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) have since scrambled to set up regional headquarters in China’s leading metropolises. They are joined by China’s own emerging TNCs, primarily large state-owned enterprises corporatized under the enterprise reform.

Typical of world cities are workforce polarization, growing income spreads, rapidly rising housing costs, and increased spatial segregation. In China the contrast between traditional work-unit compounds and gated commodity housing estates is particularly striking. Complicating the picture is the proliferation of migrant communities on urban- rural fringes. Growing economic and housing inequalities have brought widespread discontents, as testified by repeated efforts by the Chinese government to cool down the overheated housing market. The discontents are particularly severe among the urban poor, many of whom were forced to move to inaccessible suburban locations due to redevelopment programmes, and young professionals who were too young to benefit from the housing reform of the 1990s.

The proposed study aims to conduct a multi-facet analysis of the changing nature of residential inequality in China cities under phenomenal spatial restructuring. More specifically, two major dimensions of residential inequality will be examined. The first concerns the extent and nature of housing inequality, especially after the 1998 housing reform and under increased workforce polarization. In relation to the above, the second concerns how this inequality is exacerbated by spatial segmentations in the housing and labour markets. Phenomenal suburbanization, massive investments in urban freeways, and rising car ownership have further enlarged the differences in mobility over space and hence accessibility to jobs, housing and other urban amenities between socioeconomic groups. Surveys conducted by the PI in Guangzhou will form the primary data source for the proposed work.
Effective start/end date1/01/1230/06/15

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


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