China's changing urban geography: A review of major forces at work

Si Ming Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


The Chinese urban landscape is vibrant, diverse, and sometimes puzzling. This essay outlines the major forces that constitute and reconstitute this landscape. Persistence of the soft budget constraint is important. However, this should be seen in conjunction with the increasing role taken on by urban municipal governments, which is many times strengthened by the land leasing system. Place promotion and image building are targeted not only at transnational corporations, but also at state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and large private enterprises. The influx of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the corporate reforms have brought about much wider income spreads and the formation of a new urban middle class. This, together with the housing reform of 1998-99 and reforms in the financial sector, has added a choice dimension to the urban spatial form. At the same time, the reforms have also produced a new class of urban poor struggling to cling to the dwindling stock of dilapidated danwei (work unit) housing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-106
Number of pages40
JournalIssues and Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese cities
  • New urban poor
  • Real-estate industry
  • Transformation of urban space
  • Urban land
  • Urban middle class


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