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Citation Information

Type Conference Paper - Prepared for the Urban China Network Second Meeting January 2005, New Orleans
Title Urbanization, Institutional Change, and Spatial Inequality in China (1990-2001)
URL http://www.albany.edu/chinanet/neworleans/White-Wu-Chen-Urbanization-Spatial-Inequality.pdf
It is no longer news that China has experienced enormous and virtually unparalleled
economic growth since the introduction of market reforms. The overall impact of such shifts
in production and labor force activity has received considerable discussion in the scholarly and
lay literature. Also, considerable attention has been directed toward the growing individual
economic inequality that has accompanied economic development. Yet only limited attention
has been directed to the spatial manifestation of this growth across the landscape. Some
discussion exists about the differential fortunes of individual provinces and regions. Less
attention has been paid to the fate of cities and their surrounding metropolitan regions. Some
cities and urban regions have perhaps benefited disproportionately from the sweeping changes.
Even less information is available about the spatial differentiation of socioeconomic groups
within cities, the traditional pattern of urban ecology. We have every reason to expect that the
broad changes in China over the last two decades have brought with them significant shifts in
spatial organization and inequality. That is the topic we investigate in this chapter.
The most common spatial change resulting from such development is the differential
between average rural and urban incomes, and this holds true for China. For instance, a recent
report in the Shanghai Star (Shangyao, 2004) noted, “the urban-rural per capita income ratio
was one the order of 1.7 to 1 in 1985 and widened to 3.1 to 1 in 2002.” (See also Wei, 2004).
Yet the urban-rural gap is not the only spatial differential in China. Differentiation across
wider geography (provinces) and increasing disparity in income levels within the urban
settlement system is also in need of examination It is important to understand these spatial
changes. First, they provide a window on overall social changes in Chinese society. Second,
differences in organization of space have implications for individual lives. One the one hand,
spatial differentiation is a manifestation of social stratification more generally. Second, the
spatial organization of resources, particularly those that are publicly provided necessarily
means that geographic location has implications for access to those resources. Individuals who
reside in more economically dynamic cities and regions may benefit from this growth
trajectory (schools, public services, etc.) and similarly, those in better provisioned
neighborhoods or districts may benefit.
This important backdrop, on which we do not elaborate in great detail here, helps
motivate our approach. It also enables us to examine the current situation in China in
Spatial Inequality
comparison to the Western experience, and we will see what similarities exist in these two very
different spatial contexts.
The organization of the remainder of our chapter is as follows. First, we introduce
some of the theoretical concepts that form the underpinning for our concern and our analysis.
In particular, we present a discussion of the relationship between economic growth, urban
development, and issues of spatial scale. We then present some information on Chinese urban
classification, noting how it differs from classifications used in the United States and Europe.
We next turn to our empirical analysis. After a brief discussion of our data and methods, we
present results on urban differentiation at increasingly refined geographic scales. We look
initially at provincial differences overall; then we examine the patterns of growth and
inequality across the system of cities, and finally, we focus on intra-urban spatial
differentiation and inequality in Shanghai, one of China’s largest and most economically
dynamic cities.

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