The Chinese health system has long privileged those with town and city hukou over villagers. This paper examines urban-rural discrimination in health insurance using data from the Chinese Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS). The central finding is urban privilege in the health system has declined substantially. Indeed, village hukou bearers now receive healthcare subsidies only slightly lower than those received by town/city hukou holders, and the vast majority of their insurance costs are covered by subsidies—more so than for town/city hukou holders. These results hold true even using relatively conservative definitions. Moreover, health insurance covers a comparable fraction of healthcare costs regardless of hukou. This convergence in insurance provision has occurred alongside a more gradual and less complete convergence in healthcare costs, which remain substantially higher for those with town/city hukou than for those with village hukou.
Quantitative research on Chinese municipal governments tends to focus on the purportedly uniform, performance-based promotion incentives faced by top leaders—Party Secretaries and Mayors—effectively ignoring constraints from the complicated apparatus of municipal government and the possibility that they might exhibit personal policy preferences. This project takes a step backward to characterize the importance and nature of the top leadership in Chinese municipalities, with a particular focus on personnel management in municipal government agencies. Drawing on a dataset of party and government personnel from Fujian province, I show that, until about 2010, leaders of municipal bureaucracies were appointed and removed in a relatively stable pattern, and much of the time they were serving party secretaries or mayors who did not appoint them. Since 2010, however, personnel management has become less routinized, and as a result, agency leaders are increasingly serving under the top leadership who appointed them to their post.
The historical understanding of rural China’s economic and social geography revolves around townships, which coincide with the lowest administrative subdivision in the China. We examine this theory using cell phone call detail records to explore the communities and extent of travel in a Chinese city. We find that travel does hew closely to administrative boundaries at the county level, and to some extent at the township level. In addition, we explore the continuing importance of townships that have been eliminated through mergers, finding that these erstwhile administrative subdivisions continue to be reflected in travel patterns. We broach but do not fully resolve the extent to which activity in township seats is periodic, as is associated with the periodic markets that had historically been taken to define these township seats.
While similar to American zoning in many technical aspects, Chinese detailed control plans play a substantially different role in the distribution of property rights. Whereas American zoning was invented long after privately held property was widespread, and hence represented a diminution of extant property rights, Chinese detailed control plans clarify what property rights the state will sell to developers. As a result, the American zoning regime is more tolerant of developers seeking changes to zoning, while the Chinese system generally sees such behavior as an effort to get discounted access to state resources. Nonetheless, developers in both countries seek to influence planning restrictions: American developers do so through open negotiations with local governments, while Chinese developers are forced into more surreptitious lobbying. In the long run, inflexible planning restrictions make it very hard for anyone but the government to legally undertake even the smallest urban redevelopment projects in China; on the other hand, the state is able to get a higher share of land use value. Hence, while Chinese detailed control plans may formally resemble American zoning, they perform different functions with sharply different implications for urban development and redevelopment.
As the Chinese land development system became marketized in the 1980s and 1990s, local governments and their urban planning agencies came under increasingly untenable pressure as they both imposed and modified detailed planning restrictions. As a result, many cities restricted the broad discretionary authority granted under national law through reforms to both technical guidelines and decision-making institutions. The Chinese planning literature tends to focus inordinately on technical guidelines, but in practice even the best technical guidelines leave significant room for discretion. Hence this paper focuses on the reforms to decision-making institutions adopted in Shanghai and Shenzhen, especially the appointment of expert members to city planning commissions. Although their reforms varied in logic and depth, both cities chose to borrow the authority of planning experts to deflect responsibility for planning decisions away from the planning bureau. In doing so, they reinforced control over planning decisions by the planning bureau, but did nonetheless expand participation in planning. Most importantly, by creating clear procedures for plan adoption and modification and incorporating voices outside the planning agency, these reforms substantially increased the barriers to corruption or technically flawed plan modifications.
Using examples from village reconstruction programs in rural China, we show that local cadres often prioritize project visibility over publicized policy goals. Rather than emphasizing land reclamation (or rural welfare) as central policies and the academic literature do, cadres and the projects they designed tended to focus on projecting an image of urban, wealthy villagers. Where such image-driven behavior is most deleterious to villagers, it can evince opposition. We observe that some areas avoid conflict by making these projects voluntary or adjusting projects to local conditions. However, we provide a case study of a village with strong village leadership, showing that contrary to recent claims that village cadres are increasingly impotent, some maintain the authority to override widespread objections from villagers.