China's rapid urbanization has generated a substantial population of "landless peasants," villagers whose farmland has been fully expropriated. The fate of these "landless peasants" has varied greatly from locale to locale. In many cities, they have become wealthy urban landlords; in others, they have been pushed aside in the urbanization process. When they have become urban landlords, they have often done so through the formation of village collective shareholding corporations and villages-in-the-city (also known as "urban villages" 城中村), which have in turn provided housing for many migrant workers. Comparing Guangzhou, with its many villages-in-the-city and powerful village collectives, to Shanghai, with far fewer villages-in-the-city or village collectives, this paper argues that the radically different distributive policies adopted by these two cities stem from their divergent conceptions of urbanization. Shanghai persisted in implementing Mao-era policies in which urbanized villagers were granted urban jobs and converted to urban citizens even when the government no longer had jobs to grant, while Guangzhou quickly adapted to the more market-oriented economy of the Reform Period. These strategies for urbanizing villagers proved amply elastic over time, reflecting the ability of changing leaders and their changing preferences to make real change on the ground even in the face of the constraints imposed by local traditions and path dependencies.
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.
Using a novel dataset of cadres at the central and local levels, we show that the most lasting, thoroughgoing personnel changes in the PRC’s history occurred at the start of the reform era. Whereas discussions of momentous personnel changes in China tend to gravitate towards the Cultural Revolution, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, and a litany of Mao-era purges, the long-term effects of these events on the composition of bureaucratic leadership pale in comparison to those undertaken at the start of the reform era. Most notably during the 1982–1984 administrative reforms, the newly installed reformist leadership at the center undertook a wholesale transformation of the Chinese political elite, ushering out Mao-era elites and replacing them with younger, professionalized cadres. We are able to show this early and extensive departure of Mao-era elites from leadership positions using a novel dataset of over 70,000 bureaucrats. Gleaned from organizational histories and yearbooks, this new dataset extends from the central level to the township level and from the founding of the party to the present, opening the door to much deeper insights into temporal and geographic variations in cadre management.
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.