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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Regional development in the Zhujiang Delta, China, 1980-90 Lin, George Chu-Sheng


Against the background of a rapidly collapsing socialist empire in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, socialist China has since the late 1970s consciously endeavored to develop a "socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics." This thesis assesses the process of economic and spatial transformation in the Zhujiang (Pearl River) Delta, one of the fastest growing economic regions in China. The purposes are to identify the general pattern of economic and spatial changes, to determine the key forces responsible for such changes, and to explore the theoretical implications of these changes in the broader context of interpretation about the operating mechanism of regional development. The overall objective is to understand how a regional economy under socialism is transformed after the intrusion of global market forces. My analyses of regional data and indepth case studies reveal that the Zhujiang Delta has since 1979 moved away from the previous impasse of involutionary growth or growth without development and entered a new era of real transformative development in which dramatic growth has occurred not only in agricultural and industrial output but also in labour productivity, per capita income, and employment. The take-off of the delta's regional economy has owed little to the expansion of state-run modern manufacturing, but has been fueled primarily by numerous small-scale, labour-intensive, and rural-base industries. The spatial outcome of this rural industrialization has been a rapid urbanization of the countryside, especially of the area adjacent to and between major metropolitan centres. There has been no increasing concentration of population in large cities as the conventional wisdom of urban transition might have predicted. Regional development in the Zhujiang Delta during the 1980s was not an outcome of any active state involvement. It was instead a result of relaxed control by the socialist central state over the delta's regional economy. Local governments, along with the collective and private sectors, are found to be the chief agents responsible for the transformation of the peasant economy and the development of the transport infrastructure. The penetration of global market forces via Hong Kong into the Zhujiang Delta has significantly facilitated the process of economic, spatial, and social transformation. This study of the operating mechanism of regional development in the Zhujiang Delta presents a dialectical model of local-global interaction to combat the two prevailing schools of exogenism and endogenism. It also suggests that previous theories on Chinese regional development, which assumed a strong socialist central state monopolizing local economic affairs, might need fundamental modifications. For the Zhujiang Delta, the development of which is still in the early take-off stage, the establishment of a modern transport infrastructure has shown remarkable effects, leading to rather than following the growth of the delta's economy. Finally, the relocation of transnational capital and manufacturing production from Hong Kong to the Zhujiang Delta has not displayed a spatial tendency of high concentration in the primate city as the conventional theory of globalization would suggest. Non-economic factors such as historical, cultural, and social linkages between investors and their target regions are found to have played a major role which should not be overlooked in understanding the mechanism and spatial patterns of the internationalization of production.

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