Following the notion of the entrepreneurial city, this project examines recent scholarship on China’s urban governance. 
Project summary

China’s phenomenal urbanisation is of world-historical significance. It first challenges our understanding of contemporary urbanisation, urban transformations, and the model of urban governance. Second, an appropriate understanding of changing urban governance is critical for the implementation of a UN-endorsed new urban agenda in the post-pandemic world. The project helps to recommend how China should change its development model and how the outside world should help China to address its immense challenges from urbanisation. The overall objective is to rethink China’s model of urban governance. The central concern is the role of the state: whether the introduction of market coordination has transformed the political processes as shown in Western democratic societies. This project contextualises Chinese urban governance in its historical and endogenous processes. The role of the state in neighbourhoods, cities and regions is understood in the policy contexts. We see governance change as a concrete institutional and policy response to existing crises and perceived challenges. This project interrogates China’s model of urban governance through grounded and multi-scalar investigations ranging from neighbourhoods and cities to regions. For neighbourhoods, it unravels the interface between state and society in everyday living space, migrant social agencies and the self-governance of homeowners’ associations under urbanisation and housing marketization. For cities, it interrogates the development strategies and governance of migrant and ecological urbanism as well as the implementation of projects through financial instruments and the land market. For regions, it uncovers entangled state–market relations which redistribute population and economic activities across cities and produce the city-region. The research will be conducted through six cases: Shanghai, Wuhan, Dali, Xiongan, Jing-Jin-Ji (Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei), and the Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macau Greater Bay Area, based upon grounded ethnographic observations, in-depth interviews and close engagement with Chinese researchers and policy makers across different types of neighbourhoods and cities of varying sizes in coastal, central and western regions, and recent national strategic projects. 

Project Design
WP I China’s governance model

Following the notion of the entrepreneurial city, this project examines recent scholarship about China’s urban governance. Despite prevailing marketisation, the role of the state is visible in neighbourhood, cities and city-regions. The state necessarily deals with a fast changing society and deploys market-like instruments to achieve its development objectives. Through multi-scalar governance, the state involves social and market actors but at the same time maintains strategic intervention capacity. China’s contextualised scholarship provides a more nuanced understanding beyond the entrepreneurial city thesis, which is more state-centred.

WP II Neighbourhood governance

At the neighbourhood level, the ‘community governance turn’ and recent lockdowns have moved Chinese neighbourhoods into the mainstream policy agenda. This provides new opportunities for neighbourhoods to (re)gained their positions as ‘nerve tips’ of the state, ‘spatialisation of government’ and ‘open spaces for social cohesion’, so as to deal with pressure from the society, reduce government spending and maintain/increase governing capacity. In this work package, we will examine how neighbourhood governance operates on the ground in different neighbourhoods, which will enable us to interrogate the governance of everyday life during China’s ‘great urban transformation’ and understand broader changes in the relationship between the state (both central and local) and the society (rising but fragmented). Drawing on observations from a variety of neighbourhoods in several case study cities (e.g. Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan), we will provide nuanced understandings of practices, institutions and policies involved in governing Chinese neighbourhoods in everyday life-worlds. We will observe a variety of activities, including neighbourhood micro-renewal, pandemic mitigation, migrant incorporation and environmental mobilisation. We will focus on variegated roles of the state and diverse techniques it employs to achieve its strategic goals, which go beyond housing marketisation and entrepreneurial development.  We will also discuss different strategies the society and its different members adopt to negotiate with the state. More importantly, through the window of ‘neighbourhood’, we will present alternative explanations of China’s changing mode of urban governance in the post-pandemic world, which goes beyond interpretations of neoliberalism (albeit in variegated forms) or authoritarianism (emphasising China exceptionalism). We will explore potential links between neighbourhood governance and urban governance in general, with a view to understand how the process of neighbourhood governance evolution reflects the general restructuring of China’s urban governance and state-society relationship, and how urban governance changes are filtered through to the local/grassroots levels. 

WP III Urban governance

At the urban level, we explore urban development models and investigate urban governance in transforming political contexts in China. Urban development in China has been associated with entrepreneurial practices for revenue maximisation and career advancement. Practices include land-based financing, infrastructure construction, development zone fever, and urban redevelopment. Nevertheless, China’s urban development is no longer merely driven by the growth logic but includes diverse state concerns such as ecological civilisation. This research seeks to understand how the changing national mandates are implemented at the urban level and the implications for urban governance. Empirically, we investigate the grounded operations of urban development projects, ranging from new-town development, ecological urbanism to innovation spaces. Focusing on the delivery of mega projects, green infrastructure, shantytown redevelopment and other flagship projects, we uncover the innovative mechanisms of urban financing, mobilisation of market actors, and contestations among stakeholders. For case study, we examine urban practices in cities located in different regions and with various scales, including Shanghai, Wuhan, Xiongan and Dali. In doing so, we provide diverse accounts for urban development models. Connecting with research at regional and neighbourhood levels, this project offers a comprehensive understanding of China’s urban governance. 

WP IV Regional governance

This work package aims to investigate how metropolitan and regional governance is evolving in China and what are the implications of recent new wave of regionalism across the nation. China has seen the rising city-regions for various domestic and international agendas., such as economic regionalisation, city cooperation, environmental sustainability, and international competitiveness. Recent new regional development strategies and policies for Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei (JJJ) Region and Guangdong-Hongkong -Macau Greater Bay Area represent a new trend of regional development that features innovation-oriented economy, free mobilities and more-coordinated and inclusive development. The formation of JJJ and Bay Area reflects strategic (nation) state intervention but varied state rationalities. This project examines these two key and featured regions as well as the newly established Xiong’an New Area within JJJ region to understand recent regional governance changes and innovation in China. Our research is more rooted in social-political and geopolitical approach focusing on the new relationships between state, market, and society. Following the “rescaling and reterritorialization” strand of research and the framework of state entrepreneurialism, the prominent role of the state in regional building and governance and the territorial and scalar politics that involves multiple levels of governments remain the major focus of our research. Moreover, the research will be broadened to the discourses and practices in technocratic regionalism, collective provision and consumption, and environmentalism, which will offer versatile and innovative explanations of city-regionalism in China.   

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected results

This innovative and contextually sensitive research will contribute to entrepreneurial urban governance theories and will offer a theoretically nuanced and grounded explanation of state entrepreneurialism in China.