HSING You-Tien:"Urbanization of the Local State in China: Real Estate and Territory"

On April 20th, 2016, the STL Lab was honored to have Professor You-tien Hsing, a Professor of Geography at Berkeley, share her knowledge of the transformation of state and society in China as a result of land battles in Chinese cities and villages. To preface the main content of her presentation, Professor Hsing shared a few key facts about the unprecedented scale and speed of urbanization in China that has required massive mobilization of resources (land, capital, and labor) to build the infrastructure necessary to support the millions of newly urbanized citizens. She argues that this drastic spatial transformation is not simply a physical change but also a process of political, economic, and social transformation.

The speed of change has cultivated a sense of urgency and intense competition amongst Chinese cities to develop and urbanize. Many local leaders have jumped into a frenzy of new urban projects and relocated many people to make way for the new development.  Professor Hsing described this process as "speedy destruction for speedy construction." As a result, over the past 20 years, farmland conversion and inner city redevelopment has displaced over 80 million people, and thus represents the largest source of social unrest in China. Land politics have moved to the center of the post-Mao China and the battles over land is reshaping the state, Chinese society, and the relationship between the state and society.  

Professor Hsing posits that the State is not just one institutional apparatus, but a dynamic and heterogeneous process where all stakeholders interact to build and gain authority. Land politics in China is characterized by a multitude of state and semi-state actors competing for land rents. Central government agencies, municipal governments, county governments, townships and rural villages each exert influence and power through land expansion. Therefore, the process of urban sprawl is also a process of state sprawl—a vehicle to extend and exert local state influence over larger territories. Part of this phenomena stems from the Chinese fiscal reforms of 1994, which reduced local government share of tax revenue while local government expenditures were increasing. The shortfall led to the dependence on land financing in China and arguably, the dispossession of millions of individuals. As Chinese citizens have become more savvy with negotiating compensation packages, Hsing posits that the new metric for whether citizens have been successful at seeking justice has become the size of one's cash compensation, or a "commodification of citizen rights consciousness."

-Karmen Cheung, MCP, STL Fellows

Speaker: HSING You-Tien 邢幼田
Department of Geography, UC Berkeley

Professor Hsing’s research and teaching has been focused on the political economy of development in East Asia, especially China.  She is interested in the question of power and space.  Her first book, Making Captialism in China: The Taiwan Connection, focuses on the role of culture in inter-regional capital flows.  Her second book, The Great Urban Transformation: Politics of Land and Property in China, examines the issue of territorality.  Professor Hsing looks at how the transformation of the state and the society shapes and is shaped by land battles in Chinese cities and villages.  Her co-edited book, Reclaiming Chinese Society, looks at China’s emerging social activism in the struggles over distribution, recognition, and representation.  Her current project concerns the cultural and environmental politics in Northwestern China.  For her research, she draws inspiration from ethnographic work: in-depth interviews and participatory observation with a reflexive perspective.  Professor Hsing believes that theorizing starts from muddy realities.  It is a process of open dialogues and self-reflections, of which the historical and the geographical, the institutional and the emotional are all indispensable parts.

Urbanization of the Local State in China: Real Estate and Territory 

In this talk, Professor Hsing will elaborate on the concept of “urbanization of the local state” in China by examining the way urban expansion and real estate projects shape the process and consequences of local states’ capacity building in China today.  This co-productive and mutually-liable relationship between urban and local state building projects will be analyzed along four axes of state capacity, those are, extractive, regulative, distributive and symbolic capacity.