Chinese Studies
2013. Vol.2, No.2, 84-88
Published Online May 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Globalization Impacts on Chinese Politics and Urbanization
Jamie P. Halsall1, Ian G. Cook2
1School of Human and Health Sciences, The University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK
2School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
Received December 29th, 2012; revised February 22nd, 2013; accepted March 4th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Jamie P. Halsall, Ian G. Cook. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the origina l w o rk is properly cited.
The aim of this paper is to critically explore the complex debates on the contemporary growth of China’s
urban economies. It has been well documented that China is the second largest economy in the world and
is seen to be a major player in the financial markets. Over the last decade China has experienced a dra-
matic urban transformation and globalization is a key factor in the change in China from Maoist produc-
tion cities to Dengist cities of consumption, albeit with a strong export-oriented production element. As
this paper will argue, without the impact of Globalization, the recent development of China as a key eco-
nomic power could not have taken place. The findings of this research revealed however, that the Chinese
State has also played a key role, intertwined as it is with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Keywords: China; Cities; Globalization; Urbanization
“Globalization may well be an ancient theme but it is also
one that evolves; and that capacity to progress explains
why it has become the dominant motif of the contempo-
rary world” (Williams, 2012: p. 27).
Globalization has become the term of the moment. Over the
last 20 years the social scienc e discipline has been fascinat e d by
the processes of globalization within a given society (Sapkota,
2011; Gaulier, 2007; Guillaume et al., 2007; Kirby, 2006;
Temin, 1999). The key functions that formulate the powers of
globalization are conceptualized into four distinct processes: 1)
economic; 2) political; 3) social; and 4) cultural. However,
scholars have become critical on the theorizing and the devel-
opment of globalization. Recent literature has demonstrated that
globalization is a deeply contested concept that has no clear
definition. For example Held et al., (2002) have argued that that
globalization lacks a precise definition. Whilst Munck (2002: p.
52) has expressed the view that globalization can mean “every-
thing and anything, or nothing” and Dicken (2004: p. 5) has
portrayed globalization as a “big problem in every sense of the
term”. Overall it could be argued that globalization has created
a sense of slippage and danger. Slippage in the sense that the
concept can have different meanings and therefore can be in-
terpreted in many different ways and danger for the reason that
globalization is a powerful conce pt that affects everyone around
the globe, thus impacting on developed and developing coun-
The theorization of the debates surrounding globalization and
Chinese urbanization has been well documented (Wang et al.,
2012; Wu & Gaubatz, 2012; Wu & Webster, 2010; Zhang,
2008; Zhao et al., 2003; Yusuf & Wu, 2002). Hence, the aim of
this paper is to critically discuss the current globalization and
urbanization debates within the context of China. This article is
divided into three parts. The paper firstly seeks to examine the
theoretical controversy on globalization. The following section
discusses the political structure of China from an economic
globalization perspective. Finally, the paper examines the im-
pact of urbanization in China.
Since the millennium globalization has gained a “global cur-
rency circulating through complex networks formed by multi-
lateral institutions, broadcast, print and electronic media, aca-
demic exchange and the self-reflexive analysis” (Kelly, 1999: p.
380). Guttal (2007: p. 523) has noted that:
“The term ‘globalization’ is widely used to describe a va-
riety of economic, cultural, social, and political changes
that have shaped the world over the past 50-old years,
from the much celebrated revolution in information tech-
nology to the diminishing of national and geo-political
boundaries in an ever-expanding, transnational movement
of goods, services, and capital. The increasing homogeni-
sation of consumer tastes, the consolidation and expan-
sion of corporate power, sharp increases in wealth and
poverty, the ‘McDonaldisation’ of food and culture, and
the growing ubiquity of liberal democratic ideas are all, in
one way or another, attributed t o globalization.”
This new formulation of economic, political, social and cul-
tural processes has creating a new importance of the theorizing
of globalization. Held et al., (2002) have argued that these new
developments have modernized the globalization schools of
thought. The schools of thought in Held et al., (2002) are com-
prised of three theses: 1) Hyberglobalist; 2) Sceptic; and 3)
Transformationalist. Hyberglobalist hold the view that global-
ization has brought about a “denationalization” of economies.
Sceptics believe that globalization is a “myth” and therefore
sceptics rely on an economist conception of globalization. The
transformationalist thesis believes that globalization is a central
driving force behind the social, political and economic change
that is reshaping modern societies. It therefore could be argued
that China’s economic fortunes since 1978 is a transformation-
alist approach as Holscher et al., (2010: p. 214) notes economic
reform has developed “evolution from an inefficient planned
economy begun in 1978 and the trajectory of economic re-
The Political Structure of China
Unlike most States in the world today, the People’s Republic
of China (PRC) is dominated by a single Party, the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP). To the casual observer the CCP
seems to be a hierarchical structure, in which dissent from top
decisions is not tolerated. However, although decisions once
agreed must indeed be adhered to, within the CCP there are
conflicting views that are discussed prior to this decision mak-
ing, and there are structures within both the party and the gov-
ernment apparatus which are difficult to unravel, in that the
body which often seems to be the locus of power is not neces-
sarily so, while the posts which individuals hold may or may
not be indicative of their position in the power hierarchy. China
after all is a vast country; the CCP is a vast organization, com-
prising more than seventy-eight million members (as of end
2009); it is surely hardly surprising, therefore, that internal
differences exist within this entity. What may be more surpris-
ing, however, is that these differences can cut across logical
lines, such as age, locality of origin, or ideological leaning.
Writing some years ago Parker expressed the situation as “For
westerners, the crucial fact about Chinese politics is that no-one
understands them” (Parker, 1987: p. 20). We may strive to un-
derstand this internal complexity therefore, but need to recog-
nise that a wide range of factors affect CCP and PRC deci-
These factors include, inter alia, the history of the CCP, both
in terms of its internal development, and also the external in-
fluences upon it, legacies of this history including the Long
March, the different generations of Party cadres that have been
in power since the PRC was founded in 1949, the diverse per-
sonalities of CCP leaders, especially Mao Zedong and Deng
Xiaoping, who have come to dominate at different time periods,
and the relationship between the CCP, government structures
and the bureaucracy of a highly centralized state apparatus. For
example, schismatic tendencies arising from its historical de-
velopment include differential propensities to revolutionary
ideas exhibited in the contrasting locations where the party
evolved, such as Shanghai for example, where, perhaps due to
the stark inequalities which were found there in the inter-war
era, developed a particularly strong revolutionary conscious-
ness. In contrast, in the South of China there are often grumbles
that few local cadres are promoted to the top jobs in Beijing,
and the “emperor” would in that sense still seem to be “over the
hills and far away” as the old saw it. At times, therefore “split-
ism” within the CCP has a regional element, as members from
the same area come together and may even coalesce into fac-
Factions are likely to transcend such localism, however. A
favorite word in China is guanxi, which can be translated as
“connections”, “networks”, “reciprocal relationships”, “who
you know rather than what you know” taken together, and in a
country of 1300 million plus people such connections are
highly important. Guanxi might operate via localism, but it can
also operate within universities, within government depart-
ments, via chance contacts, and via patronage, via ideological
leanings, in an unceasing process of network building which
cuts across age, background and class, to an extent. Politics in
China, therefore, are often not simply left-right, or modernis-
ers-conservatives; they are more complex than that. There may
be for example “Reformers”, “Adjusters” and “Conservers”
within the party (Sollinger, 1993: p. 31), and although as Zhao
Ziyang once put it, there is “only one faction, the Marxists”,
schismatic tendencies are found, and these are extremely diffi-
cult to unravel. Finally, there is also fluidity in these alliances
and groups, so that coalescence or some fragmentation may
take place, depending on the issues of the day, and the power
which the faction can exert.
Then there are the formal structures, of both the Party and the
State. Although there are eight “democratic parties” in China, it
is the other party, the CPC which holds power:
“The Chinese Communist Party is the leading organ in
society. It sees itself as the vanguard of the proletariat and
its role is to lay down policy, which the state then imple-
ments” (Mackeras & Yorke, 1991: p. 59).
The highest body of the CCP is the “National Congress”
which meets on a regular basis every few years. The Congress
(of less than 2000 delegates of the full membership) elects the
“Central Committee” (numbered as per the Congress which
elects it, and currently of less than 200 full members, plus al-
ternates) which meets in a (numbered) “plenum”, on a roughly
annual basis. Thus one could have the 6th plenum of the 13th
Central Committee of the (13th) National Congress, for exam-
ple. The Central Committee in turn elects the “Political Bureau”
(“Politburo”) currently of 20 members and the “Standing Com-
mittee of the Politburo”, currently of 7 members. There is also a
secretariat, but “In reality, power lies within the Political Bu-
reau (Politburo), its Standing Committee, and, to a lesser extent
within the Secretariat” (Saich, 1995: p. 41). Other powerful
bodies are the “Military Commission” and the “Central Com-
mission for Discipline Inspection”, with the former supervising
the organizational links between the CCP and the PLA, and the
latter responsible for checking opposition to policies, corruption
and other abuses within the Party.
Parallel to this hierarchical structure, run via “democratic
centralism” are the organizations of the State. The “National
People’s Congress” (NPC) is elected every five years and con-
sists of several thousand members. It passes legislation and is
now meeting annually. It elects the “President”, currently Hu
Jintao, the “Standing Committee” and the “Central Military
Commission”, and elects or decides on recommendations for
such posts as the Premier (equivalent to the British Prime Min-
ister), now Wen Jiabao, elected in 2003. The Standing Com-
mittee has legislative power on behalf of the National People’s
Congress, while the “State Council” is the “executive organ” of
the NPC. Major cities—Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and
Tianjin—are run directly via the State Council, which thus
takes account of national needs and desires, not just or not even
the needs and desires of these cities themselves. Thus Shang-
hai’s economic development was restricted during the 1980s
because the city had to provide a higher rate of taxation to Cen-
tral Government, a policy that was eventually rescinded in
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 85
Shanghai’s favour in the 1990s.
It was Deng Xiaoping who famously led the drive towards
the Open Door Policy along with the Four Modernizations that
transformed China generally, and China’s urban economies
specifically. Following on from the political disaster of 1989
(Tiananmen), Deng’s famous South China tour, under armed
guard and at the advanced age of 88 years, gave the green light
once more to the economic reform policies, and meant that
from 1992 especially China’s cities would be transformed
(Cook, 1996; Cook & Murray, 2001). An important element of
this was that his tour ensured that not only would the reform
process be reinforced but that “it could never be reversed
(Sanders, 2007: p. 2). The CCP had a key role in this process,
as Deng’s immediate successor Jiang Zemin noted:
“The CCP continued to be the key to the success of
China’s reform. As long as the CCP represents advanced
forces of production, advanced culture, and the interests
of the people, it can overcome all difficulties and continue
to prevail. Jiang implied that with its “new blood”, the
CCP should be able to provide leadership and vision at a
time of unprecedented technological revolution and eco-
nomic globalization” (Li Cheng, 2001: p. 84).
Jiang’s modernizing influence, therefore, was focused on the
CPC itself, and he and others were influenced by Anthony
Giddens book, The Third Way, which sought to reposition the
UK’s Labour Party of Tony Blair as a centrist rather than so-
cialist project. There was even one call for the CCP to be re-
named the Chinese Social Democratic Party (Giddens, 1998, p.
85). This would be a step too far, at least for the near future, but
there is a strong drive to reenergise the CPC via a new genera-
tion of leaders, the fourth or even fifth generation, including
intellectuals with foreign experience, entrepreneurs and tech-
nocrats. The new generation of leaders led by Hu Jintao seem to
be more open to discussion of questions of poverty and ine-
qualities, although they still seem to take a similarly hard line
to Taiwan, for instance, as have previous CCP leaders. These
leaders are far more aware of the global dimension of economic
and political affairs, and it was as Vice-President in 2001 that
Hu Jintao called upon Chinese enterprises to “go global” a call
that has brought accelerated response since 2003 (Clegg, 2009:
p. 138).
Chinese Urbanization
The impact of urbanization in China has been propelled by
state policy. Lin (2002) has noted that when analyzing China’s
urbanization there are four distinct phases of expansion: 1)
initial growth of cities and urbanization (1949-1961); 2) reduc-
tion of cities and de-urbanization (1962-1965); 3) stagnation
and under-urbanization (1966-1977); and 4) accelerated growth
and rapid urbanization (1978 to present). The fourth expansion
has come about due to the impact of globalization within the
context of China’s economic reforms. According to Wu (2001:
p. 286) economic reforms in China have enabled local govern-
ment to promote local economic growth. Hence, local authori-
ties have the power to control an increased proportion of re-
sources and “As a result, urban policies have been re-oriented
towards pro-business development in a similar to those ob-
served in the West” (Wu, 2001: p. 286).
China for a long period of time has been perceived as an
economic superpower. The United States National Intelligence
(2012) Report has predicted that by “2030 China is likely to
have the world’s largest economy” (Jia, 2012: p. 13). With this
economic super power China’s urbanization expansion has
created new environmental and social challenges (Cook et al.,
2013a). Longan (2008) has noted that the last two decades have
created a culture of “haves” and “have nots” and that there is
growing awareness of social inequalities. Zhang X. and Zhang
K. H. (2003: p. 48) have noted that:
“It is virtually certain for China to become even more
important in the world economy in the future because of
its huge size, dynamic economic growth, continuing pol-
icy reforms, and specially its recent entry of the world
Trade Organization. Perhaps like other developing coun-
tries, China’s economic integration with the world has
been accompanied with growing regional inequality. Es-
pecially the income gap between coastal and inland areas
has risen dramatically since the mid-1980s… Commenta-
tors in China have expressed concern about regional ine-
quality and some even warned that further increases in re-
gional disparities might lead to China’s dissolution…”
It has been suggested by Wu (2007) that the reason why so-
cial inequality is seen to be problematic in urban China is di-
rectly linked to three major challenges: 1) deindustrialization
(redundancy of state employment); 2) the change in the labour
market and; 3) public policies (housing privatization and mini-
mum income support).
The combination of the factors noted earlier in this paper
meant that China’s major cities such as Beijing or Shanghai
have become international metropolises with thriving modern,
possibly even postmodern, urban economies. As noted above,
four of these cities—Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing
—are run directly by the Chinese State via the State Council.
This means for example that megaprojects within such cities,
including the Beijing Olympics of 2008, or the Shanghai Expo
of 2010, can readily be subsidised by Central Government
which can take a China-wide perspective and a direct control-
ling hand upon such international events. Economic growth in
such cities is such that, as an example, by 2008, Beijing’s GDP
was 1.05 trillion yuan (exchange rate is 10 yuan to the £ at pre-
sent) and the percentage of the primary industry, secondary
industry and tertiary industry was 1.08, 25.68, and 73.24 while
public green land per capita was 12.6 square meters, with a
green coverage rate of 40% (Gu & Cook, 2010). As these au-
thors note:
“Today, Beijing is one of the most exciting and dynamic
cities on earth. The transformation of Beijing from re-
cently being a rather drab, dull and austere production city,
albeit one with long historical roots, towards being a city
of hi-tech manufacturing, service provision and mass
consumption has been breathless in its speed and scope.”
Beijing moved from being a city that, under Mao Zedong,
was focused on industrial production with a focus on heavy
industries such as iron and steel production and petro-chemical
works, to one that, under Deng Xiaoping and his successors
developed a consumption ethos. The Reform Period began in
1978 and witnessed increasing criticisms of the emphasis on
industrial development, with Dong (1985) arguing that the city
was “poorly endowed for industrial development” (Dong, 1985,
p. 73) and yet was “rich in cultural resources” the city therefore:
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
“should concentrate on expanding its role as the nation’s
administrative centre. It should develop also as a centre of
scientific research, education, cultural activities and tour-
ism. A few industries should be permitted, but only those
which do not consume large amounts of water or create
pollution” (Dong, 1985: p. 75).
Such ideas gradually gained the upper hand, but Tiananmen
in 1989 was a major setback, and it was not until 1992 follow-
ing Deng’s famous tour of South China in which he called for
an acceleration of his “Open Door” programme (Cook &
Murray, 2001), that Beijing was set to become a modern com-
modity economy which combined planning guidelines and a
market system. Investments began to flow in, initially from
Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Overseas Chinese in Singapore, and
then increasingly from Europe, the US and elsewhere. Hotels,
offices, shopping malls, housing developments, and cultural
and exhibition centres were built, but this construction drive has
resulted in tension between new build and conservation of the
ancient Hutong areas (C oo k et al., 2013b).
In recent years, value added hi-tech manufacturing has be-
come more significant (Wu, 2007: p. 18) for instance in
Zhongguancun 中關村 Science Park, where Microsoft, Nokia
and other such hi-tech companies are located in China’s “Sili-
con Valley”. One attraction for these companies is that highly
skilled Chinese labour is available from the universities, but far
cheaper than in California or Seattle (Cook, 2006). Such de-
velopments were coordinated under a new Beijing Master Plan
that was drawn up by the State Council for the 1991-2010 pe-
riod (Zhang, 1991). Foreign investment and international coop-
eration was crucial to fund the rapid growth that the plan en-
visaged. Zhongguancun was the first of a series of “special
zones” that actually dates back as far as 1988 when Beijing
New Technology Industrial Development Experimental Zone
was established in the Haidian 海淀 district, to the North West
of the city, where a number of China’s key universities were
found. Today, the scale of these developments is such that an
amazing 60 percent of Beijing’s GDP derives from here. This is
due to there being over 7000 companies concentrated in the
zone that are involved principally in the information processing,
pharmaceutical research, and the medical sector, supported by
the facilities and personnel of 68 universities and 230 inde-
pendent research institutions, which fund and support 36% of
the entire nation’s researchers (Gu & Cook, 2011).
Breathtaking though the scale of these developments may be,
a similar type of zone was also established at the opposite end
of Beijing, in the South East. The Beijing Technological and
Economic Development Area (BDA) is situated in the “e-town”
of Yizhuang and was begun in 1992. The “e-town” element was
launched by the Beijing Municipal Government in 2007 as part
of a long-term strategy from 2005-2020. According to Gu &
Cook (2011: p. 115):
“The development of a number of industrial clusters has
been vigorously promoted at BDA. These include an ICT
industrial cluster (with Nokia), an electronic industrial
cluster, a medical equipment industrial cluster, a bio-
pharmaceutical industrial cluster (with Bayer) and an auto
industrial cluster (with Mercedes-Benz-Daimler Chrysler).
More than 2000 enterprises from thirty countries and re-
gions all over the world have established themselves at
BDA with total investments exceeding US $15 billion
dollars, over seventy percent of which are investments by
foreign-invested enterpr ises.”
In contrast to these examples of the expansion of techno-
logical and scientific zones, heading in the opposite direction, is
the reduction of the Capital Iron and Steel Works (Shijingshan
石景山) which at one time in the early 1990s was the largest in
China, with an output of 8.24 million tons (Gu & Cook, 2011).
Partly due to the need to reduce pollution at the Olympic
Games of 2008, and partly due to moves towards resolution of
the debates as to the appropriate emphasis for Beijing’s urban
economy, this plant is being gradually relocated out of the city
over 5 years to Caofeidian, Tangshan Ci ty, Hebei Pr o vince. The
replacement activity in the site will have a considerably differ-
ent emphasis with the development of recreation centres, busi-
ness exhibition and innovative industries including Cinema 4D
Shijingshan Amusement Park, Long Yang seawater swimming
pool, the International Sculpture Park, and Ground Floor En-
tertainment City. This new more recreational and cultural em-
phasis is also found in other parts of the city, including the
recolonisation of the 798 Factory Complex (a gift to the city
from East Germany in 1956) from 2002 by large numbers of
artists, writers, musicians and others. As Gu and Cook (2011: p.
115-116) note:
Artists of all sorts began occupying the available spaces,
the area was enlivened by the opening of the first bars and
restaurants, and the former factory became a hotbed of
ideas and culture. A modern Museum of Film was estab-
lished in 2006 and the Belgian Ullen’s Centre for Con-
temporary Art was set up in 2007 with over 6000 square
meters of land for development. This new ‘Artist Village’
has quickly become known internationally as an avant-
garde cultural centre.”
Such a cultural development is similar to those across the
globe, in cities such as Vancouver, Liverpool and London for
example. But the biggest cultural economic event in Beijing in
recent years is of course the Olympics of 2008. As Cook (2007)
notes, the city bid unsuccessfully for the Olympics in the early
1990s, but the successful bid of 2001 reflected the opening up
of the city, including major infrastructural improvements since
then, as well as a psychological distantiation from Tiananmen.
As Cook notes, there were worries before the Games concern-
ing a range of issues including human rights, air pollution,
housing demolition and other matters. In the event, the Games
were a huge success, although certain issues still remain (Cook
& Miles, 2011). International architects as well as the likes of
Ai Weiwei who had lived in the US for a decade before return-
ing to his home country of China combined to build stunning
structures such as the Bird’s Nest stadium or the National
Aquatics Centre or “Water Cube” in the Olympic Village site
that is now becoming a major tourist attraction. In a nutshell:
“The physical impact of the Games is clear in terms of the
massive programme of building work and infrastructural
improvements… [but there is]… a broader concern that
the primary long-term impact of the Olympic Games is to
redefine Beijing as a space for consumption so that the
Olympic Green area in particular becomes a glitzy space
for privatized public pleasures” (Cook & Miles, 2011: p.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 87
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
This paper has examined the complex relationship of global-
ization and the impact of this on Chinese urbanization. At the
centre of this complex relationship are the political structure
and the influence that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has
on globalization and urbanization. In this paper the authors
have argued that China’s globalization school of thought is
transformationalist due to the economic reform developed since
1978. However this impact of economic globalization within
the context of urbanization in Chinese cities has brought scru-
tiny in terms of the impacts on society. The most notable
change in society is the increasing levels of inequality in Chi-
nese cities. One significant change is the level of urban invest-
ment and the fundamental impact that this has on cities it terms
of education, employment and housing. However the most no-
table change in society is the increasing level of inequality in
Chinese cities.
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