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Peri-Urbanization in Chengdu, Western China: From "Third Line" to Market Dynamics

Working Paper

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Shorenstein APARC, page(s): 76

May 2004 (Revised)

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Peri-urbanization in the Chengdu extended urban region is the subject of this discussion paper. Characteristics of peri-urbanization processes in East Asia in general, and China in particular, have been described in previous outputs of the Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) and Institute of Geographical Science and Natural Resource Research (IGSNRR) research team. In a nutshell, peri-urbanization refers to the dynamic process of physical and socioeconomic change beyond the contiguously built-up areas of large cities. In East Asia, the process is usually driven by investment (foreign and domestic) in manufacturing. Development in the Chengdu peri-urban region (and in Chongqing) has taken a very different route to date than in coastal China, the subject of previous research by our Urban Dynamics of East Asia Project.

The Chengdu region, in the past, has been shaped to a greater extent by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and explicit national spatial policy than has the coastal region. It has been significantly influenced by the "Third Line" development program, which Mao Zedong initiated in the 1960s to protect industries strategic to national defense by locating them in interior western China. Starting in the late 1970s, the movement of "Third Line" firms from extremely remote locations to more central locations drove the development of the ring of peri-urban satellite cities around Chengdu. Unlike other western Chinese cities, the Chengdu peri-urban region was the location of considerable Township and Village Enterprise (TVE) development for a twenty-year period, also beginning in the late 1970s. However, over time, market forces have become the dominant force shaping the development of Chengdu, not unlike coastal cities, albeit with a lag effect.

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