China’s Cities’ Subprojects

Faculty fellows and research assistants of the ISS’ collaborative project on China’s cities have begun research on diverse aspects of the economic, political, and social phenomena at play in China’s urbanization. 

How Domestic Urban Unrest Affects Commerce

Jeremy Wallace, Government; Panle Barwick, Economics; Eli Friedman, ILR; Shanjun Li, Dyson School; Jessica Weiss, Government; Yiding Ma, RA, Dyson School

This project examines how domestic urban unrest affects commerce, specifically how anti-foreign demonstrations and labor strikes change consumer decisions. The article looks at a couple moments in particular, 2010 strikes and 2012 demonstrations, to show related changes in car registrations (2009-2013).


The Impact of Urban Air Pollution on Health: Evidence from Health Spending in China

Shanjun Li, Dyson School; Panle Barwick, Economics; Deyu Rao, RA, Dyson School

The project aims to examine the impact of urban air pollution on human health based on comprehensive credit/debit card transaction data on consumer spending in urban China. The causes and consequences of air pollution in urban China have been at the forefront of public and academic discussion. There exists a rich literature from epidemiology and economics that quantify the mortality and morbidity effects of air pollution where researchers estimate the dose-response function (e.g., mortality as a function of pollution level) by relying on variations that mimic a controlled environment. However, the impacts on health spending to remediate the health consequences have been largely ignore in the literature. Health spending could be a significant part of overall impacts of air pollution.


Industrial Policy, Excess Capacity, and Fragmentation: China’s Shipbuilding Industry

Panle Barwick, Economics; Myrto Kalouptsidi, Economics, Harvard University; Nahim Zahur, RA, Economics

Industrial policies, broadly defined as policies that aim at affecting a country or region’s industry structure by either promoting or limiting certain industries or sectors, have been widely used in developed and developing countries. As Dani Rodrik puts it, “The real question about industrial policy is not whether it should be practiced, but how.” Despite the importance of these often large-scale policies, there are relatively few empirical evaluations of these policies, largely because of high data requirements. In “Industrial Policy, Excess Capacity, and Fragmentation: China’s Shipbuilding Industry,” Barwick combines novel and comprehensive data on the world’s shipbuilding industry, focusing on China, Japan, and South Korea, to study how China developed its shipbuilding industry to become the world’s largest in under a decade. Our analysis delivers three main findings. First, like several other policies unleashed by the central government in the first decades of the 21st century, the scale of the shipbuilding policy is unprecedented. Our conservative estimates suggest that the policy support is equivalent to $1.5 bn from 2006 to 2008 alone. Second, the policy attracted a large number of inefficient producers, exacerbated excess capacity, and does not directly translate into higher industry profit over the long run. Lastly, these policies have significant distributional impacts and benefit large SOEs at the expense of other types of firms including foreign firms.


Integrating Migrants in the Chinese City: The Role of Urban and Rural Institutions

Christine Wen, City and Regional Planning

This project examines the institutional integration of rural-urban migrants, focusing on the comparisons and relations among different scales of developmental landscapes in Guizhou, China: large and small cities, peri-urban areas, and towns – supported with complementary insights from migrant-sourcing rural areas. Through policy analysis and site-based fieldwork of over 70 intensive interviews with migrants, educators, and policymakers conducted over two summers in 2016-2017, this research parses migration and development – “where planning meets the unplannable” – in one of China’s least developed provinces.


Labor Migration, Education, and Citizenship in Urban China

Eli Friedman, International and Comparative Labor, ILR

This research asks how rural to urban migrants are integrated into China’s cities. In contrast to existing studies that focus on forms of social exclusion, I am interested in how the urban state manages contradictory impulses to both pull in migrants as labor, but expel them as full social beings. An analysis of social reproduction, specifically primary schooling, is a key site in which these tensions are revealed. The research is qualitative in nature, and primarily based on ethnographic observation and semi-structured interviews.


Labor Politics in China’s Urban Services

Eli Friedman, International and Comparative Labor, ILR; Hao Zhang, RA, ILR School

The overwhelming majority of research on labor issues in China has focused on manufacturing. As China shifts to urbanization-led development and increasing service sector employment, we aim to reorient this focus. Our empirically grounded research explores various labor issues in China’s sanitation and taxi industries, including employment practices, strikes, informal work, and collective bargaining. With regards to taxi drivers, we investigate both traditional drivers as well as those working for platform-based companies such as Uber and Didi Chuxing.


Nationalism and Nativism: Varieties of Other in China

Jessica Weiss, Government; Jeremy Wallace, Government; Lincoln Hines, RA, Government

Observers of Chinese politics have become inured to the frequent incantation that the regime’s legitimacy rests on a combination of strong economic performance and nationalism. Yet strong economic growth in China has been accompanied by rising divisions—between rural and urban, migrants and locals, and ethnic minorities and Han. Do nationalist appeals increase domestic unity—reducing individual perceptions of internal divisions?


The Political and Economic Consequences of Nationalist Protest in China: Repercussions of the 2012 Anti-Japanese Demonstrations

Kevin Foley, graduate student, Government; Jessica Chen Weiss, Government; Jeremy Wallace, Government

Nationalism is a powerful political force, and nationalist protests dominate headlines when they occur. This project examines the political and economic consequences of these kinds of protests, evaluating whether they change the careers and economies of those that oversee them.  Kevin Foley, Jessica Weiss, and Jeremy Wallace show significant political and economic consequences for Chinese cities that saw anti-Japanese demonstrations in 2012. Political leaders who ran cities with early protests were promoted at lower rates than their colleagues, and their cities received lower levels of foreign direct involvement.


Shrinking Cities in Urbanized China: Geographic Diversity of State Rescaling

Xu Yuanshuo, RA, City & Regional Planning; Jeremy Wallace, Government;

Shrinking cities are now considered as one of the most critical challenges in planning. Although empirical data has started to show the evidence of various types of shrinking cities in rapid urbanized China, decision makers and city planners are still accustomed to the urban growth paradigm. Thus, this project aims to fill the gap in understanding about these shrinking cities in China, particularly focusing on the impacts of state rescaling process on local government developmental practices. The multilevel perspective on state policies will provide a framework for context-specific urban theory as well as practical planning solutions to shrinking localities.


Slums Amidst Ghost Cities: Incentive and Information Problems in China’s Urbanization

Jeremy Wallace, Government; Xu Yuanshuo, RA, City & Regional Planning

Why are ghost cities and slums simultaneously emerging in China? Areas of systematic over-provision of infrastructure and urban services—often referred to as ghost cities—and corresponding areas of under-provision—slums—are both increasingly common. This paper uses Chinese census, fiscal, and satellite imagery to parse these puzzling patterns.


The Welfare Effects of Passenger Transportation Infrastructure: Evidence from China’s HSR Network 

Panle Jia Barwick, Economics; Shanjun Li, Dyson School; Nahim Zahur, RA, Economics Department

Enormous amount of public resources are dedicated to the construction and maintenance of the passenger transportation infrastructure systems all over the world. For example, China invested $300 billion from 2011 to 2015 on building its High Speed Railway System (HSR), the largest in the world. Understanding the economic value of passenger trips, especially those across cities, is an essential input into any evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of passenger transportation projects and determining the best allocation of resources across space and modes of transportation. In “The Welfare Effects of Passenger Transportation Infrastructure: Evidence from China’s HSR Network”, Barwick and Li study the welfare effect of China’s HSR expansion by leveraging on the universe of Chinese consumers’ credit and debit card transactions and constructing high-frequency city-to-city bilateral passenger flows. We find that a direct HSR connection between two city leads to a 35% increase in the number of bilateral trips and a 28% increase in bilateral card transaction value. Our results suggest that the welfare gains from China’s HSR expansion is extremely large, about 1-2% of its GDP.