Urban-Rural Relations in China : A Study of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Metropolitan Region

Abstract: Over three decades of rapid economic growth in China, beginning in 1978, has been accompanied by ever-enlarging urban-rural inequalities in terms of the various aspects of income, welfare, infrastructure, medical treatment, and education (amongst others). These two parts – the urban and the rural - have long been treated separately, without much consideration being given to their mutual linkages (relations). Urban and rural development can, essentially, be interpreted as the deployment of key factors (terms of trade for agricultural products, land requisition, and labor transfer), and the supply of public goods and services (infrastructure, education, insurance, and medical care). Thus, the urban-rural inequalities experienced by China at present can be understood as the consequence of the factor flows (labor, capital, goods, information, and technology, etc.) and agglomeration between these two parts. This thesis aims to investigate urban-rural relations in China in the post-reform era, and their influences on the economic, social, and environmental development in both the urban and the rural areas. The thesis consists of five papers and the cover essay. The first two papers provide a detailed picture of urban-rural relations in China, while the other papers examine the impact of urban-rural relations in terms of population mobility, arable and built land use change, and regional economic inequality in the study area. The findings of the thesis reveal that urban-rural relations in China became gradually intensified in the post-reform era, especially when the central government initiated a shift from a situation of urban bias to comprehensive support for the rural areas. However, the mutual resource flows in the study area still tend to agglomerate in the urban districts, while only reaching the rural peripheries to a limited extent. This is demonstrated in the way in which the urban districts experienced fast and large scale demographic growth and land use change, while slow and small-scale demographic and land use change took place in the peripheries. The urban-rural interface, which is situated between the urban and rural areas, evidences medium-level resource agglomeration. This thesis, through the discussion which it sets out, emphasizes the necessity of exercising both political and market forces in order to achieve balanced urban-rural resource flows in China. Another implication for policy making is to develop more sub-centers at the peri-urban or periphery, making these areas the interface for urban-rural resource linkages.