China’s Puzzle Game: Four Spatial Shifts of Development



The Chinese policy makers should be perhaps the best chess players for they have been entitled to set up regional development priorities for different regions at different times. Mao Zedong and the founders of the PRC could directly move any chessman without much hesitation under the centrally planned economy of 1949-76. Deng Xiaoping made every move of his chessmen using two hands. His visible hand, like Mao’s, was the central control mechanism; the other was his invisible hand — the market mechanism. Deng gradually introduced a market economic system into China but his visible hand guaranteed that every move of the chessmen was accomplished, because of his seniority and reputation in the CCP and powerful personality. This may be the beauty of a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics. Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin, has a weak visible hand and a strong invisible hand. After over 20 years of economic reform and political change, local governments have tasted the benefits of freedom and autonomy and frequently bargain with the central government. The current political system does not allow Jiang directly to intervene in too many economic development issues. He has to use market forces to fulfil his regional development goals. However, for these three generations of Chinese leaders, it matters less whether the hand is visible or invisible, than that it translates their ideas about strategic regional development into action.


Western Region Spatial Shift Special Economic Zone Yangtze River Front Project 
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© Michael Webber, Mark Wang and Zhu Ying 2002

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