IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 17 | Regions |East Asia

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Recent Advances in Researching China's Provinces

It seems self-evident that Chinese provinces, with their large populations and considerable economic wealth, would attract the attention of scholars involved in China Studies. The area of central-local relations has become a favoured topic among Sinologists, particularly with the devolution of power in the post-Mao period and the increase in the scope and intensity of bargaining between the centre and provinces in such areas as fiscal and foreign trade policy. However, the study of provinces in and for themselves has been somewhat neglected.

By Keith Forster


Until recently, research tended to concentrate either on the national (macro-level) or the micro-level of village or danwei (work unit) studies. In the 1970s there was an abortive attempt in the United States to carry out a systematic study of China's provinces, but this failed partly due to the lack of available data. One factor behind the flourishing (and, for the author, most gratifying) state of affairs today is that scholars of provincial China face exactly the opposite problem to that which saw the 1970s project collapse. The question now is how to handle the flood of material which continues to pour off the Chinese printing presses.

The challenge to describe and explain what has been happening in China's provinces was taken up by Professor Goodman, Director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, who since 1995 has organized a series of workshops in different Chinese cities around the theme of Reform in Provincial China. The first volume of papers was published 1997, a second volume will appear this year. In 1997 David Goodman built on the success of the workshops to launch a new journal Provincial China: research, news, analysis, and in 1998 a Centre for Research into Provincial China was established in Sydney under the joint sponsorship of UTS and the University of New South Wales. The Centre is sponsoring a series of provincial monographs around the theme of reform, to be published jointly by Wild Peony Press (Sydney) and the University of Hawai'i Press.
The first task has been to describe and analyse provincial economic and social development during the period of reform, and to identify key source material to enable this to be carried out. Provincial China has published key provincial economic and social indicators, and bibliographies concerning Guangdong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang provinces. Some of the issues which have emerged from the China workshops include the nature and characteristics of provincial culture and identity, the variations in sub-provincial economic and social development, and the re-emergence of pre-revolutionary patterns of social, economic and political organization and behaviour. Future research will elucidate and develop these themes.

Some recent publications on Provincial China:

Peter Cheung, Jae Ho Chung and Lin Zhimin (eds), Provincial Strategies of Economic Reform in Post-Mao China: Leadership, Politics, and Implementation (NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998).
Keith Forster, Zhejiang in Reform (Wild Peony Press and University of Hawaii Press: Sydney and Honolulu, forthcoming 1998).
Hans Hendrischke and Feng Chongyi (eds), The Political Economy of China's Provinces: Competitive and Comparative Advantage (London: Routledge, 1998).

Keith Forster is attached to the Southern Cross University.

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 17 | Regions |East Asia