TROPICAL GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (1): 1-10.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003104

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The Growth and Shrinkage of China’s Rapidly Urbanizing Areas from the Perspective of Property Rights: A Case Study of Dongguan

Li Xun1a,b, Li Xianfeng1a,2 and Deng Jiayi1a   

  1. (1. a. School of Geography Science and Planning; b. Urbanization Institute, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China; 2. The North University for Ethnics, North Minzu University, Yinchuan 750021, China)
  • Received:2018-11-15 Revised:2018-12-20 Online:2019-01-05 Published:2019-01-05


With the spread of globalization, the phenomenon of growth and shrinkage in rapidly urbanizing areas has become an international topic in the study of regional development and transformation. Following the reform and opening up of China, rapid urbanization spread through the Pearl River Delta, promoted by external capital and cheap labor. At the same time, a large number of “Desakota” regions appeared, featuring different types of property rights. However, the financial crisis had a huge impact on urban development in 2008. The differences in the property rights of the regions meant that renewal policies followed different paths, so that a new spatial phenomenon occurred in which growth and shrinkage coexisted. In light of this, our research will start from the special conditions of regional urbanization, combined with the system of binary land property rights between city and rural areas, to explore the intrinsic features of Desakota regions in the Pearl River Delta and propose an analytical framework for understanding growth and shrinkage. The post–financial crisis era saw great differences between state-owned land and collective-owned land in their matched-degree with national industrial policies, leading to completely different development opportunities for different regions. In fact, the phenomenon of centralized and decentralized urban-rural integration (Desakota), which happened in the vast rural areas of the Pearl River Delta, was the result of the endogenous system of binary land property rights between city and rural areas. After the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008, the Chinese government’s macro-control policies underwent major adjustments, and the country’s fiscal and industrial policies have begun to shift. State-owned land with a single property rights structure has become a key area for local renewal and transformation due to its low-cost advantage. It provides space for the entry of new industries through functional replacement and promotes regional economic transformation and development. At the same time, due to the dispersive land property and small scale, the long-term accumulation of small property collective land leads to higher transaction costs and difficulty in large-scale production activities. Consequently, transformation and renewal are difficult to achieve. The difference in regional property rights structure and difficulty of renewal has led to a new spatial pattern in which both growth and shrinkage coexist. This empirical analysis takes Dongguan as an example and tries to overcome the limitations of traditional social and economic indicators. Innovatively, it uses NPP-VIIRS nighttime lighting data to explore visually the spatial distribution characteristics of growth and shrinkage in Dongguan. Combining this case study with those of typical regions, we analyze the mechanism of different types of development inside the regions from the perspective of property rights. We find that land is the essential factor determining the direction of regional development. The growing areas of Dongguan are mainly concentrated in ports, cross-border areas, and key areas supported by national policies, which have clear property rights and a single structure. In addition, the shrinking areas often occur in mixed areas of industrial parks and urban villages, which have relatively dispersive property rights. This study provides a good sample for the development of rapidly urbanizing areas in the post-financial crisis era. Local governments should focus on the regional property rights structure in the process of decision making and should adapt to local conditions and adopt different policies to promote regional development.

Key words: growth and shrinkage, desakota, structure of property rights, the Pearl River Delta, Dongguan City