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Progress in Human Geography
The online version of this article can be found at:

DOI: 10.1177/030913250102500334
2001 25: 517 Prog Hum Geogr
C. Cindy Fan
The political economy of uneven development: the case of China

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which focus more on structural inequalities of
access to resources, institutions and power in its
myriad scales, forms and relationships (in
markets, for example); and, third, alternative
arguments in which environmental protection
and authentic development depend on
grassroots communities asserting local
autonomy, usually against the predations of
global capitalism. Veron is concerned specifi-
cally with how the market is viewed within each
of these three broad approaches, in order to see
whether these positions stand up to scrutiny in
later analyses. He argues that such an exercise
must rely on examining real rather than
abstract markets. Thus he draws upon new
institutionalist ideas of formal and informal
regulations, transaction costs, market imperfec-
tions, trust, social embedding and locality.
These theoretical issues are outlined with some
clarity, offering a brief but useful analysis of the
different ways in which sustainable
development is envisaged (both as a process
and a goal) within the different approaches.
After a discussion of his field methods and an
outline of the history of developmental, envi-
ronmental and agricultural change in Kerala,
these debates are pursued through two detailed
case studies pineapple and cashew nut
cultivation. The fact these were researched
during an extended PhD fieldwork period gives
the study a precision and depth that are
sometimes missing in discussions of sustainable
development which can so easily be mired in
unhelpful generalities. Veron essentially
underscores the necessity of engaging with the
complex diversity of environmental and devel-
opmental realities, and the limitations of
imposing singular theories of cause and effect in
order to understand or prescribe action in this
field. Through his analysis of social, environ-
mental, geographical and crop market
dynamics, Veron demonstrates that neither free
trade (or how this is actually manifested in real
markets) nor a radical or alternative-based
withdrawal from the market are necessarily
beneficial for the farmer or for the environment.
The changing local, regional, national and inter-
national markets for pineapples and cashews
have had different impacts between farmers,
crops and regions, with better and worse
outcomes for the environment and sustainabili-
ty under changing agricultural practices. Crop
market signals are influenced and distorted by
a whole range of factors, and there is no simple
relationship between prices (of inputs or
produce) and output. Neither is entry into the
market always and everywhere exploitative of
the environment or the farmers, but can be
enabling and positive.
Veron suggests that a combination of
appropriate regulation and consumer pressure
has the most potential to direct agricultural
producers to apply more sustainable practices
while continuing to provide a decent livelihood.
What is appropriate can and will vary between
crops, times and places, and there are sometimes
trade-offs that must be made between socio-
economic development and environmental sus-
tainability. Veron also notes that small farmers
are rarely motivated by any pure concern for
the environment, and education and incentives
are important needs in this respect. The books
strengths lies in its concise exposition of the
main theoretical positions in relation to markets
and sustainable development (which are clear
enough for undergraduate teaching) and the
rich understanding of the empirical context,
which is of interest to more advanced
Emma Mawdsley
Durham University
Wang, S. and Hu, A. 1999: The political economy
of uneven development: the case of China.
Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. xii + 267 pp.
US$65.95 cloth. ISBN: 0 7656 0203 2.
This is a book about the changes of regional
inequality in China and the reasons for these
changes during the reform years. It is an enthu-
siastic and analytical essay that aims at driving
home one observation that regional disparity
in China is large, alarming and fully fledged
and one argument that the sharp increase in
regional disparity was mainly due to the central
governments development philosophy and
policy instruments. Wang and Hu challenge the
notion that market forces will eventually reduce
regional inequality, and advocate instead active
intervention by the central government in order
to mitigate the rise in regional inequality and
alleviate the political and social costs that
accompany it.
Policy matters, state preference matters and
state capacity matters (pp. 204206)
summarize the overall message Wang and Hu
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518 Book reviews
send in this book. It is a powerful message
because it is backed by rich and multifaceted
data, careful analyses and systematic interpreta-
tions and organized presentations. It is a
refreshing message because of the increasing
role of market forces and apparently receding
role of the central government in China. It is a
relevant message to all who are interested in
issues of regional development, and is
especially challenging to those who subscribe to
neoclassical logic and market fetishism (p. 210)
and to leaders in the Chinese economy and
politics. Most importantly, Wang and Hu show
convincingly that market systems do not
operate in a vacuum but are socially embedded
and politically constructed (p. 204), that
economic determinism (p. 35) is flawed and
that Chinas institutions and political economy
are the most crucial determinants of the changes
in regional inequality in that nation. By political
economy, they refer mainly to the role,
preference, policies and clout of the central
government and, to a lesser extent, to the
interests of provincial and local governments.
The book begins by summarizing the debates
about regional inequality whether it has
increased or decreased; whether it is primarily
due to market forces or policy and institutional
changes; whether it is too excessive; and what
the government should do about it. The rest of
the book is organized in such a way that Wang
and Hu can address these issues independently
and in relation to one another. In Chapter 2, they
describe the convergence hypothesis, the
inverted-U curve hypothesis, along with the
neoclassical logic and cumulative causation
and unbalanced growth theories. Wang and
Hu argue that, despite these theories popularity
in China, they are based on assumptions that
ignore the critical role of government interven-
tion in facilitating or constraining factor inputs
and mobility.
Chapter 3 is an empirical chapter that focuses
on assessing the level of regional disparity of
GDP per capita in China. By measuring both
absolute and relative levels of dispersion, the
authors conclude that regional inequality in
China increased between 1978 and 1994 and that
it is among the most severe in the world. In
addition, they examine intercounty disparity in
Guizhou and Guangdong, and report results
from two small surveys on perceived regional
inequality. In Chapter 5, they extend the analysis
to three sets of measures resource endowment,
economic structure and human well-being.
Here, they examine a variety of ways in which
provinces and regions differ, such as physical
geography, structure of production, structure of
ownership, urbanization, education, technologi-
cal personnel and health. Not only do they show
that regional inequality is a multidimensional
phenomenon (p. 129), they also demonstrate
that output measured by GDP is highly
correlated with the many other dimensions that
define the economic and social development of
provinces and regions.
Having established the utility of output as a
summary measure of regional development, in
Chapter 5 Wang and Hu decompose the sources
of output growth. Using the growth accounting
method, they show that the sharp increase in
capital stock was the most important source of
provincial-level output growth. They then
examine the sources of capital accumulation,
namely, local savings, foreign capital and inter-
regional capital movements. In Chapter 6, they
scrutinize the two crucial roles of the central
government its preference in regional policy
and its capability as a redistributive agent both
having to do with capital accumulation. The
locational bias of regional policy, epitomized by
the gradient theory and the extensive preferen-
tial treatments coastal provinces enjoy,
underscores Wang and Hus argument that
increase in regional disparity in the 1980s was a
deliberate policy of the central government. By
the 1990s, they observe, fiscal decentralization
had eroded the central governments extractive
capacity and its capability to transfer revenues
from rich provinces to poor provinces, retarding
interprovincial capital flows and further
widening the gap between coastal and interior
The concluding chapter stresses the urgency
of the regional inequality question. The authors
warn of possible political ramifications of rising
inequality, including separatist tendencies and
the socialist systems legitimacy crisis. They
advocate that actions be taken to empower the
central government so that it can once again
play a redistributive role, enable the poor
regions to achieve long-term development and
eliminate policy preferences in coastal regions.
This book is empirically and analytically rich.
The main arguments are supported by detailed
and well selected data that are effectively
displayed in many tables and graphs. Wang and
Hu are particularly meticulous in showing
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temporal and statistical relationships between
important measures. One example is the
weakening relationship between GDP per capita
and the revenue to GDP ratio (p. 188), which
exemplifies the importance of extra-budgetary
funds in rich provinces and for explaining these
provinces dwindling revenue remittances to
central coffers. The statistical methods selected
are straightforward and easy to understand. The
authors are not only concerned with getting the
facts right, but are also effective in revealing the
multiple and complex forces behind the facts.
For example, after establishing capital accumu-
lation as an important reason for regional
inequality, they go on to examine the factors that
explain regional variations of local capital,
foreign capital and capital movements. This
step-by-step approach results in a no-nonsense
and highly organized volume.
Wang and Hus message that the central
government matters is loud and clear, and this
book will surely draw attention from scholars
and policy-makers not only to the issue of
regional inequality but also to reassessing the
role of the state in regional development. One
drawback of the book is its scant attention to
ruralurban and intraprovincial inequalities,
which, as the authors acknowledge, are
probably more severe than interprovincial
inequality. All in all, however, this book is more
comprehensive and more informative than most
volumes on related topics and is an important
contribution to the scholarship on Chinas
regional development.
C. Cindy Fan
University of California, Los Angeles
Whitman, J., editor, 2000: Migrants, citizens and
the state in southern Africa. London: Macmillan.
xv + 286 pp. 55.00 cloth. ISBN: 0 333 79310 2.
In recent years, southern Africa has experienced
relative peace and stability despite enormous
political, economic and sociocultural transfor-
mations. Nevertheless, the structures and
dynamics that have historically shaped the
region have altered little, and old issues are still
of major concern in the region. In particular, the
relationships between migration, citizenship
and statehood remain of utmost importance to
both academics and policy-makers, and provide
a context for this collection (a product of a year-
long collaboration by members of the Southern
Ethnicity Team within the Global Security
Fellows Initiative at Cambridge University). The
contributors to this volume are southern African
scholars (geographers and political scientists)
and professionals (social and aid workers,
healthcare professionals and development
planners) concerned with issues of migration,
citizenship and statehood in southern Africa,
and the challenges to state and regional stability
posed by movements of people.
The book has two objectives, which are
explained in the Introduction (Reitzes) and
reviewed in the concluding chapter (Reitzes, du
Pisani, Chokuwenga and Matlapeng): first, to
reconceptualize the nature of population and
migration dynamics in southern Africa in terms
of the historical, political, economic, social and
cultural specificity of the regional context; and,
secondly, to engage policy actors and
researchers by suggesting a diverse range of
policy options and raising problematic issues for
consideration, debate and research. It is
organized into 12 chapters, which deal with four
concerns. The first is the context of population
and migration dynamics within the region. This
is examined in the first three chapters, which
explore the historical legacies of apartheid and
colonialism on present concerns (du Pisani);
population and migration in the broader context
of development (Shoeman); and the context of
human rights debates and the legal instruments
affecting migrants (du Pisani and Shoeman).
Together, these chapters provide a useful and
comprehensive review of theoretical debates
and raise several issues that inform subsequent
The second concern of the book is with
conceptual and methodological issues. A
number of the subsequent chapters reflect
methodological and conceptual concerns, both
implicitly and explicitly, and three chapters are
specifically concerned with these issues. They
are organized around conceptualizations of
state, sovereignty and citizenship in southern
Africa (Reitzes), uneven development and
migration in South Africa (Tsheola), and transre-
gional governance and regime formation,
focusing on the Southern African Development
Community (du Pisani, Herbert). Conceptual
and methodological issues also inform those
chapters that form the third concern of the book
issues relating to particular groups. These
include transboundary migrants (Sabela
Book reviews 519
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