Zhejiang Province in Reform, by Keith Forster

Since the beginning of the 1990s a real regional analysis
of the Chinese world has gradually emerged in Western research centres. Thus certain
provinces such as Guangdong and Fujian, or municipalities such as Shanghai, Beijing
and Tianjin, have been the subject of collections of papers published by the Oxford
University Press. Keith Forster’s study of Zhejiang province is part of this
development and shows once again the dynamism of Australian research in this area,
already demonstrated by the Sydney-based journal Provincial China. Commissioned
by the Centre for Research into the Chinese Provinces, which brings together the
University of New South Wales and Sydney Technological University, this study
is the first of a regional series soon to be published on the provinces of Liaoning,
Shaanxi, Jiangsu and Shanxi. Keith Forster, who is undoubtedly one of the leading
experts on Zhejiang, brings us a tightly packed study centred on the economic
changes in this coastal province. His information comes mainly from a close reading
of the local press and from regional statistical yearbooks.

He analyses in great detail the performance of the regional
development model, mostly based on the success of small light industry companies
spread out in rural areas with strong parochial identities. He nonetheless also
emphasises the limitations of this development and has no hesitation in emphasising
that “a change in the means of growth is necessary” (p 140)—because
of overly marked growth cycles, excessive specialisation in low technology industries
employing an under-qualified labour force, lack of openings to the outside world,
a slump in agriculture and the persistence of bottlenecks in energy and transport.

He also shows the recent growth in economic disparity on
an intra-regional level. The development of Zhejiang’s maritime activity
seems an obvious example. In 1995, for instance, industrial growth in Ningbo,
where a huge industrial and port zone is being developed, overtook that of Hangzhou.
In more general terms, the coastal cities (Ningbo, Wenzhou) now play a growing
role in the structuring of regional areas. The area around Hangzhou, however,
is undergoing heavy urbanisation, while the North-west edges of the city are becoming
centres of high-technologies. The socio-economic disparities between the north-east
and the south-west of the province are still marked but are nonetheless beginning
to decrease thanks to the dynamic growth of Wenzhou. The building of a new rail
access to this southern part of Zhejiang should improve the balance further.

It is unfortunate that the book contains few maps (apart
from one basic map of the province). Moreover, although its content has been brought
up to date, this study does not avoid repetition of the author’s 1997 article
(1). The overall structure of the book could have done with some adjustment. The
introduction is overly long (more than a quarter of the book) and there is a certain
amount of repetition between chapters 5 and 6. Lastly the data in some of the
tables (pp. 112-116) goes back to 1988.

Keith Forster’s study nevertheless constitutes a rich
and well-documented synthesis of Zhejiang. In some ways, Zhejiang is becoming
more and more a “colony of Shanghai”, but the area around the city also
maintains a strong local identity since it has been the guardian of some of the
values of ancient China since the Sung dynasty. It is an area which has resisted
communism, and the birthplace of a highly decentralised and non-state development
model. At the southern edge of the Yangtze delta, this province shows particularly
clearly the vigour of the process of integration into larger macro-regional entities
and, at the same time, the persistent weight of territorial identities in China.

from French original by Michael Black

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