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Terry Cannon ed., China's Economic Growth: The Impact on Regions, Migration, and the Environment
This volume consists mainly of contributions from geographers, but contributions have also been made by economists and political scientists. It analyses the changes in attitudes on the part of social groups and institutions throughout the reform process in China, and seeks to locate these changes in geographical terms. The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with the reforms and demographic developments; the second, with growth and the environment; and the third, with soil erosion. This last section is based on case studies of three regions, namely the south, the south-west, and the upper reaches of the Blue River. The volume contains abundant illustrations (maps and photographs) and an index.
There are several recurrent issues linking the different chapters: the influx of migrants and their demographic behaviour, the relations between local governments and their hierarchy, and environmental damage. The chapters dealing with internal migration are undoubtedly among the most original. Although migrants incur expenses on the part of the administration (in terms of lodging, transport, social services, and health), their presence in the towns enables positions involving unpleasant or badly paid work to be filled, and they also boost both consumption and savings. In fact, migrants are the source of major capital flows from the towns to countryside. Moreover, they currently represent the only sizeable transfers of private capital to the central and western provinces. And lastly, internal migration enables the government to present a legitimate case for continuing its repression and social control. In this connection, it would have been useful to broach the question of the abolition of the hukou raised by certain provinces, as well as the possible introduction of a real labour market.
The problems arising from the building of the Three Gorges dam is given very ample coverage; these problems include its devastating effects on the environment, and the extreme vulnerability of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtse in the eventuality of a future external conflict, to say nothing of the economic viability of the project, which is dubious, to say the least. Apart from the claims made for the projecti.e. massive increases in energy production, and improved floodwater controlits Pharaoh-like pretensions seem to provide yet more striking proof of the weakness of market mechanisms in China when compared with its checkerboard command structure. Indeed, the whole country is like a giant checkerboard on which the central administration moves around labour and capital, in accordance with its own interests or whims. The dam project also gives the government the opportunity to reassert its authority over its subordinate levels, as is shown by the way in which Chongqing was raised to autonomous municipality status, making it directly accountable to the central government, in order to divide Sichuan and overcome resistance from this regional capital of the upper reaches of the Blue River.
The main criticism to be made about this book is that it presents a rather too optimistic view of Chinas growth. It is no longer sufficient to accept official Chinese statistics without reservation. Too many doubts have been expressed by a number of researchers and by the Chinese press itself, and they cannot be brushed aside. The risks taken by the main players have undoubtedly increased, but what is the situation with regard to their economic and financial responsibilities? What are the mechanisms for gaining access to capital, for setting prices, and for establishing market outlets?
Similarly, following Jean Ois studies, the developmental role of the local State, is given far too positive an assessment here. Here too, a critical distance would have been welcome. What are the grounds for saying that the local state is less subject to prevarication, corruption and favouritism than the central state, or that it is more likely to respect the law and make others respect it? The chapters on the problems of pollution show that the local authorities are both judges (as members of the environmental protection agencies) and interested parties (as managers of the enterprises under their control), and that in any case the level of the fines is far lower than the cost of treating effluents. For many years these overlapping economic satrapies (zhuhou jingji) have been unhindered in their conduct of a virtual economic warlordism, so in what ways could they be considered favourable to long-term development? Such optimism is the consequence of seriously underestimating the resilience of the command economy. As examples of the latter, one need only mention the local protectionism, laid down since the 1950s in the form of the segmented structure of the district administrations, the autarchic structure of their industrial organisations, and their lordly control over the fiscal reserves.
Despite such reservations, the volume sheds considerable light on the underlying mechanisms, in all their ambiguity, of the socialist political economy in China. It also provides a clear and precise account of the environmental impact produced by the countrys still extensive industrial growth.
Translated from the French original by Jonathan Hall