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Chinese Case Studies: An Introduction

Zhao Shidong Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences

With the rapid development of China's economy over the last decades, its land use patterns have changed significantly, especially since the central government's adoption of socioeconomic reform policies, beginning in the late 1970s. Across China, the speed and scale of land use change have varied because of the country's diverse natural and socioeconomic conditions. In order to understand the process and the mechanism of land use change, and then provide a solid basis for the future sustainable planning of land use in China's many different regions, the Chinese research team chose the Jitai Basin, a typical rural area, and the Pearl River Delta, characterized by rapid urbanization, as its study sites (see map, p. 178).

JITAI BASIN

The Jitai Basin, located in Jiangxi Province in south-central China, is made up of four counties that contain two cities. At the end of 1995, the Jitai Basin was home to 2.47 million people; its population density was 198 persons per square kilometer.

Historically, the Jitai Basin was a relatively developed area for agricultural production and handcraft industries such as shipbuilding and textiles, because the Ganjiang (Gan River) served as a main transportation artery between north and south. But with the development of modern industry and communications, the opening of foreign trade ports (Guangzhou, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Xiamen, and Ningbo) in the late nineteenth century, and the building of the Guangzhou–Wuhan and Wuhan–Beijing



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Page 175 Chinese Case Studies: An Introduction Zhao Shidong Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences With the rapid development of China's economy over the last decades, its land use patterns have changed significantly, especially since the central government's adoption of socioeconomic reform policies, beginning in the late 1970s. Across China, the speed and scale of land use change have varied because of the country's diverse natural and socioeconomic conditions. In order to understand the process and the mechanism of land use change, and then provide a solid basis for the future sustainable planning of land use in China's many different regions, the Chinese research team chose the Jitai Basin, a typical rural area, and the Pearl River Delta, characterized by rapid urbanization, as its study sites (see map, p. 178). JITAI BASIN The Jitai Basin, located in Jiangxi Province in south-central China, is made up of four counties that contain two cities. At the end of 1995, the Jitai Basin was home to 2.47 million people; its population density was 198 persons per square kilometer. Historically, the Jitai Basin was a relatively developed area for agricultural production and handcraft industries such as shipbuilding and textiles, because the Ganjiang (Gan River) served as a main transportation artery between north and south. But with the development of modern industry and communications, the opening of foreign trade ports (Guangzhou, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Xiamen, and Ningbo) in the late nineteenth century, and the building of the Guangzhou–Wuhan and Wuhan–Beijing

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Page 176railways, the direction of the flow of goods changed rapidly, weakening the transportation function of the Ganjiang River. From then on, China saw its economy grow rapidly in coastal areas, and the Jitai Basin gradually lost its dominant position in communications and the economy and slipped into a declining state. After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the central government began to promote the development of the more rural regions of the country. As a result, in the 1950s and 1960s the Jitai Basin was the beneficiary of significant investment in an industrial program, technological assistance, and an influx of trained migrants from the more developed regions. Development of the country as a whole, however, was at a very low level, and cultural, political, and economic restrictions hampered the assistance efforts. In the end, then, no significant socioeconomic development occurred in the Jitai Basin from 1949 to 1978, and, indeed, population pressure and extreme economic policies resulted in serious damage to the region's natural resources. For example, overcutting of forests to provide fuel for steel smelters caused deforestation and soil erosion. And the expansion of agriculture to marginal hilly and mountainous areas in order to meet the subsistence demands of the rapidly growing population for food and fuel further accentuated the serious problems of environmental degradation. Since the introduction of government reforms in 1978, the Jitai Basin has achieved relatively remarkable economic development in absolute terms. With implementation of the “household responsibility” system in 1982, agricultural productivity increased and the transition from cereal production to cash crop production (such as fruits and vegetables) accelerated. Meanwhile, the local government, aware of the damage to the ecosystem generated by deforestation and soil erosion, successfully implemented a series of policies to reforest the hills and mountains. Despite these achievements, the Jitai Basin still lags behind the coastal regions in economic development and urbanization. In fact, the gap between its socioeconomic development and that of developed regions (for example, the Pearl River Delta) is widening. One important reason is that the central government's economic development strategy tends to favor coastal areas. Other reasons are the Jitai Basin's location in China's hinterlands and its limited access to investment, technology, and the markets in metropolitan areas. In addition, because the region had a surplus of agricultural laborers stemming from the significant lack of development of the nonagricultural sectors, the massive out-migration of young laborers from the Jitai Basin to developed regions such as the Pearl River Delta increased. This development relieved the pressure on local employment, but also weakened agricultural production.

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Page 177 PEARL RIVER DELTA Formed by the alluvium delivered by the West, North, and East Rivers, the Pearl River Delta is located in southern China's Guangdong Province. The study region, which lies in the central part of Pearl River Delta, consists of 13 counties or cities, which belong to six municipalities and are distributed on either side of the Pearl River estuary. The Pearl River Delta is one of the most heavily populated regions of China. In 1995 its permanent population density was 743 persons per square kilometer, compared with 378 for all of Guangdong Province and 126 for China as a whole. Historically, the Pearl River Delta was known nationally for its production of grain, sugar, silk, freshwater fish, and fruits. Indeed, the region was referred to as the “Fish and Rice County.” The Delta also was one of the places in China where modern industry first appeared. However, from 1866, when industry first arrived, to 1949, when the new China was founded, the region's economy developed very slowly, and many residents of the Delta left to earn a living abroad. One factor in its slow growth was its location; because the Delta is situated at the frontier of the national defense, very few of the important industries were allowed to set up operations in the region. After implementation of socioeconomic reforms in 1978, the Delta quickened its pace of development and now is one of the richest areas in China. But rapid industrialization and urbanization also have produced dramatic changes in the Pearl River Delta's landscape, as well as environmental pollution. Overall, within less than 20 years the Delta area was transformed from a rural agricultural area into a highly developed region through rapid industrialization and urbanization. Within this process, the interactions between population growth, land use change, and the relevant economic and environmental problems are complex and unique.

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Page 178 ~ enlarge ~ Chinese Study Regions