In 1979, China embarked on an ambitious plan to reform its economy. These liberalization policies spurred remarkable rates of economic development and transformed the social, economic, and environmental landscape of the country. Less than one decade later, Vietnam followed suit and implemented nearly identical policies in 1986. The legacy of central planning in China and Vietnam has generated land use patterns that differ significantly from those in market economies (Scarpaci, 2000; Lin, 2002; Tammaru, 2002). Our projects focus on land dynamics in two coastal deltas that share similar geography, climate, ecology, political history, and policy changes.
Over the last two decades, China has been experiencing an urban revolution that is likely to continue through the first half of the twenty-first century. Currently, one-quarter of the 500 largest urban areas in the world are in China, and the country’s urban population is predicted to increase to nearly 900 million by 2030 (United Nations, 2002). In China, the Pearl River (Zhujiang) Delta in the southern province of Guangdong is one of the most economically vibrant regions; it is also where urban growth and land conversion are the most dramatic (Plate 6). The Pearl River Delta is an area of approximately 26,000 square kilometers (km2). Crossed by the Tropic of Cancer, it has a long agricultural history with fertile alluvial soils that can support two to three crops per year.
From 1980 to 2000, the average real rate of increase in gross domestic product for the delta was greater than 16 percent, and the economy expanded more than eleven-fold (Statistical Bureau of Guangdong, 2002 [various years]). High rates of economic and urban growth in the region have their origins in 1979, when the central government promulgated decentralization policies and market reforms. The most significant of these reforms included (1) abolition of collective farming in favor of the “household responsibility system,” which introduced subcontracting and allowed communes to divide their land among farmers; (2) agricultural price reforms that eliminated output quotas and permitted farmers to sell their product at market prices; (3) relaxation of hukou, China’s stringent household registration system, which limited people’s residential mobility; (4) diminished importance of danwei, the work unit that provides basic goods and social services, such as housing, health care, food ration tickets, and education; (5) establishment of special economic zones and policies to attract foreign direct investments; (6) decentralization of fiscal policy, which allowed the provincial and regional governments more autonomy to create their devel-