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Development without slums: institutions, intermediaries and grassroots politics in urban China

Cheng, Wai (2015) Development without slums: institutions, intermediaries and grassroots politics in urban China. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis studies the institutional foundations and micro-mechanisms by which social order is regulated and public goods are delivered in China’s urban grassroots communities. This study is motivated by the seemingly deviant phenomenon that massive internal migration and rapid urbanisation during China’s market reforms have not resulted in chaotic and familiar third world urban diseases. Instead, relatively governed, less contentious, highly dynamic yet ultimately soft migrant enclaves contrast sharply with what often feature most developing countries. Based on the case studies of four urban villages – which categorically housed the majority of China’s 274 million rural migrants – I trace the interplay among the remaining socialist institutions, dominant market forces and various intermediaries in managing migrant contestation and serving state functions. I consider both objective criteria and migrants’ perceptions to explain why China’s migrant enclaves demonstrate distinct characteristics compared with the migrant enclaves in many developing countries. I also consider why China’s migrant enclaves share similar patterns of transformation with its formal cities. The findings contest the conventional approaches that are used to explain China’s structural stability and territorial cohesion despite local disturbances and conflicts, which are mainly attributable to the authoritarian regime, state corporatism or an underdeveloped civil society. Although China’s land, danwei and hukou systems are nationally configured, I argue that these institutions are also conducive to protecting an intermediate realm that comprises residential committees, joint-stock companies and clan associations by providing a safety valve and nurturing localised engagements. I then examine how these intermediaries have adopted coercion, patronage and exit-point mechanisms to deliver public goods, enforce communal order and broker urban renewal through less coercive and predatory means. I further assess the ways in which these engaging but parochial, resourceful but dependent, and exclusive rather than inclusive intermediaries have mediated the boundaries between despotic power and infrastructural power and among state agenda, market forces and grassroots interests. This thesis thus re-visits China’s authoritarian resilience concerning not only how migrant contestation is managed but also what institutions and mechanisms are most effective to articulate multiple interests and ensure social compliance during the processes of urbanisation and decentralisation in the absence of electoral politics.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Wai Cheng
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Lin, Chun

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