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Discussions of China’s 21st-century ‘rise’ often focus on the country’s dazzling megacities and the dizzying pace of urbanization which has propelled their development over...

Discussions of China’s 21st-century ‘rise’ often focus on the country’s dazzling megacities and the dizzying pace of urbanization which has propelled their development over the past 30 years. But how and why all these cities have grown in the ways and the places that they have is not always an easy question to answer in a place as large and diverse as China.

This is why Kyle JarosChina’s Urban Champions: The Politics of Spatial Development (Princeton University Press, 2019), a book which examines the urban developmental trajectories of several lesser- and better-known parts of China, is so valuable. Focusing on the how competing local claims, national priorities and economic conditions shape urbanization processes across the country, Jaros argues that provincial-level planning offers the key to understanding how preferred sites for development – ‘winners in space’ as he calls them – emerge. From provinces which focus all their energy in a single provincial capital to those whose efforts appear more evenly spread, we get a rich sense here of how megacities and urban clusters take shape and of the often-opaque operations of the Communist Party on multiple levels.


Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.