The Incentive Role of Creating 'Cities' in China

Posted: 10 Apr 2011

See all articles by Lixing Li

Lixing Li

Peking University - China Center for Economic Research (CCER)

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Date Written: April 9, 2011


China operated an urbanization policy by which counties could be given city status between 1983 and 1997. The policy had substantial impacts on the new administrative entities, including more discretionary power and fiscal independence. Such "county-to-city upgrading" provided the central government with an instrument to reward localities. Using a large dataset covering all counties during 1993-1997, I show that upgrading is not an automatic procedure that endorses the high urbanization levels in existing counties. Although official guidelines for upgrading counties to cities were published, these requirements were largely ignored in practice. Instead, economic growth rate was the key factor in determining which counties obtained city status. This paper interprets the creation of county-level cities through upgrading as part of the incentive structure of Chinese local officials. The importance of both fiscal and political incentives facing the local government in promoting economic growth is highlighted.

Suggested Citation

Li, Lixing, The Incentive Role of Creating 'Cities' in China (April 9, 2011). China Economic Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Lixing Li (Contact Author)

Peking University - China Center for Economic Research (CCER) ( email )

Beijing, 100871

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