At China Real Time Report, Tom Orlik discusses urbanization, hukou reform, land ownership, urban sustainability and the price of heroin in Chongqing with Tom Miller, author of China’s Urban Billion.
We’re hearing a lot about urbanization from China’s new leaders. What’s new about their approach?
The current crop of leaders, led by the incoming premier Li Keqiang, are much more enthusiastically pro-urban than their predecessors. They believe that developing large, prosperous cities will foster greater domestic demand, especially household consumption. Li has promised to speed up urbanization and reform China’s household registration system, which legally ties migrant workers to their rural home and bars them from receiving most urban benefits. To unleash the full economic potential of urbanization, he argues, China must turn rural migrants into genuine urban citizens.
You’ve visited a lot of Chinese cities. Any hidden gems?
Most Chinese cities are ugly, grey, utilitarian places which aim to shock and awe rather than inspire hearts and minds. But as long as there’s cold beer on offer, I quite enjoy horrible places, which was helpful for writing the book. I like all the big Yangtze River cities—Nanjing, Wuhan and, above all, Chongqing. And I am a fan of the relaxed vibe found in Yunnan’s cities. Kunming, Yunnan’s capital, is probably the nicest big city in China.
Miller also appeared on this week’s Sinica podcast with Jeremy Goldkorn and Kaiser Kuo. Their conversation includes an accessible introduction to the hukou system, the primarily financial obstacles to its reform, and the problems encountered by reform efforts to date. They also examine the case of Chongqing, where reforms such as the dipiao land credit system seem likely to escape being dragged down with fallen Party chief Bo Xilai, as well as land seizures, ghost cities, and the future of the countryside.