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Uneven but not combined development: rural industrialisation on the East Coast of China

Li, Xi; Lee, Chun-Yi

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Xi Li

Associate Professor


This article explains the uneven distribution of industrialised villages in China through the application of modernisation theory and the theory of uneven and combined development. It adds to our understanding of China’s unevenness by employing a ‘bottom-up’ approach, building on existing literature that focuses on national policies. We compare the economic and social consequences of industrialisation in 13 villages in eastern China; these have been divided into three categories based on their level of industrialisation. We demonstrate that the highest or lowest levels of industrialisation either replace, or weaken, rural social contexts. However, semi-industrialised villages do not suffer from this social reformatting. Instead, ‘guerrilla production’ provides work opportunities for unskilled and fragmented workforces. These villages modernise while combining modern and traditional modes of production and social forms. Rural China’s uneven development is therefore best described as a mosaic. In our opinion, this situation will persist for the foreseeable future. Villagers see the current social and economic circumstances as bringing benefits, meaning there is little reason to upgrade.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 4, 2021
Online Publication Date Apr 28, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Mar 31, 2021
Publicly Available Date Oct 29, 2022
Journal Third World Quarterly
Print ISSN 0143-6597
Electronic ISSN 1360-2241
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 42
Issue 7
Pages 1601-1624
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Third World Quarterly on 28/04/2021, available online:


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