Image of Photos of Dr Zhang Jin, Dr Chen Xiao and Dr Liang Xiaomin

State and market in local development: the cases of Wenzhou and Guyuan

The China Forum seminar on Thursday 25 May 2023 was delivered by three scholars from China's Centre for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD), Development Research Center of the State Council, PRC: Dr Zhang Jin (Vice President, CIKD), Dr Chen Xiao (Associate Research Fellow, CIKD) and Dr Liang Xiaomin (Associate Research Fellow, CIKD).

Dr Zhang Jin, explained that the centre was established six years ago to share knowledge of China’s development experience and contribute to international development. The seminar focussed on poverty reduction in China over the past four decades, examining the mechanisms through which poverty reduction policies were translated into concrete results. It was based on the findings of the joint project led by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council of China, which resulted in the joint report Four Decades of Poverty Reduction in China: Drivers, Insights for the World, and the Way Ahead (2022). The seminar was based on fieldwork undertaken in Wenzhou in eastern China and Guyuan in northwestern China.

Dr Chen Xiao analysed Wenzhou’s transformation from an agriculture-based poor county into a flourishing urban city with rapid industrial development. She examined the role of the state, market, and social networks in the growth of the garment button and electrical equipment industries. She explained the role of local entrepreneurship and the contribution of specialised button markets, as well as the local government’s role in developing industrial clusters and facilitating industrial upgrading in the electrical equipment industry.

Dr Liang Xiaomin analysed how Guyuan, one of the poorest counties in China, was lifted out of poverty. She examined the contribution of inter-provincial cooperation, which involved pairing the under-developed Ningxia Autonomous Region with the developed Fujian province. The approach involved close cooperation between government officials in the two regions, with policies altered in the light of practical experience. The initial focus on out-migration was re-oriented towards development based on industrial re-location based upon local employment.

Dr Zhang explained that China’s poverty reduction success relied on two pillars. First, rapid economic growth, supported by broad-based economic transformation, which provided new economic opportunities for the poor and raised average incomes. Second, government policies to alleviate persistent poverty. The policies initially targeted areas disadvantaged by geography and a lack of economic opportunities, but subsequently targeted poor households irrespective of their location. Effective governance was the key to China’s implementation of the growth strategy and the targeted poverty reduction policies.

The Q&A session addressed the following issues: the importance of having highly effective government officials in order to alleviate poverty; the role of CIKD in dialogue with African countries; the lessons that Sub-Saharan Africa can learn from China’s poverty reduction experience in Guyuan, which is located in ‘one of the most inhospitable places on earth’; the methods through which China’s government officials are motivated and trained in order to contribute to poverty reduction; the role of the Communist Party in poverty reduction in China; the role of remittances from migrants in poverty alleviation in Guyuan; the extent to which China’s poverty reduction programme is linked to corruption.

Dr Zhang Jin is a Senior Research Fellow of the Development Research Center of the State Council of China, Vice President of the Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD). She taught and researched in the University of Cambridge for many years. She was formerly Associate Professor at Cambridge Judge Business School, Deputy Director of China Centre Jesus College and Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge. Her research includes topics on development in China and the world; mutual understanding of the Chinese and Western civilizations; globalization, big business and China; the political economy of state-owned enterprises. Her publications include Catch-up and Competitiveness in China (Routledge 2004 and 2016), The Global Business Revolution and the Cascade Effect (Palgrave, 2007), China and the World Economy: Transition and Challenges (Routledge, 2018). She is executive editor of the Routledge series China in the World.

Dr Chen Xiao is an Associate Research Fellow and Deputy Director of Research Organization Division at the Center for International Knowledge on Development. Her research interests include industrial policy, globalization and firm competition, and Chinese political economy. She has published a series of books, papers and articles include Chinese Private Manufacturing Firms, The Story of Ningbo Economic and Technological Development Zone, Automation versus Relocation in the Global Clothing Industry, China’s Industrialization and Poverty Reduction, China’s Urbanization Experience and Its Implications to Africa, and Development Accelerator. She has rich experience of joint research with international development agencies, such as the World Bank, German Institute of Development and Sustainability, and the Department for International Development, UK. She holds a PhD in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge.

Dr Liang Xiaomin is an Associate Research Fellow at the China Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD). She joined CIKD in 2018 after completing her PhD in Management at Renmin University of China. Her research interest is in development economics and specifically on poverty alleviation, income distribution and rural development in China. She was the project coordinator for CIKD’s joint research with the World Bank on China’s poverty alleviation in the last four decades. She participated as a key member in multiple poverty reduction policy evaluations for the Chinese government, visited dozens of poor counties to interview local officials and residents. Her policy research on self-reliance and poverty reduction won acknowledgement from the State Council. Recently, she has been working on the international lessons on income distribution and the implications for common prosperity in China.