From jurisdictional fragmentation to regional integration?  A study on cross-border planning and governance in Yangtze River Delta, China


  • Simin Yan Heidelberg University, Institute of Geography & Kassel University, FB 06 Architecture - Urban Planning - Landscape Planning
  • Dr. Anna Growe Kassel University, FB 06 Architecture - Urban Planning - Landscape Planning
  • Jun Wen Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment


State rescaling, Regional integration, cross-jurisdictional planning and governance, urban entrepreneurship, Yangtze River Delta (YRD), China




State-power participation is a significant symptom of cross-jurisdictional planning and governance in China (Li and Wu, 2012; Yeh and Chen, 2020). The academic debate on this topic shows a bias towards discussion in a given stage rather than from a historical perspective (Salder, 2020), and towards macro policy-making analyses rather than empirical studies at the local level (Luo and Shen, 2009). Have the objectives, tasks, or approaches to regional planning changed in China? If so, how have these changes been realized at the macro and micro levels? Can we see a recentralization of the state in response to the unregulated urban competition?

Drawing on the historical perspective, we first explore these issues by tracing the recurrent regional plans and related institutionalized experiments in the Yangtze River Delta (YRD). The fact that YRD spans four provincial administrative divisions in China–Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui–has been a cause of much concern because the socio-economic interdependences constitute a functionally intertwined but politically fragmented region. To capture “who” has carried out “which kind of” collaborative actions “by what” institutional framework since Chinese reform and opening up in 1978, we use the content analysis method to sort through 81 policy records in YRD regional governance, covering plans, agreements, regulations, protocols, and memos. Adopting Dühr's approach (2007), we highlight the comparison of cartographic representations and their continuities and discontinuities in three YRD regional plans approved by the central government.

To gain a detailed understanding of planning implementation and transboundary cooperation at the local level, we conducted field research in three cross-provincial practices: the YRD Eco-Green Integrated Development Demonstration Zone (across Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang Provinces), the Jiangning-Bowang Cross-Border Integration Demonstration Area (across Jiangsu and Anhui Provinces), and the Xin’anjiang-Qiandao Lake ecological protection compensation sample region (across Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces). Seventeen key insiders were interviewed regarding three focus groups– politicians, planners, and experts. The results so far indicate that some changes are taking place in the regional development of the YRD:

  1. There is a trend towards diversification of the participants and objectives in regional governance of the YRD. It shifts from a dominant public actor to a multi-actor mix (including political, scientific, and business), and from a single industrial focus to a multifaceted (economic, ecological, and social) integration imperative.
  2. National will consistently play critical roles in facilitating integrated planning and institutional reforms in YRD. With the top-down regional vision of equitable and synergistic development, former peripheral nodes of the governance network have gradually moved closer to the centre and gained privileged priority in emerging areas.
  3. The changing role of the state has documented a difficult path from local competition to regional integration in the YRD. The regional identity among localities has been raised, while bottom-up urban entrepreneurship has continued inter-city competition over crucial resources such as land and fiscal capital.

Planning and governance across borders show a dynamic de- and re-territorialization and/or institutionalization in the YRD case. The governance model in the new era has explicitly experienced profound state rescaling. Arguably, this is not the restoration of early nationalism but a fusion of new and old governance models to consider as a new stage of China’s regional integration and governance.


Dühr, S. (2007) The visual language of spatial planning: exploring cartographic representations for spatial planning in Europe. Routledge.

Li, Y. and Wu, F. (2012) ‘The transformation of regional governance in China: The rescaling of statehood’, Progress in Planning, 78(2), pp. 55–99. Available at:

Luo, X. and Shen, J. (2009) ‘A study on inter-city cooperation in the Yangtze river delta region, China’, Habitat International, 33(1), pp. 52–62. Available at:

Salder, J. (2020) ‘Spaces of regional governance: A periodisation approach’, Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 38(6), pp. 1036–1054. Available at:

Yeh, A.G.-O. and Chen, Z. (2020) ‘From cities to super mega city regions in China in a new wave of urbanisation and economic transition: Issues and challenges’, Urban Studies, 57(3), pp. 636–654. Available at: