The Territorial City II – Shanghai Pudong

Carolyn Cartier is a professor of geography and Chinese Studies at the University of Technology Sydney. She collaborates with the Centre for Research on the Administrative Divisions at East China Normal University in Shanghai and the following essay examines the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone in relation to the 2009 expansion of that city’s Pudong New Area through a territorial merger and changes to the system of administrative divisions 行政区划体系. It is a sequel to ‘The Territorial City’ (published in these virtual pages in July 2013). For a fuller discussion of the issues addressed below, see Carolyn Cartier, ‘Territorial Urbanization and the Party-state in China’, in Territory, Politics, Governance 3(2015): 294-320. — The Editors


Narratives of economic transformation in China, no matter the language, frequently pace through the place-names of cities. In the English-language media, ‘S’ words frequently appear: ‘Shanghai’, ‘Shenzhen’ and ideas about them as ‘special zones’ have circulated widely for some three decades. They represent sites of foreign direct investment and high growth in China. They are subject to ‘special’ 特别 policies that mark them out as different from the rest of the national landscape.

In Shanghai, the Pudong New Area 浦东新区 is the formal name of the specially designated development area. Pudong is also an administrative division 行政区划 — an urban district 城市区of Shanghai. How special is it? Party history attributes its territorial-administrative category, a ‘new area’, to a conversation between Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Li Peng, in which they compared and aimed to distinguish Pudong from special economic zones, especially Shenzhen.[1] That Deng, Jiang and Li parsed differences among such apparently simple terms underscores their importance in the language of Party governance in China.

The city of Shanghai and the Pudong New Area (Linework by Puzhou Wu)

The city of Shanghai and the Pudong New Area.

In October 2013, the State Council 國法 renewed the special position of Pudong through establishment of a new ‘free trade zone’ (FTZ). The State Council, the central executive of the People’s Republic of China, announced that the ‘China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone’, in Pudong, would feature ‘financial market innovations’.[2] Announcement of the FTZ was a scenario that China’s leading New Left academic Wang Hui had predicted and criticised: in May 2012 Wang wrote that the crisis set in motion by the February 2012 Wang Lijun incident would become the state’s ‘opportunity to resume its neoliberal programme’ through ‘privatisation of state enterprises, privatisation of land and liberalisation of the financial sector’.[3] Just as neoliberalisation seeks new markets, zoned economic space represents market opportunity.

The parenthetical element in the formal name China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone 中国(上海)自由贸易试验区 is noteworthy. The name indicates that the FTZ is a central government project administered by the city of Shanghai. In the system of administrative divisions, Shanghai is a zhixia shi 直辖市 or directly-governed city, that is a city that directly implements plans of the central government. (There are four directly-governed cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing.) What the formal name does not reveal is that the Shanghai FTZ is a discontinuous area of existing ‘zones’ in Pudong, including Waigaoqiao, the first ‘free trade zone’ in China, established in 1990, the adjacent Waigaoqiao Logistics Park, Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Yangshan deep water port. In 2015, three more existing sites joined the Shanghai FTZ concept: Jinqiao economic and technological development zone (a former export processing zone), Zhangjiang high technology park and the Lujiazui financial and trade zone.

This piecemeal formation shows that the new zone in Pudong is not a newly demarcated single block of space. The Shanghai FTZ is a set of existing economic districts or zones. Unlike China’s past economic zones, the FTZ is not a new zone based on land development. The Lujiazui district is the only national-level financial zone in China. The Shanghai FTZ is a new concept that would seek to develop marketisation of financial industries and related business services through Shanghai. Instead of the prosaic economic standpoints of import-export, the FTZ reflects what Deng envisioned in 1990: a ‘shortcut’ 捷径 to globalisation of China’s services economy.[4] To what degree can the party-state engineer the market through zones?

This state-market problematic is embedded in the deceptively simple territorial-administrative categorisation of Pudong’s ‘new area’ 新区. The second character, qu 区, has multiple meanings and different English translations. This character features in both Pudong New Area 浦东新区 and free trade zone 自由贸易区. Where the official translation of the xinqu 新区 of Pudong is ‘new area’, the character normally appears translated in English as ‘zone’, conveying market relations and capital flows. But in China, special areas or zones of all types are also territories of the administrative divisions, under the jurisdiction of and directly governed by Party committees and government offices. Whether urban district, new area or industrial park 工业园区, the character qu 区 enfolds China’s different kinds of territorial-administrative areas and their meanings. The common use of ‘zones’ in translation represents the market for the world economy.

Oriental Pearl Television Tower, Shanghai Pudong, Lujiazui Financial District (2008) (Photograph by the author)

Oriental Pearl Television Tower, Shanghai Pudong, Lujiazui Financial District (2008). Photograph by the author

In less than twenty years, the party-state has also developed the landscape of Pudong to symbolise the world economy. But in 1993, when Milton Friedman, doyen of neoclassical economics, visited the Pudong New Area at the Oriental Pearl Television Tower — the concrete tripod whose form (sans the red disco balls) resembles radio towers in the former East Germany and Soviet Union — he described the site ‘as a Potemkin village built for an ageing emperor’.[5] Now, a trio of super-tall buildings, the Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center and Shanghai Tower, serve as symbolic sites of ‘worlding’ power at the Lujiazui financial district in Pudong. What would Friedman think today – would he view the skyscrapers as evidence of Shanghai’s capacity to join the ‘command and control’ centres of the world economy — mantra of the global city? If so, would he also apprehend that state enterprises have capitalised three-quarters of the high-rises in Lujiazui?[6] The three urban icons of Pudong, one each designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Chicago), Kohn Pederson Fox (New York), and Gensler (San Francisco), are contemporary forms of the capitalist city. They are also massive state projects: the Potemkin village in China has dramatically changed in size, shape and symbolic power.

Various symbolic dimensions also characterise each of the three skyscrapers.  The Jin Mao Tower, 88 stories high at 88 Century Boulevard, was completed in 1999. The Shanghai World Financial Center, 101 stories high at 100 Century Boulevard, opened on 28 August 2008. Shanghai Tower, financed entirely by state enterprises is, at 121 stories, the tallest building in China and second tallest in the world. Towers of super-modernity, they preside over some 200 high-rise commercial and government buildings in addition to hundreds of residential towers in Pudong. Together, they materialise the ‘shortcut’ that jumps from the vegetable fields and socialist factories of pre-Pudong to the post-manufacturing ‘new area’ of services industries. Constructing such symbolic landscapes renews the meaning of tu 圖 or map and image — the ‘map-image of a territory’ that, in Chinese, reflects the authority and control of the state, now in forms of urbanisation for national development. [7]

Table 2 Super-tall buildings TPG (1)

Disentangling this state-market problematic depends in part on discovering the origins of Pudong through changes to the administrative divisions. In 1990, when Deng declared that Pudong would open Shanghai to the world economy, Pudong was an idea entrained to the future. It did not yet exist. The Shanghai Planning Bureau had to mark it out on the map. Through ‘adjustments’ or tiaozheng 调整 to the administrative divisions, the Shanghai government combined three districts (Huangpu, Nanshi and Yangpu), one county (Chuansha) and one township (Sanlin) to form the ‘Pudong New Area’. In 1992, at the Fourteenth Party Congress, Jiang Zemin, then president and chairman of the CCP, and a former Party secretary of Shanghai, promoted development of Shanghai as an international financial centre and international shipping centre. Since then, these ‘two centres’ have featured in all Shanghai planning documents. The following year, in 1993, land clearance commenced to deliver a tabula rasa for Pudong’s urban development. Then, in 2000, Pudong gained its four institutions of formal administration: CCP committee, local government, People’s Congress, and People’s Political Consultative Committee. The party-state symbolically established the new Pudong government for the new century in the new millennium.

But constructing the international financial centre was relatively easy compared to Jiang Zemin’s second ‘centre’ – an international shipping port. The hydrological environment of Shanghai’s Huangpu River and Yangzi River estuary is shallow so constructing the port was an insurmountable problem. Its solution also emerged through changes to the administrative divisions. In 2009 the State Council announced the expansion of Pudong through incorporation of Nanhui, a district on the southern boundary of Pudong. The merger of Nanhui has more than doubled the size of Pudong, from 533 km2 to 1,210 km2, and given Pudong access to Yangshan, a deep water shipping terminal in Hangzhou Bay. As for Nanhui, the Pudong Local History Office issued a two-volume commemorative of Nanhui historical sites, under a sepia-tone cover, to memorialise the Ming dynasty county. [8]

The city of Shanghai and the Pudong New Area (Linework by Puzhou Wu)

The city of Shanghai and the Pudong New Area. Linework by Puzhou Wu

This ‘territorial urbanisation’ — how a Chinese city expands through changes to the administrative divisions — is not urbanisation as we would normally understand the term. Where urbanisation in the history of capitalist cities results from economic and population growth, the repeal of Nanhui county and the expansion of Pudong demonstrates how the party-state re-territorialises subnational space in China to achieve economic plans and results. The merger of Pudong and Nanhui, is an example between urban districts with uneven levels of economic development. The relatively developed administrative territory, Pudong, extends governance over the less-developed area, Nanhui, whose resources contribute directly to the growth metrics of the more developed district. Through territorial expansion, Pudong continues its economic growth trajectory.

The Shanghai FTZ is the latest iteration of party-state planning for Pudong. The ‘two centres’ plan, the 2009 expansion and the 2013 ‘free trade zone’, all represent continuity in central government planning for Shanghai and changes to the administrative territory. But the administrative divisions feature infrequently if at all in international analyses of China’s development — they have no place in the narratives and analysis of market economy. What is the relationship between the market economy and the administrative divisions? In the view of Zhou Zhenhe, the editor-in-chief of the 12-volume History of the Administrative Divisions of China 中国行政区划通史, ‘a true market economy has nothing to do with the administrative divisions.’[9] According to this logic, increased marketization and changes to the administrative divisions should demonstrate an inverse relationship. Instead, the territorial urbanisation of Pudong is only one significant example among thousands of changes to administrative divisions in China since 1978.[10]



[1] 谢国平 (Xie Guoping), ‘浦东为何不叫特区叫新区’ (Why Pudong is called a new area and not a special zone), 浦东发展 (Pudong Development), No.6 (2013): 59-60.

[2] ‘Circular of the State Council on the Framework Plan for the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone’, No.38 (2013). Online at:

[3] Wang Hui, ‘The rumour machine: Wang Hui on the dismissal of Bo Xilai’, London Review of Books 34 (9) 13-14, 10 May. Online at:

[4] 谢国平 (Xie Guoping), pp. 59-60.

[5] Milton Friedman, Milton and Rose D. Friedman, Two Lucky People: Memoirs, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1998, p.555.

[6] Ming Ye, ‘The Political Economy of Urban Space: Central business district development in Shanghai and Hong Kong’, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hong Kong, 2005, pp.58-60.

[7] See Pierre Ryckmans, ‘The Chinese Attitude Towards the Past’, China Heritage Quarterly, 14 (June), 2008

[8] Ge Fangyao 葛方耀, ed., 《南汇老地名》 (Nanhui’s Old Place Names), Shanghai Lexography Publishing House: Shanghai, 2011.

[9] Zhou Zhenhe 周振鹤 is a professor in the Institute of Chinese History and Geography at Fudan University. See Zhou Zhenhe 周振鹤, ‘真正的市场经济与行政区划没有关系’ (A real market economy and the administrative divisions have no relationship), 瞭望东方周刊 (Oriental Outlook Weekly), 49 (27 Dec. 2012), pp.12-25.

[10] Changes to the Administrative Divisions of China, a database in development by the University of Technology, Sydney and East China Normal University in Shanghai.