PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2013, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (8): 1195-1206.doi: 10.11820/dlkxjz.2013.08.003

• Urban Geography & Regional Development • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Evolution of spatial planning in the Five-Year Plan/Planning system of China

WANG Lei, SHEN Jianfa   

  1. Department of Geography and Resource Management, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong SAR
  • Received:2013-04-01 Revised:2013-07-01 Online:2013-08-25 Published:2013-08-25
  • Contact: 沈建法(1963-),男,博士,教授,主要从事人口迁移、城市化、城市竞争、城市与区域发展等研究。E-mail:

Abstract: As one of the characteristics of China as a socialist country, the Five-Year Plan/Planning (FYP) is very important for regulating economic development even in post-reform China. Currently FYP is officially known as five-year economic and social development planning, which evolved from socialist economic planning during pre-reform period. As defined by the State Council, FYP is not a single document but rather a system that includes a master plan (the outline), sector plans and regional plans across the national, provincial and city or county levels. The role of this planning system has changed significantly since the first FYP was launched in 1953. The market-oriented reform and decentralized economic administration has changed China's political economy and necessitated the transformation of FYP mechanisms in economic and spatial governance. Based on the relevant government documents of the first FYP and the current status of spatial development of China, this paper first analyzes the changes of spatial planning in the FYP system and the underlying mechanisms over the past sixty years, and it indicates that spatial planning has become more and more sophisticated and systematic since the first FYP. In the beginning, there were few spatial planning elements in the FYP during the period of planned economy; spatial development was only a passive result of site selection of the projects of different industries and sectors. During a certain period of time after the reform, spatial planning emerged in the form of designating certain regions for special policies and guiding the use of space. After the 11th FYP, more strongly, spatial planning took the form of not only guiding but also restricting the use of space. This paper then analyzes the mechanisms underlying the evolution of spatial planning through an analytical framework, including three aspects such as the relationship between the government and market stakeholders, the relationship between the central government and local authorities, and feedback of spatial development status to planning. Basically, the mixed economy and decentralized planning administration generated new stakeholders and marginalized the role of FYP in spatial development in post-reform period. The FYP has changed from economic planning to spatial policy zone setting to guide economic and social development in its evolution process. However, in the 1990s, FYP failed in regional governance to tackle the disordered spatial development. Recently, facing the declining of the role of FYP in the mechanism of spatial governance, the central government attempted to incorporate and conceptualize spatial planning in FYP as a governance instrument in spatial development. The initiative took three approaches to reinforce the position of spatial planning in the FYP system, including major function-oriented zone plan, regional plans and planning institutional reform at municipal or county levels, which were articulated in 11th FYP discourse at different geographic scales. The innovative spatial governance approach provides opportunities to cope with the uncoordinated and unbalanced regional development by spatial regulations and guiding practices. In addition, the approach is institutionally articulated in the political economy of China through the top-down planning system. With the spatial and economic strategies closely combined, the new spatial planning approach is deemed as an important instrument to cope with the current dilemmas of regional governance in China. Lastly, the paper points out that the emerging spatial planning approach is facing the challenges from the pro-growth strategies of local governments and the big picture of fragmented planning in China and will not operate smoothly in the near future.

Key words: China, evolution, Five-Year Plan/Planning system, government, market, spatial planning