Global Course

Spatial Planning & Institutional Design

Lecture 7

Spatial Planning System in China: Structure and Agency

Lei Zhang



This lecture discusses the interaction between “active agencies” and“constraining structuring dynamics”using the case of China’s planning system. The framework of structure and agency is rooted in the new institutionalism. Institutions here refers to the more enduring feature of social life. We explain the evolution of China’s planning system as the processes and results of making and acknowledging rules, and as the arenas of actors deploy and adjust their frameworks and values on place and resource.

First, we will review the institutional context on the evolution of the urban planning system in China, and in particular, focus on the market-oriented transition over the last four decades. Then we will establish the connection between macro and micro level governance in urban planning and development control. Here we highlight the interrelations between agency and structure in China’s spatial planning system.  

To sum up, spatial planning in China is still regarded fundamentally as a state’s duty and an important tool of macro-readjustment for tiers of government. Meanwhile, the system has also been obviously adjusted in response to changing contexts, such as surging housing demands, increased discretion of local government and emerging civil society. As a result, China’s spatial planning system now includes three separate planning systems, socio-economic plans by Committee of Reform and Development (ESDP), urban plans (UP) by the local urban planning authority, and five-level land use overall plans (LUOP) by the Bureau of Land Management. 

Renmin_building 440.jpg