Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2008, Vol. 63 ›› Issue (2): 147-155.doi: 10.11821/xb200802004

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Geography and Economic Development in Rural China: A Township Level Study in Henan Province, China

LI Xiaojian1,3, ZHOU Xiongfei2, ZHENG Chunhui1   

  1. 1. Department of Resources and Environmental Studies, Henan University of Finance and Economics, Zhengzhou 450002, China;
    2. Department of Economics, Henan University of Finance and Economics, Zhengzhou 450002, China;
    3. College of Environment and Planning, Henan University, Kaifeng 475001, China
  • Received:2007-09-18 Revised:2007-12-10 Online:2008-02-25 Published:2008-02-25
  • Supported by:

    Key project of National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.40535025; Key project of Henan Social Science, No.2005-36]


Existing literature on rural regional development in China has paid little attention to the studies in small geographical scales. This study uses the data on 1736 township level administrative areas from an interior province of Henan, the largest and less developed agricultural province in China, to examine how geography plays the role in determining economic development in rural areas. The result indicates that geography still plays a significant role in rural development. Landform and other agricultural resources significantly affect economic development in the areas at the lower stage of growth, while the geographical location shows more significant impact in the areas with the relatively high income level. Quantitative analysis further reveals that the landform of a township village affects its income at a high significance level; the significance will reduce as the income in the village increases. Arable land per capita contributes significantly to the income in the villages with weak non-agricultural industries. For the villages with less than 20% of non-agricultural industries in its total economies, an increase in one hectare of arable land per capita will add 97 yuan to per capita income. In terms of geographic location, however, the impact is significant in the high income villages. Over 70% of the township villages in the high income group are concentrated in the central region of Henan province, where the nine major cities of the province are located. For an individual township village in the high income group, it is found that the distance from its county seat significantly explains its income level. An increase of one kilometer from the county seat will generate a decrease of 8 yuan in average income per capita. The study further concludes that the role of geographical factors is changing over time. Along with the economic development, the geographical proximity replaces the traditional geographical factors such as landform and physical resources as the major determining factors in regional development. Based on the results, the study argues that how geography matters in the era of rapid technological changes and globalization may differ in different regions and different industries. Evidence from the rural industries in the less developed China does lend support to important role of geography played in regional economic development. Therefore, rural geography in China may choose different focuses from the Western economies. The implications for regional policies from this study may enhance an area-specified strategy for rural development.

Key words: geography and rural development, township studies, Henan, rural central China