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From hierarchy to networking: the evolution of the “twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road” container shipping system


  • Liehui Wang
  • Yan Zhu
  • Cesar Ducruet
  • Mattia Bunel
  • Yui-yip Lau


Container shipping gives a rise of international trade since the 1960s. Based on navigation data start from the mid-1990s to 2016, this paper empirically analyses the spatial pattern of China’s international maritime linkages along the “twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road”. We interpret such evolutionary dynamics in terms of growth, hierarchical diffusion and networking phases. Networking is a new stage of the evolution of the port system, which is approached based on the graph theory, complex network methods and geomatics, the paper discusses the networking’s basic characteristics: multi-hub spatial agglomeration, the connection of the network develops across space, functional differentiation and a division of labour appear among ports. Our results show that, while the scope of China’s maritime linkages had expanded overtime, more foreign ports become connected to the “Maritime Silk Road”. In addition, the external linkages of domestic ports tend to be dispersed, reflecting upon the decline of Pearl River Delta ports and the rise of Yangtze River Delta ports, with mixed evidence for the Bohai Rim region. Lastly, the analysis underlines the emergence of a polycentric shipping system, from the Hong Kong dominance to the more diversified Shanghai/Ningbo/Shenzhen configuration. Academic and managerial implications are included.

Suggested Citation

  • Liehui Wang & Yan Zhu & Cesar Ducruet & Mattia Bunel & Yui-yip Lau, 2018. "From hierarchy to networking: the evolution of the “twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road” container shipping system," Transport Reviews, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(4), pages 416-435, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:transr:v:38:y:2018:i:4:p:416-435
    DOI: 10.1080/01441647.2018.1441923

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    Cited by:

    1. Peng, Peng & Yang, Yu & Lu, Feng & Cheng, Shifen & Mou, Naixia & Yang, Ren, 2018. "Modelling the competitiveness of the ports along the Maritime Silk Road with big data," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 852-867.
    2. Jiang, Yonglei & Sheu, Jiuh-Biing & Peng, Zixuan & Yu, Bin, 2018. "Hinterland patterns of China Railway (CR) express in China under the Belt and Road Initiative: A preliminary analysis," Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 189-201.
    3. Qinchang Gui & Chengliang Liu & DeBin Du, 2019. "The Structure and Dynamic of Scientific Collaboration Network among Countries along the Belt and Road," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(19), pages 1-17, September.
    4. Mingchun Cao & Ilan Alon, 2020. "Intellectual Structure of the Belt and Road Initiative Research: A Scientometric Analysis and Suggestions for a Future Research Agenda," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(17), pages 1-41, August.
    5. Liehui Wang & Yuanbo Zheng & Cesar Ducruet & Fan Zhang, 2019. "Investment Strategy of Chinese Terminal Operators along the “21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(7), pages 1-21, April.
    6. Li, Feng & Yang, Dong & Wang, Shuaian & Weng, Jinxian, 2019. "Ship routing and scheduling problem for steel plants cluster alongside the Yangtze River," Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 198-210.
    7. Zhang, Ruiyou & Huang, Chao & Feng, Xuehao, 2020. "Empty container repositioning with foldable containers in a river transport network considering the limitations of bridge heights," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 197-213.

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