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Walled Cities and Urban Density in China

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  • Du, Rui

    (MIT)

  • Zhang, Junfu

    (Clark University)

Abstract

Throughout the imperial era, defensive walls surrounded Chinese cities. Although most city walls have vanished, the cities have survived. We analyze a sample of nearly 300 prefectural-level cities in China, among which about half historically had city walls. We document that cities that had walls in late imperial China have higher population and employment density today, despite the fact that their walls have long gone. Using data from various sources, we test several possible explanations of this fact, including (1) walled cities have a well-defined historical core that helps hold economic activity close to the city center today; (2) walled cities today tend to have different industry compositions that are less conducive to decentralization; (3) walled cities are situated in regions where the local geographies make it less desirable to build out; (4) walled cities have more compact shapes that facilitate high density development; and (5) walled cities are located in regions where rural land is more valuable today and discourages urban sprawl. We find that historically walled cities still have higher density after taking into account all of these factors, which we interpret as evidence of economic persistence.

Suggested Citation

  • Du, Rui & Zhang, Junfu, 2018. "Walled Cities and Urban Density in China," IZA Discussion Papers 11951, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11951
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    Cited by:

    1. Vernon, Victoria & Zimmermann, Klaus F., 2019. "Walls and Fences: A Journey Through History and Economics," GLO Discussion Paper Series 330, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    2. Dong, Lei & Du, Rui & Kahn, Matthew & Ratti, Carlo & Zheng, Siqi, 2021. "“Ghost cities” versus boom towns: Do China's high-speed rail new towns thrive?," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(C).
    3. Remi Jedwab & Noel D. Johnson & Mark Koyama, 2020. "Medieval Cities Through the Lens of Urban Economic Theories," Working Papers 2020-9, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.
    4. Xu, Gang & Zhou, Zhengzi & Jiao, Limin & Zhao, Rui, 2020. "Compact Urban Form and Expansion Pattern Slow Down the Decline in Urban Densities: A Global Perspective," Land Use Policy, Elsevier, vol. 94(C).
    5. Bai, Yu & Arabadzhyan, Anastasia & Li, Yanjun, 2022. "The legacy of the Great Wall," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 196(C), pages 120-147.
    6. Jedwab, Remi & Johnson, Noel D. & Koyama, Mark, 2022. "Medieval cities through the lens of urban economics," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    urban density; city wall; persistence; China;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)
    • N95 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Asia including Middle East

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