Research Articles

The differentiation and evolutionary models of industrial bases in China

  • JIN Fengjun , 1, 2 ,
  • CHEN Linlin , 1, 2, 3, * ,
  • YANG Yu , 1, 2, * ,
  • HONG Hui 4
  • 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
  • 2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • 3. The High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, Tongzhou Campus, Beijing 101117, China
  • 4. China International Engineering Consulting Corporation, Beijing 100048, China
Corresponding author:Chen Linlin (1983-), PhD, E-mail: ;Yang Yu (1984-), Associate Professor, E-mail:

Author: Jin Fengjun (1961-), Professor, specialized in transport geography and regional development studies. E-mail:

Received date: 2018-04-26

  Accepted date: 2018-07-10

  Online published: 2018-12-20

Supported by

Key Project of Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.KFZD-SW-314; The Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.XDA19040403; National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41430636, No.41571159; Bingwei Young Scientist Plan of Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.2016RC202


Journal of Geographical Sciences, All Rights Reserved


The rapid progress of China’s industrialization has been manifested in space as the formation and evolution of a series of industrial bases. Employing data from the years 1985, 2001 and 2010, this paper carries out differentiation, screening, and categorization of industrial bases in China. It then analyses the evolutional characteristics of these industrial bases and explores different paths of growth according to their scale or types, and summarizes the general pattern for their formation and evolution. The results of this study indicate that China’s industrial bases as a whole have gone through three spatial stages since the founding of the PRC in 1949: decentralized development before reform and opening up in 1978, gradual concentration in eastern coastal regions during the early period of reform and opening up, and balanced and diversified development since the beginning of the 21st century. By 2010, China had a total of 251 industrial bases and had thereby established the overall spatial map of its industrialization. As industrial bases expand in scale, their industrial structures develop from homogenization to diversification, and then again from diversification to competitive optimization. Leading industries in the vast majority of industrial bases constantly evolve along the track of light industries, basic materials industries, and advanced manufacturing industries. Meanwhile, the key factors in their evolution and development transition from traditional factors of production like resources and labor to new ones like capital and information, but there are significant differences in terms of influencing factors and growth paths between large, medium, and small bases. Small industrial bases primarily rely on natural resources to maintain development through a single leading industry, medium industrial bases gradually become more comprehensive in their industrial compositions, and large industrial bases evolve in the direction of a combination of basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries.

Cite this article

JIN Fengjun , CHEN Linlin , YANG Yu , HONG Hui . The differentiation and evolutionary models of industrial bases in China[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2018 , 28(12) : 1757 -1780 . DOI: 10.1007/s11442-018-1564-z

1 Introduction

A miracle of human development, China’s rapid pace of industrialization over the last 40 years has been manifested in space by the formation and evolution of a series of industrial bases. From 1950 to the early 1960s, the construction of “156 Projects” established the framework of China’s industrial distribution. After reform and opening up, the spatial process of the country’s industrialization showed agglomeration and diffusion, both characteristics of dramatic change. At the same time as the number of industrial bases was rapidly increasing, their structures, functions, and types, as well as their courses of expansion also underwent clear change. Since the beginning of the 21st century, trends of scaling and specialization emerged in industrial bases, while the division of labor and coordination within these bases became increasingly intense. Whether in reference to the past, present, or future, industrial bases serve as a spatial representation of industrialization and clustered representation of urbanization in China. With China’s industrial base areas situated in a crucial phase of transformation, upgrading, and restructuring, it is necessary to carry out research from the point of view of industrial geography and other disciplines in order to gain a fresh understanding of them.
Industrial layout is the core of the layout of productive forces (Lu, 2003). At the end of the 1950s, Chinese geographers began studying industrial layout and development (EBCG, 1952-1964; Zhang and Lu, 1999). Geography scholars represented by Li Wenyan and Lu Dadao carried out a series of studies on the factors influencing the evolution of industrial layout and locational trends of development, systematically summarizing the general geographical view of industrial distribution in China (Li et al., 1990). Currently, scholarly research on industrial bases is mainly focused on three areas. The first is sectorial industry bases and their spatial distribution structures, changes, and influencing mechanisms. This includes the question of where industries should set up and the factors influencing this choice, characteristics and models of industrial distribution, and the evolution of different industrial sectors and factors affecting their evolution (Wang, 1982; Guo et al., 1998; Zhang et al., 2009). The second is old industrial bases and their restructuring and renovation. In this respect, foreign scholars are particularly devoted to uncovering the mechanisms behind the growth and decline of old industrial regions (Scott, 1988; Grabher, 1993; Pred, 1996; Boschma and Van der Knaap, 1997), while Chinese scholars mainly use qualitative methods to identify old industrial bases (Wang, 2007), evaluate their state of development, and inquire into mechanisms that cause their decline (Li, 1996). Furthermore, Chinese scholars research the problem of sustainable development from the point of view of whole regions, focusing on typical examples like the industrial base in northeast China (Li et al., 2003; Zhang et al., 2004; Jin and Lu, 2004; Jin et al., 2006; Jin and Chen, 2010; Jin et al., 2012; Wang and Wang, 2013). The third is a number of scholars who have carried out systematic analysis of the agglomeration and diffusion characteristics of specific industries, and suggested mechanisms for the formation of industrial agglomerations (He et al., 2007; He et al., 2010).
Generally speaking, present studies are for the most part focused on bases of specific industrial sectors, and lay particular emphasis on exploring evaluations of economic development and transformation and upgrading regarding the specific category of old industrial bases. Without a macro-level view, they lack systematic differentiation and comprehensive investigation of China’s industrial bases from all fields. They also lack a theoretical summary of the evolutionary paths of industrial structures and functional models of influencing factors related to industrial bases of all types. For a period of time to come, against the backdrop of the constant advancement of processes including China’s new urbanization, development of ecological civilization, and demarcation of main functional zones, industrial bases, as a special regional category, will remain an important shape in the distribution of productive forces, while advancing their industrial upgrading and raising their competitiveness will play a decisive role in the development of their respective regions. Conducting systematic differentiation of China’s industrial bases, summarizing different types of bases’ evolutional paths and characteristics in terms of spatial layout, and investigating their normative growth models are urgent and necessary tasks with both theoretical and practical significance.

2 Methodology and data sources

2.1 Methodology

At present, the majority of studies differentiating industrial bases employ qualitative analysis, while a few scholars employ a methodology that combines quantitative and qualitative analysis, however there exists controversy regarding the relevant indicators and criteria. This paper draws upon related research and, based on the availability of data and suggestions received through interviews with experts, employs an “indicator + value threshold” approach to carry out identification of industrial bases in 1985, 2001, and 2010. The differentiation process is as follows:
(1) Division according to industrial category. Following the Industrial Classification for National Economic Activities (2001 Edition) (NBS, 2002), the subjects of this paper cover different classes of industries, including the steel, coal, chemical, petroleum, metallurgical, food, textile, equipment manufacturing, lumber, and paper industries. Through analysis of the interconnection between these industries, we divide them into four major types: basic materials industries, energy industries, equipment manufacturing industries, and light industries (Chen, 2016).
(2) Selection of indicators. Industrial bases must at least possess two marked features. The first is a relatively large scale of industrial production and the ability to supply ample industrial products or industrial services. This paper uses stacked analysis of industrial scale in terms of assets and number of employees for confirmation. The second is a level of specialization, that is the industry must be relatively specialized and have a relatively high market share. This paper relies on the location quotient and the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index to judge each industry’s level of specialization and market share.
(3) Threshold value control. Analysis of the cumulative distribution of total industrial output value shows that the cumulative distribution curve of the total output of major industries is characterized by power law distribution, with 20% of cities accounting for roughly 80% of total industrial output (Figure 1). Consequently, industrial output value covering 80% of the country acts as a condition of threshold value control. Level of specialization mainly uses the location quotient as a condition of value threshold control. When the location quotient is larger than 1, the relevant industry’s level of specialization is high within the economy as a whole. When the location quotient is higher than 2, the relevant industry possesses clear signs of specialization (Zhang, 2009).
Figure 1 Cumulative distribution of industrial gross output value in a section of industries
(4) Correcting deviations in differentiation. In general, cities with larger industrial scale will possess more composite industries, and the existence of multiple interlinked industries will lead to trends of coordinated development. As a result, industries of all types experience a corresponding reduction of their standings within the industrial systems of comprehensive cities, and it is difficult to contain these industries through level of specialization when carrying out differentiation. However, production capacity (yield) can accurately balance the position and market share of regional industries of this type within the whole system. On the basis of analysis and classification of production data from 30 key industries in cities all over the country, we use specialist knowledge to correct special cases, rejecting cities that have a relatively low level of specialization and singular structure but cannot be differentiated through threshold value control.
(5) Categorization of industrial bases. Since the scale of the threshold value varies according to the year, we use gross industrial output value index equivalents to divide industrial bases into three categories of scale: large, medium, and small. The categorization criteria are shown in Table 1. According to characteristics of industrial structure, industrial bases are divided into four types: single leading industry, double leading industry, triple leading industry, and balanced. The single leading industry type indicates that one type of industry’s output value has reached 60% of gross industrial output value. The double leading industry type indicates that the output of two types of industries together accounts for 70% or more and the proportion of each is greater than 20%. The triple leading industry type indicates a three-industry composition accounting for 90% or more of industrial output, with each industry’s proportion of output value exceeding 20%. The balanced type indicates that four types of industries each account for 10% or more of output value and proportion of each is relatively balanced.
Table 1 Categorization standards for industrial bases
Category Large base Medium base Small base
Standard Output value
(108 yuan)
National proportion (%) Output value
(108 yuan)
proportion (%)
Output value
(108 yuan)
proportion (%)
1985 >600 >1 170-600 0.3-1 <170 <0.3
2000 >2300 >1 650-2300 0.3-1 <650 <0.3
2010 >7000 >1 2000-7000 0.3-1 <2000 <0.3

2.2 Data sources

There exist significant differences in how the spatial scale of industrial bases is defined in academia. In the formulations of some related studies, the scopes of industrial bases are as large as provinces or can even encompass several provinces, as in the example of the old industrial bases in Liaoning Province and northeast China, while in other studies the scopes are as small as a city or even a large industrial park. This paper draws on relevant research expositions produced by the State Council’s research study group for old industrial bases (RGOIBSC, 2013), and under the condition of data availability and with suggestions received through consultations with relevant experts, defines the basic unit of industrial bases according to the prefecture-level city and city categories laid out in the China Cities Statistical Yearbook (2011 Edition) (NBS, 2012). The scope of differentiation covers 344 prefecture-level regional units in 31 provincial-level administrative units across the Chinese mainland (it does not include Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan). Data regarding industrial enterprises’ output value and number of employees comes from relevant annual statistical yearbooks of prefecture-level units throughout the country.

3 Evolutionary processes and characteristics of industrial bases

According to the differentiation methodology laid out in the preceding section, we identify 168 industrial bases in China in the year 1985, growing to reach 256 in the year 2001, and again evolving to 251 bases in 2010 (Table 2), representing the current stage of China’s overall industrial structure. The formation and development of these industrial bases primarily underwent three stages: decentralized distribution before the launch of reform and opening up, rapid growth during the initial phase of reform and opening up, and balanced and diversified development since the start of the 21st century.
Table 2 China’s industrial bases from 1949-2010
Period Number Category Directory of bases
168 Large
Anshan, Zhenjiang, Daqing, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Qingdao, Nantong, Yangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Wuxi, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shenyang, Nanjing, Dalian, Changzhou, Chengdu, Ningbo
Liaoyang, Yueyang, Fushun, Lanzhou, Zhuzhou, Maoming, Weifang, Jiaxing, Zhoukou, Huzhou, Bengbu, Luoyang, Baotou, Qiqihar, Changchun, Dandong, Jiangmen, Xianyang, Jiamusi, Shantou, Kaifeng, Yantai, Foshan, Xi’an, Jining, Xiangfan, Wuhu, Yingkou, Leshan, Jilin, Kunming, Zibo, Urumqi, Huangshi, Anyang, Harbin, Jinan, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Yancheng, Changsha, Nanchang, Fuzhou, Hefei, Guiyang, Jinhua, Baoji, Mianyang, Zhangjiakou, Hengyang, Handan, Shaoguan, Tangshan, Tai’an, Jinzhou, Taiyuan, Xuzhou, Mudanjiang, Xiangtan, Shenzhen, Liuzhou, Wenzhou, Dongying, Benxi, Datong, Neijiang, Shaoxing
Ma’anshan, Panzhihua, Panjin, Shuangyashan, Jingmen, Xinyu, Jingdezhen, Sanming, Jiujiang, Baoding, Karamay, Xiamen, Xinxiang, Hunjiang, Liupanshui, Huainan, Tieling, Deyang, Liaoyuan, Zaozhuang, Pingdingshan, Chaoyang,
Yichang, Fuxin, Tonghua, Changzhi, Yangquan, Jiaozuo, Huaibei, Puyang, Jixi, Jincheng, Xingtai, Chifeng, Chengde, Hegang, Shizuishan, Shiyan, Pingxiang, Tongchuan, Yumen, Sanmenxia, Hebi, Qitaihe, Wuhai, Jiaojiang, Hancheng, Qingtongxia, Chenzhou, Zigong, Qinhuangdao, Baiyin, Tongling, Jinchang, Guangyuan, Ezhou, Ganzhou, Loudi, Anqing, Luzhou, Quzhou, Cangzhou, Nanning, Jingzhou, Lianyungang, Zhanjiang, Changde, Yichun, Xuchang, Yuxi, Tianshui, Yibin, Yiyang, Nanping, Longyan, Yakeshi, Bei’an, Yanbian, Hohhot, Zhuhai
256 Large
Shenzhen, Beijing, Qingdao, Changchun, Huizhou, Dalian, Xiamen, Zhuhai, Shanghai, Tianjin, Foshan, Nanjing, Chongqing, Wuhan, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Ningbo, Shaoxing, Jiangmen, Weihai, Yantai, Changzhou
Zibo, Anshan, Jilin, Taiyuan, Tangshan, Dongguan, Hefei, Shiyan, Shenyang, Jinan, Wenzhou, Taizhou (Z), Taizhou (J), Lanzhou, Liuzhou, Fuzhou, Chengdu, Yangzhou, Kunming, Daqing, Jiaxing, Huzhou, Quanzhou, Linyi, Zhongshan, Nantong, Weifang, Zhenjiang, Yancheng, Zhaoqing, Harbin, Jinhua, Baoding, Changsha, Shantou, Nanchang, Xiangfan, Xi’an, Jining, Zhengzhou, Xuzhou, Mianyang, Wenzhou, Shijiazhuang
Jiuquan, Handan, Fushun, Liaoyang, Yuncheng, Baotou, Urumqi, Linfen, Panzhihua, Karamay, Changzhi, Loudi, Hechi, Baiyin, Suqian, Dali, Chongzuo, Panjin, Pingdingshan, Wuzhong, Yan’an, Sanmenxia, Wuhu, Guilin, Leshan, Anyang, Zhuzhou, Shaoguan, Jinzhong, Jiaozuo, Xinxiang, Luoyang, Cangzhou, Guiyang, Huai’an, Lianyungang, Yichang, Dezhou, Nanyang, Yueyang, Zaozhuang, Xingtai, Sanming, Chenzhou, Baishan, Chuxiong, Chengde, Yanbian, Honghe, Longyan, Xinyang, Zhangjiakou, Anqing, Qujing, Yuxi, Liaocheng, Zhangzhou, Yunfu, Shangqiu, Tai’an, Hengshui, Jingzhou, Deyang, Hainan, Langfang, Yingkou, Xuchang, Xiaogan, Qinhuangdao, Jieyang, Baoji, Kaifeng, Mudanjiang, Qiqihar, Nanping, Putian, Siping, Wuzhou, Dongying, Ordos, Weinan, Chifeng, Bayingolin, Xianyang, Puyang, Qianjiang, Hebi, Huainan, Yangquan, Tieling, Datong, Lüliang, Huaibei, Liupanshui, Jincheng, Shuozhou, Huaihua, Shizuishan, Fuxin, Jixi, Yulin, Pingxiang, Wuhai, Tongchuan, Ulanqab, Hulunbuir, Qianxinan, Shuangyashan, Hegang, Pingliang, Qitaihe, Benxi, Chuzhou, Huangshi, Dandong, Ezhou, Heng- yang, Ma’anshan, Laiwu, Xiangtan, Zigong, Tongling, Chaozhou, Suizhou, Yingtan, Xining, Qiannan, Xinyu, Jinchang, Shaoyang, Hanzhong, Ganzhou, Baise, Heyuan, Liangshan, Jiayuguan, Xiangxi, Xinzhou, Haixi, Bayannur, Ya’an, Qinzhou, Pu’er, Longnan, Hami, Wenshan, Alxa, Shangluo, Altay, Nujiang, Ganzi, Maoming, Huanggang, Huludao, Quzhou, Tonghua, Jingmen, Jinzhou, Zhumadian, Jiujiang, Yinchuan, Chaoyang, Suihua, Ziyang, Songyuan, Binzhou, Luohe, Zhanjiang, Nanning, Zunyi, Zhoukou, Hohhot, Yibin, Changde, Bengbu, Zhoushan, Lishui, Xianning, Fuyang, Liu’an, Yichun, Luzhou, Suining, Bijie, Enshi, Zhaotong, Yichun, Rizhao, Yangjiang
Period Number Category Directory of bases
251 Large
Zibo, Tangshan, Shenzhen, Beijing, Tianjin, Shenyang, Nanjing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Dalian, Shanghai, Wuxi, Changzhou, Suzhou, Nantong, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Qingdao, Yantai, Foshan, Weifang
Anshan, Handan, Qingyuan, Kunming, Yingkou, Anyang, Changchun, Taizhou, Liuzhou, Zhuhai, Xiamen, Dongguan, Ordos, Huizhou, Wuhu, Cangzhou, Luoyang, Baotou, Jiaozuo, Langfang, Zhenjiang, Taizhou, Jinhua, Yangzhou, Wenzhou, Zhongshan, Hefei, Xi’an, Daqing, Baoding, Taiyuan, Rizhao, Quanzhou, Binzhou, Yueyang, Heze, Yichang, Linyi, Shaoxing, Liaocheng, Jiangmen, Weihai, Yancheng, Xinxiang, Tieling, Huzhou, Jiaxing, Dezhou, Huai’an, Xuzhou, Xiangfan, Shijiazhuang, Harbin, Nanchang, Jinan, Zaozhuang, Jining, Tai’an, Zhengzhou, Xuchang, Changsha, Chengdu, Dongying, Fuzhou
Maoming, Chengde, Sanmenxia, Tonghua, Panzhihua, Fushun, Linfen, Shaoguan, Lanzhou, Honghezhou, Chifeng, Chenzhou, Karamay, Xining, Jilin, Jinzhou, Yan’an, Zhoukou, Loudi, Urumqi, Zhangjiakou, Pingdingshan, Lüliang, Changzhi, Jinzhong, Yinchuan, Ximeng, Hengshui, Lishui, Heyuan, Zhuzhou, Zigong, De- yang, Wuzhou, Jingmen, Lianyungang, Xingtai, Jiujiang, Neijiang, Huaihua, Yuxi, Yichun, Ji’an, Qinhuangdao, Sanming, Xinyang, Zhumadian, Guilin, Bayannur, Nanyang, Bozhou, Siping, Ziyang, Kaifeng, Shantou, Hulunbuir, Liu’an, Putian, Qujing, Zhanjiang, Zhangzhou, Nanning, Qiqihar, Shangqiu, Hengyang, Tongliao, Baishan, Xianyang, Guiyang, Puyang, Hohhot, Hebi, Yibin, Songyuan, Zhaoqing, Jieyang, Panjin, Datong, Yangquan, Jincheng, Shuozhou, Wuhai, Ulanqab, Jixi, Hegang, Shuangyashan, Qitaihe, Huainan, Huaibei, Dazhou, Liupanshui, Bijie, Yulin, Qingyang, Bazhou, Yuncheng, Xinzhou, Benxi, Dandong, Liaoyang, Chao- yang, Ma’anshan, Tongling, Chizhou, Xuancheng, Ningde, Pingxiang, Xinyu, Yingtan, Ganzhou, Fuzhou, Shangrao, Laiwu, Huangshi, Ezhou, Huanggang, Suizhou, Xiangtan, Xiangxi, Chaozhou, Yunfu, Baise, Hechi, Leshan, Liangshan, Wenshan, Baoji, Weinan, Shangluo, Jiayuguan, Jinchang, Baiyin, Longnan, Altay, Alxa, Huludao, Anqing, Qinzhou, Haikou, Nanchong, Yanbian, Yichun, Jiamusi, Mudan- jiang, Suqian, Quzhou, Suzhou, Nanping, Longyan, Luohe, Xiaogan, Jingzhou, Xiantao, Shaoyang, Yiyang, Yongzhou, Fangchenggang, Luzhou, Bazhong, Zunyi, Chuxiong, Zhoushan, Shiyan, Yangjiang, Mianyang
(1) Distribution of industrial bases before the launch of reform and opening up. The main factors that influenced the distribution of China’s industrial bases during this stage include combined site selection by industrial enterprises centered on the “156 Projects,” as well as industrial city development centered on the “Third Front” movement. Due to the implementation of the “156 Projects” by 1957, China had taken the first steps in building eight large industrial zones: the northeast China industrial base centered on Shenyang and Anshan, the north China industrial base centered on Beijing, Tianjin, and Tangshan; the Shanxi industrial zone centered on Taiyuan, the Zhengzhou-Luoyang-Kaifeng industrial zone centered on Zhengzhou, the Hubei industrial zone centered on Wuhan; the southern Sichuan industrial zone centered on Chongqing, the Shaanxi industrial zone centered on Xi’an; and the Gansu industrial zone centered on Lanzhou (Figure 2a). Through the “Third Front” movement carried out at the end of the 1960s and through the 1970s, China positioned a number of steel, coal, petroleum, electric power, machinery, chemical, and defense industries in inland regions, spurring the formation and development of dozens of industrial bases in the interior. During this period, basic infrastructure investment in inland China accounted for 64.7% of the national total, while 11 provincial areas in the “Third Front” region themselves accounted for 52.7%. As a result, the proportion of national gross industrial output value accounted for by inland industries grew from 30.6% in 1952 to 39.1% in 1978.
Figure 2 Spatial distribution of China’s “156 Projects” and industrial bases
(2) Rapid growth of industrial bases during the initial phase of reform and opening up (1980-1990). In 1985, the number of industrial bases in China’s eastern, central, and western regions were 68, 62, and 38, respectively (Figure 2b). During this period, the country’s 21 large industrial bases were all composite in nature, with 17 of them positioned in the eastern region, mainly concentrated around the Yangtze River Delta and the Bohai Rim. The Pearl River Delta had only one large industrial base, located in Guangzhou. Furthermore, in the central region there were only two large industrial bases in Daqing and Wuhan, while Chengdu and Chongqing were the focal points of site selection in the western region under the “156 Projects”.
After undergoing a period of development in the 1990s, by 2001 the number of industrial bases in China’s eastern, central and western regions were 96, 86, and 74, respectively (Figure 2c). This represents respective additions of 28, 24, and 36 bases. In the western region, most of these newly added bases fell into the small-scale category, and were specialized for basic materials industries, light industries, or energy industries. Although increase in the number of industrial bases in the eastern region was relatively small compared to the central and western regions, the industrial output of eastern bases showed greater expansion. In 2001, the gross industrial output value of industrial bases in the eastern region was 6.30 trillion yuan. This accounted for 76% of national output, representing an increase of 10 percentage points over 1985, and was five and eight times higher than the total output value of central and western bases, respectively. During this period, industrialization was relatively rapid in the Shandong Peninsula and the Pearl River Delta, with seven large industrial bases added between 1985 and 2001. In the Shandong Peninsula, new large industrial bases dominated by equipment manufacturing industries, basic materials industries, and light industries were established in Yantai and Weihai. In the Pearl River Delta, five large industrial bases were added in Huizhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, and Foshan, with the Shenzhen, Huizhou, and Zhuhai bases dominated by equipment manufacturing industries. Equipment manufacturing industries not only create products with high added value, but once developed in partnership with basic materials industries, they can be provided with greater scale benefits and agglomerative effects. This caused the eastern coastal region to achieve economic performance and output value much higher than the central and western regions.
(3) Balanced and diversified development. After the beginning of the 21st century, China’s industrialization entered a period of balanced and modularized development in the spatial sense. By 2010, the distribution of industrial bases, and particularly large industrial bases, was showing a push from south to north and from east to west. The numbers of bases in the eastern, central and western regions were 97, 91, and 63, respectively, with the central region registering some increase and the western region showing reduction (Figure 2d). Industrial bases in the eastern region were mostly large or medium sized. From a total of 97 bases, 20 were large and 41 were medium, and most were spread over the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and the Bohai Rim. The central and western regions, on the other hand, were primarily dominated by small industrial bases, which accounted for 81% and 89% of the total numbers of bases in these regions. Looking at large industrial bases, of the 22 large bases in China in 2010, eight were located in the Yangtze River Delta, separated between Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuxi, Changzhou, Suzhou, Nantong, Hangzhou and Ningbo. All of these were composite, double leading industry bases dominated by basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries. There were also nine large industrial bases in the Bohai Rim. Beijing, Tianjin, Shenyang, Dalian, Qingdao, and Yantai were double leading industry bases dominated by basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries, while the Weifang base had a triple structure led by basic materials industries, light industries, and equipment manufacturing industries, and the Zibo and Tangshan bases were led by basic materials industries alone (output value of basic materials industries accounted for 67% of gross industrial output in Zibo and 73% in Tangshan). The Pearl River Delta region had only three large industrial bases in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Foshan. Both the number and scale of regional industrial bases fell during this period, and the Zhuhai and Huizhou bases, which were once large, dropped in scale to become medium. Meanwhile, compared to 2001, large industrial bases in the central and western regions had not changed significantly, and there were still only two composite industrial bases in Wuhan and Chongqing, each with a double leading industry structure combining basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries. However, there was significant development with medium industrial bases. Bases including Handan, Baotou, and Yueyang, among others, which had originally been small, developed into medium industrial bases by 2010. In 2001, these cities were mostly dominated by basic materials industries, but by 2010 they had gradually developed accompanying equipment manufacturing industries and light industries to become medium bases with double leading industry or multiple leading industry structures. From these trends of change, we can see that in the future as Chinese industry on the whole moves toward transformation and upgrading in equipment manufacturing and makes equipment manufacturing the leading industry, industrial bases that have cultivated complementary basic materials industries and light industries will become an important focus of development.

4 Growth paths of China’s industrial bases

4.1 The growth paths and characteristics of large industrial bases

From the results of industrial base differentiation, we can see that large industrial bases all have composite structures, are generally cities that serve as regional centers, are relatively large in scale, and have diverse methods of industrial combination. There are two main paths of growth for large industrial bases. The first path is evolution from a triple leading industry composition (basic materials industries, equipment manufacturing industries, and light industries) toward a single leading industry composition (equipment manufacturing industries), and from there evolving again toward a double leading industry composition (basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries). This type of industrial base consolidates the leading position of equipment manufacturing industries within the industrial system over the growth process, as in the examples of Beijing, Dalian, and others. The second path is transformation from a triple leading industry composition (basic materials industries, equipment manufacturing industries, and light industries) toward a double leading industry composition (basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries) (Figure 3). Typical cases include Shanghai, Tianjin, Nanjing, Chongqing, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Wuxi, Ningbo, and Changzhou.
Figure 3 Growth models of China’s industrial bases
Note: Circles represent industries; the size of circles represents the size of output value; lines represent combination; the thickness of lines represents the number of cities; the color of lines represents industrial composition type - red represents single leading industry, blue represents double leading industry, green represents triple leading industry, and yellow represents quadruple leading industry. (1-Light industry; 2-Energy industry; 3-Material industry; 4-Manufacturing industry)
The evolution of the industrial composition of large industrial bases has two core characteristics. First, the standing of light industries markedly declines. To a certain extent, the process of growth for large industrial bases is also a process of eliminating light industries. In 1985, light industries accounted for 37% of large industrial bases’ output value. Apart from Daqing and Anshan, which were dominated by energy industries and basic materials industries, the remaining 19 large bases had relatively large proportions of light industries in their industrial structures. Of the 24 large industrial bases in 2001, 10 still had a definite proportion of light industries, but this proportion had fallen by 17.3%. By 2010, among eastern bases only those in Weifang and Nantong still had significant shares of light industries, while in the other 20 bases light industries had already ceased to be a type of leading industry, and the share of light industries in industrial bases nationwide dropped to 12.9%. Second, large industrial bases evolve in the direction of a double leading industry structure combining basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries. Industrial bases in 1985 basically all evolved basic materials industries - equipment manufacturing industry compositions, regardless of whether they initially had single leading industry or triple leading industry compositions. Furthermore, transformation from mixed development of various industries to competitive industrial composition was a pervasive trend. In 2010, there were 17 large industrial bases with double leading industry compositions combining basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries. In the process of urban industrial development, perhaps the “large and comprehensive” single leading industry model was not well suited to the rapid growth of large industrial bases. The general pattern for the development of large industrial bases involved integrating limited resources and focusing them on developing competitive industries. The most typical industrial bases, including Shanghai, Tianjin, Nanjing, and Chongqing, all began with triple leading industry compositions with basic materials industries, equipment manufacturing industries, and light industries in 1985. These bases all evolved double leading industry compositions with basic materials industries and equipment manufacturing industries by 2001 or 2010, and this structure has persisted until today.
It is worth noting that in the process of development of large industrial bases, specific cities followed paths of growth contrary to the general evolutionary path due to natural resource endowments in their regions or special policies that supported the development of specific industries. For example, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Huizhou, and Jiangmen were all rapidly promoted to become large equipment manufacturing bases by 2000, while Changchun, Jiangmen, and Shaoxing were demoted from large bases to medium bases by 2010. Tracing the reasons for this, China’s eastern region was able to form a series of strongly competitive bases for modern manufacturing industries and light industries between 1985 and 2000 because, under reform and opening up policy, the region enjoyed a unique locational advantage and was driven by both its own industrial foundation and externally given momentum. This was especially true in the Pearl River Delta, where manufacturing industries characterized by a “three-plus-one” trading mix (custom manufacturing with materials, designs or samples supplied and compensation trade) took the lead in merging with the global manufacturing value chain, accelerating the formation and development of new types of industrial bases. In 2001, the value added of China’s electronic information industry accounted for 4% of GDP, becoming the country’s foremost pillar industry. The output value of Shenzhen and Huizhou’s industries for manufacturing communications equipment, computers, and other electronics accounted for 17.4% and 5% of national output, respectively, while the output value of Zhuhai’s industry for manufacturing instrument panels and machinery for business and cultural uses accounted for 13.3% of national output. The region thus became a world-class manufacturing base for the electronics industry. Meanwhile, another category of industrial bases showed trends of decline and clear signs of reduction in urban industrial scale. Numerous apparent problems existed in industrial bases of this category, including singular industrial structure and short industrial chains, which led to insufficient developmental vigor. In 2001, Changchun accounted for 11.3% of national transportation equipment production and its gross industrial output value ranked 17th in China. However, the financial crisis caused this automotive city with a single giant industry to be left out in the cold. Shaoxing ranked 14th in China for gross industrial output value in 2001, while the output value of the city’s light industries ranked second in the country, behind only Shanghai. However, over the course of switching from the mid stage to the late stage of industrial transition, its traditionally competitive industries like textiles were faced with rising costs, leading to a slowdown in overall industrial development. By 2010, Changchun and Shaoxing’s gross industrial output value rankings had fallen to 30th and 26th, respectively, and they were both reduced from large industrial bases to medium bases.

4.2 The growth paths and characteristics of medium industrial bases

A composite structure is prevalent among medium industrial bases, with multiple types of industry combinations. Their growth paths can be approximately divided into two categories. The first is maintaining a constant triple leading industry composition with basic materials industries, equipment manufacturing industries, and light industries, as was the case with Jiangmen and Yancheng. The second is shifting from a triple leading industry composition to a quadruple leading industry composition with basic materials industries, equipment manufacturing industries, light industries, and energy industries, thus forming an industrial base with a balanced industrial composition (Figure 3). Examples of the second path include Harbin, Shijiazhuang, Jinan, Nanchang, Zhengzhou, and Changsha.
During the industrial evolution of medium bases, the standing of equipment manufacturing industries and basic materials industries within the base city is constantly elevated, while light industries slowly decline and energy industries are gradually incorporated into the industrial composition. There are many kinds of transformations that the industrial compositions of medium bases can go through. This is due to the tendency for the principal carriers of medium industrial bases to fluctuate, as in the cases of Shaoxing, Changchun, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Anshan, Xiamen, and Zhuhai and other industrial bases, which had devolved from large bases into medium bases by 2010. Meanwhile, there are also some medium bases that declined in scale to become small bases, as was the case in 2010 for Jilin, Urumqi, Shantou, Xianyang, Jiamusi, Huangshi, Xiangtan, and Baoji, among others. The industrial composition of medium bases reflects the characteristic of gradually becoming more comprehensive, with the trend of double leading industry compositions evolving into triple leading industry compositions and eventually achieving coordinated development between four industries.
In the last two decades, a relatively large number of medium bases have declined to become small bases. Jilin, Urumqi, Shantou, Xianyang, Jiamusi, Huangshi, Xiangtan, Baoji, and other industrial bases all became small bases in the 2010 evaluation. These cities have indistinct locational conditions, weak economic bases, and were mostly led by a single industry during their initial phases of development under a unitary industrial structure. Furthermore, most relied on natural resources to develop basic materials industries and light industries, but as the capacity for resources to flow across regions was enhanced, a large quantity of analogous industrial projects were constructed in coastal areas. Therefore, these bases suffered a clear blow as a result of duplicate construction and similar industrial structure. With a lack of apparent advantages for inland industrial bases in terms of supporting policies, attraction of investment, and large-scale investment allocation projects, most medium bases of this category fell into decline.

4.3 The growth paths and characteristics of small industrial bases

More than half of the small industrial bases are specialized, with relatively singular industrial structures. There are two main growth paths for small industrial bases. The first is maintaining development of a single leading industry. From the results of differentiation, it is apparent that resource industry bases including Yangquan, Jincheng, Jixi, Hegang, and Shuangyashan, basic materials industry bases including Ma’anshan, Tongling, Xinyu, and Baiyin, and light industry bases including Yanbian, Yichun, and Nanping all followed a single leading industry developmental model continuously from 1985. The second is shifting from a single leading industry to composite development of multiple industries (Figure 3). Some examples of bases that followed the second path are Changzhi, Loudi, Puyang, Hebi, Hulunbuir, Zigong, Lianyungang, Xingtai, and Qinhuangdao. Among these, Loudi, Pingdingshan, and Changzhi were all based on energy industries but gradually developed basic materials industries, thereby entering the double leading industry composition category; Hebi gradually developed basic materials industries and light industries from a foundation in energy industries and grew into a triple leading industry composition; Zigong gradually developed equipment manufacturing industries from a foundation in basic materials industries and entered the double industry composition category; and Panjin developed petrochemical equipment manufacturing with the backing of its petroleum resources, transforming first from being led by basic materials industries to a composition combining basic materials industries and energy industries, and then again to a basic materials industries, energy industries, and equipment manufacturing industry composition. Meanwhile, there are also some small bases like Xinxiang, Yichang, Baoding, Tieling, Zaozhuang, Dandong, and Liaocheng that expanded in industrial scale to become medium bases through the combined development of multiple industries.
Looking at the evolution of the industrial compositions of small bases, we can see that these bases are mainly dominated by a single leading industry and rely on locally available resources and labor. They develop resource-dependent industries, forming basic materials industry and light industry bases or energy industry bases. Most cities maintain a constant pattern of industrial composition, with a few showing a gradual shift toward greater comprehensiveness. At the same time, in the process of small bases shifting from a single leading industry to a combination of multiple industries, some bases showed a phenomenon of reversal from a combination of multiple industries back to a single dominant industry, as in the cases of Chifeng, Chenzhou, Nanping, Yanbian, Longyan, Anqing, Chengde, Sanmenxia, and Tonghua. In 1985, all of these small bases had a single leading industry, but by 2001 they had developed other industries to varying degrees. For example, Chifeng, Chengde, and Chenzhou all developed light industries from a basic materials industries foundation, while Anqing, Longyan, Nanping, and others developed basic materials industries on a foundation of light industries. By 2010, however, they had transformed back to the single leading industry category. The main reasons for this are the limited capacity of traditional resource-oriented cities to gather essential factors like talent and capital, heavy institutional constraints, and low levels of innovation. Moreover, the factors necessary for industrial development are precisely these elements of human capital, and thus a phenomenon of reversal emerged in the evolutionary process toward greater industrial comprehensiveness in a portion of small bases due to a critical lack of supportive capacity to guarantee the development of substitution industries.

5 Influencing factors and mechanisms in the formation of industrial bases

5.1 Principal factors influencing the growth of industrial bases

(1) Natural resources and location. China’s basic industries, especially the coal, electric power, petroleum, and steel industries, have for some time revolved around the distribution of resources, which has in turn spurred the formation and development of corresponding industrial bases. Of all of the small industrial bases in 2010, 83 belonged to the category of resource-oriented cities. The tendency for small bases to be basic materials bases or energy bases is particularly apparent, with the establishment of leading industries based on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources. Therefore, many bases have both flourished and declined as a result of natural resources. Of the 95 (prefecture-level city) old industrial bases specified in the National Old Industrial Base Adjustment and Renovation Plan (2013-2022), 36 cities still belonged to the category of specialized industrial bases in 2010 (Table 3). This category of specialized industrial bases has two main characteristics. The first is that the industrial structure is excessively dependent on heavy industry, as in cities like Shiyan, Panzhihua, Puyang, Baiyin, and Yangquan where the proportion of heavy industry was greater than 90%, or exceedingly geared toward heavy industry, as in cities like Jingmen, Zhuzhou, Huaibei, and Jixi where the proportion was greater than 80%. The second is that the industrial structure is relatively singular, with the greatest proportion taken up by resource extraction and basic materials industries. In 2010, energy industries in Shuozhou, Yangquan, Bijie, and Yulin accounted for 88.8%, 88.3%, 86.6%, and 80.5% of gross industrial output value, respectively; basic materials industries in Jinchang, Jiayuguan, and Benxi accounted for 98.0%, 93.5%, and 89.6% of gross industrial output value, respectively. In terms of the product mix, a relatively large share is taken up by low and mid level industrial products, while industrial chains are short and economic efficiency is low. Following resource depletion, some small bases like Fuxin and others are gradually forced to withdraw from the stage of history.
Table 3 Specialized old industrial bases in 2010
Province City
Shanxi (2) Datong (68.53%); Yangquan (88.33%)
Liaoning (4) Benxi (89.58%); Liaoyang (83.24%); Chaoyang (71.12%); Huludao (65.21%)
Heilongjiang (4) Mudanjiang (44.73%); Jiamusi (67.64%); Jixi (54.42%); Yichun (38.56%)
Anhui (5) Huaibei (49.02%); Huainan (71.22%); Wuhu (55.44%); Ma’anshan (66.56%); Anqing (48.28%)
Jiangxi (1) Pingxiang (74.09%)
Henan (2) Hebi (63.69%); Anyang (61.40%)
Hubei (4) Huangshi (72.00%); Xiangyang (53.94%); Jingzhou (40.93%); Shiyan (81.35%)
Hunan (2) Xiangtan (42.19%); Shaoyang (36.65%)
Guangdong (1) Maoming (83.76%)
Guangxi (1) Liuzhou (60.15%)
Sichuan (4) Zigong (44.42%); Panzhihua (74.87%); Luzhou (52.18%); Leshan (59.4%)
Guizhou (2) Zunyi (39.93%); Liupanshui (61.55%)
Shaanxi (1) Baoji (47.37%)
Gansu (3) Jiayuguan (93.53%); Jinchang (97.97%); Baiyin (67.96%)

Note: ① basic materials industries; ② equipment manufacturing industries; ③ energy industries; ④ light industries

From the perspective of locational factors and transportation conditions, coastal provinces have marked advantages in external-facing development in areas like international trade and investment. Along with constant infrastructural improvement, advanced transportation infrastructure like high-speed rail lines, intercity rail lines, and modern airports and seaports has become a major factor influencing industrial distribution, promoting the positioning of all types of industries near ports. Of the 21 large industrial bases in 1985, only Daqing, Wuhan, Chongqing, and Chengdu were located inland, while the other 17 cities were all in coastal areas. Nine of these cities were located in the Yangtze River Delta, two in the Pearl River Delta, and six in the Bohai Rim. By 2010, the only remaining large industrial bases in inland regions were Wuhan and Chongqing, which are both located along the Yangtze River, while the other 20 were all positioned in coastal areas and concentrated in the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and the Bohai Rim.
(2) Policy factors. Before the launch of reform and opening up, the planned economy played a decisive role in the formation and development of China’s industrial bases. However, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978 established the major strategy of opening up to the outside world and invigorating the domestic economy, and after this a series of policies for opening up were successively launched. Eastern coastal regions were the primary beneficiaries of these policies on a continuing basis, due to their locational advantages and convenience in terms of transportation (Figure 4). In the late 1970s, the State Council decided to first implement special policies and flexible measures in Guangdong and Fujian to develop external-facing economic activities, and the focus of state investment began to slant toward coastal regions. In the 1980s, special economic zones were successively launched in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou, and Xiamen, and open coastal cities and areas were established. A number of small industrial bases sprang up primarily due to the backing of state investment, a trend closely resembling other major development projects carried out since the founding of the PRC, namely the Soviet-sponsored “156 Projects,” the Second Five-Year Plan and the “Third Front.” For example, of the 156 national key construction projects designated during the First Five-Year Plan, 53 were distributed among resource-oriented cities and accounted for nearly half of the total investment, leading to the formation of small industrial bases like Shiyan, Pingdingshan, Panzhihua, and Jinchang.
Figure 4 Geographical orientation of major regional preferential policies in China from 1979-2010
Meanwhile, many of these industrial bases were dominated by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and since SOEs had tight institutional constraints, a slow pace of technological upgrading, and limited capacity to withstand market risks, their urban industries developed slowly. For medium industrial bases, the general tendency was for industries to become bigger and broader and for the industrial mix to become more comprehensive. This was largely due to the government performance assessment system, which for a long time revolved around GDP, urging local governments to start up projects using all possible means. As regional administrative centers, provincial capitals took advantage of the push of administrative power and their superior industrial foundations compared to other cities and became the locales of choice for developing and launching industrial projects. Some examples are Zhengzhou, Shijiazhuang, Nanchang, and Jinan, all of which developed toward balanced industrial compositions.
(3) Economic globalization. Industrial bases are increasingly dependent on the global market and global factors of production, and development of the manufacturing industry has been greatly influenced by globalization. In terms of spatial distribution, locations with high concentrations of global factors like capital, technology, and information are preferred. Furthermore, transnational direct investment has become an increasingly important lever in constructing a new, internationalized division of labor. In 2001, 20 multinational corporations listed on the Fortune 500 had established 318 enterprises of all sizes in China’s industrial domain. These were primarily spread over the country’s eastern coastal areas (89.3%), and concentrated in a few large and extra-large cities like Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. As a result, factors of this type have had a clear impact on large industrial bases, while their influence on medium and small bases has been relatively weak.
Table 4 Leading industries and standing of central enterprises in small industrial bases in 2009 (%)
City Leading industry Large enterprise share of output value Central enterprise share of assets City Leading industry Large enterprise share of output value Central enterprise share of assets












Machinery, tobacco, iron & steel,
Coal extraction
Coal extraction, thermal power,
iron & steel
Coal extraction,
iron & steel
iron & steel
Iron & steel,
coal extraction
Textiles, foodstuffs and tobacco, chemicals, machinery
Thermal power,
textiles, machinery
Foodstuffs and
tobacco, chemicals, machinery
Coal extraction
Coal extraction, machinery
Machinery, iron & steel, foodstuffs and tobacco
Foodstuffs and tobacco, papermaking, machinery
Nonferrous metals, coal extraction





































Foodstuffs and tobacco, textiles, machinery
Coal extraction, thermal power
Petrochemicals, textiles
Coal extraction, thermal power
Iron & steel,
nonferrous metals, textiles
Automotive equipment
Locomotives, nonferrous metals, chemicals
Iron & steel,
textiles, machinery
Nonferrous metals, machinery, foodstuffs and tobacco
Thermal power, foodstuffs and tobacco, textiles
Iron & steel,
coal extraction
nonferrous metals,
Petrochemicals, nonferrous metals


























Data source: Wang Chengjin, Wang Wei. Developing level of old industrial cities and decline mechanism. Journal of Natural Resources, 2013, 28(8): 1275-1288.
China started attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) from the end of the 1970s against the backdrop of globalization. The industrial domain continuously attracted the greatest proportion of FDI, and capital investment tended to augment industrial growth. From the perspective of provincial-level units, coastal provinces and cities like Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Fujian, Shandong, Liaoning, Beijing, and Tianjin were always “hot spot” areas for foreign capital investment. From a regional perspective, in 1985 the sum of foreign investment in China’s eastern regions reached 902.9 million USD, accounting for 91.9% of the national total. The Pearl River Delta region continuously held a relatively large share of foreign investment between 1985 and 2001, accounting for 44% of the national total in 1985 with 432.6 million USD. Starting in 2001, foreign investment began to shift northward, and in that year the Yangtze River Delta region accounted for 27.9% of the national total with 13.6 billion USD in foreign investment, and this amount was continuing to increase. On the other hand, while investment in the Pearl River Delta region accounted for 27.4% of the national total in 2001 with 13.4 billion USD, it was gradually decreasing, eventually dropping to 10.2% of foreign investment received nationally in 2010. From an industrial perspective, foreign businesses had a strong preference for capital and technology intensive, internationally competitive, and highly profitable industries, which had a definite effect of bolstering the development of large industrial bases.
(4) Science and technology. China’s new and high technology parks and industries are mainly established in regions with relatively high levels of economic development and high concentrations of universities and scientific research institutions, including the Bohai Rim urban agglomeration centered on Beijing, the Yangtze River Delta region centered on Shanghai, the Pearl River Delta region centered on Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and large cities like Chengdu and Wuhan that are scientific and technological centers (Figure 5). Furthermore, these are precisely the regions where large industrial bases are densely distributed. This kind of discrepancy between different regions’ levels of technological advancement also caused divergence in regional industrial development. In particular, differences in the contribution rate of technological advancement to the industrial economy further widened economic gaps between regions. On the other hand, gaps in technological progress also accelerated regional differences in terms of new and high-tech industry development, especially for industries in fields like electronic information, biopharmaceuticals, and advanced materials that are highly dependent on the capacity to make technological innovations. It is important to note that while Beijing had the highest intensity of investment in scientific and technological research and development (R&D) in both 2001 and 2010, its numbers of patent applications and patents granted were lower than those in provinces and cities like Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong. This is because a large portion of Beijing’s R&D investment goes toward basic research, as well as the fact that some of Beijing’s scientific and technological achievements have been commercialized in other regions like Jiangsu. In terms of medium industrial bases, only some provincial capitals possess satisfactory conditions regarding science and technology, while for most medium bases the conditions are mediocre. This has inhibited industrial innovation in medium bases, leaving them to rely on natural resources and grow slowly thanks to factors of history and path dependency.
Figure 5 Scientific and technological levels of provinces and cities in 2001 and 2010
(5) Market demands. China’s fast rate of progress in industrialization and urbanization has placed high demands on raw materials, and as such basic materials industries have rapidly expanded. From the beginning of the 1990s, central provinces including Henan, Anhui, Hunan, and Jiangxi experienced rapid industrial development as the constantly growing demand for steel and other basic materials drove the production of basic materials industries in the central regions to quickly expand in scale. Consequently, by 2001 small industrial bases with leading industries in the field of basic materials industries were the greatest in number. Furthermore, two categories of industrial composition emerged in these bases as basic materials industries were developed along with either light industries or equipment manufacturing industries.

5.2 Stages and patterns in the formation and evolution of China’s industrial bases

In the more than 60 years since the founding of the PRC, China has succeeded in making the historic leap from the early phase of industrialization to the middle and late phases, and transformed from an extremely underdeveloped agricultural country into a modern industrial nation. Meanwhile, industrial bases, as the main carriers of industrialization, have continuously expanded in scale and adjusted in structure. Based on the growth paths of China’s industrial bases, a normative model for the formation and evolution of bases can be divided into three main stages. At these different stages, industrial bases possess marked discrepancies in terms of scale, structure, and primary influencing factors (Figure 6).
Figure 6 General pattern of the formation and evolution of industrial bases in China
Stage one: resources and location are dominant factors. Under the condition of having either significant endowment of key factors or an advantageous location, cities rely on natural resources to develop resource-oriented industries while their levels of specialization increase markedly within the national scope. However, since the value added of products from light industries and resource industries is low, the value of urban industrial output is also relatively low. In terms of industrial structure, light industries occupy the largest proportion of the urban industrial mix, and the shares of energy industries and basic materials industries are also quite large, but equipment manufacturing industries have just started to develop. In terms of influencing factors, the city’s natural resources and location are most important during this stage for affecting industrial base formation.
Stage two: labor, market, and infrastructure are dominant factors. Socio-economic factors including labor, market, and infrastructure together produce agglomerative effects, which influence the evolution of bases to a significant degree. The influence of new factors like science, technology, and capital is relatively great, while natural resources become less influential. Industrial structures are dominated by heavy industries that involve a large amount of processing, and industrial chains are further extended. Complementary equipment manufacturing industries develop while light industries experience some decline, and the value added of products shifts from low to high.
Stage three: composite factors are dominant. Factors of economic globalization, capital, information, and science and technology have the greatest impact on development, while the influence of socio-economic factors and natural resources is relatively low. Under the impact of globalization, industrial bases face the global market and enter into the global division of labor system, industries extend into the upstream of the global value chain through the R&D and design sectors and into the downstream through the marketing and branding sectors, and complementary industries become more abundant with each passing day. Core competitiveness is created through innovation-driven industries and R&D on key technologies. Urban industrial scale increases markedly as industry shifts toward high threshold, high value-added, and high return advanced manufacturing, while low threshold, low value-added, and low return light and energy industries gradually weaken. In terms of industrial structure, equipment manufacturing industries and basic materials industries account for the largest proportion of urban industry, while light industries and energy industries are only used to meet proximal demand.
Through summary of each stage’s evolutional characteristics, one can see that the evolution of industrial bases in China is a systematic process that follows an iterative and incremental course. (1) Industrial structure first develops from singular to varied, and then from varied toward competitive optimization. In the process of small base development, one type of industry always leads; when bases transition from small to medium, industrial chains extend, types of industries increase, and multiple industries develop together; and in the transition from medium to large, industries with low returns are reduced, and development is focused on competitive industries. Development that is led by a single industry has limited ability to withstand risks and difficulty maintaining stable growth, while an all-encompassing industrial portfolio is detrimental for bringing together factors of production and generating agglomeration economies. Therefore, industrial bases develop toward a double leading industry composition that includes basic materials industries and manufacturing industries. (2) As cities advance through the stages of economic development, their industrial structures progress rapidly on a track from light industries to basic materials industries to advanced manufacturing. This is specifically displayed as a persistent drop in the share of light industries and continuous growth in the share of equipment manufacturing industries. (3) As bases grow, their leading industries are constantly transforming. Every stage follows transformation of the previous stage’s leading industry, maturation of the current stage’s leading industry, and emergence of the next stage’s leading industry. Therefore, the vitality and competitiveness of a city increase along with the rise of the leading industry. (4) Whether or not an industry can carry out smooth transformation and upgrading to a large part depends on the availability and reasonable utilization of the factors of production necessary for industrial transformation. The level of influence held by factors of production varies between the different evolutionary stages of industrial bases (Table 5), and as base transitions to a different stage, it is highly possible that reliance on fixed factors will inhibit industrial transformation.
Table 5 Various influencing factors on the development of industrial bases at different stages
Influencing Factor Small Medium Large
Light industry led Basic materials industry led Equipment manufacturing led
Natural resources ◎◎◎ ◎◎
Location ◎◎ ◎◎
Infrastructure ◎◎ ◎◎ ◎◎
Labor ◎◎ ◎◎
Market ◎◎ ◎◎ ◎◎
Science & tech ◎◎◎ ◎◎◎
Globalization ◎◎ ◎◎◎
Capital ◎◎ ◎◎
Policies & systems ◎◎

Note: ◎◎◎ decisive factors, ◎◎ major factors, ◎ factors of average importance

For example, natural resources are crucial for bases to grow in the early stage, but in the late stage resource exhaustion and continued reliance on resource dependent primary processing industries will inevitably affect the transformation of industry to high-end manufacturing, even to the point of causing bases to decline (Lu and Fan, 2009).

6 Conclusion and discussion

Since the founding of the PRC, the overall spatial evolution of China’s industrial bases has shown clear trends of agglomeration and diffusion. Bases have gone through three principal stages, in which the course of spatial evolution was as follows: before the launch of reform and opening up, decentralized development during the “156 Projects” and “Third Front” periods set the foundation for the industrialization of inland regions. In the early phase of reform and opening up, the distribution of industrial bases tended to concentrate toward eastern coastal regions, thereby establishing the Yangtze River Delta region, the Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan region, the south-central Liaoning region, and other regions as areas of agglomeration for industrial bases, while the Shandong Peninsula and the Pearl River Delta also started to grow as areas of agglomeration. At the same time, however, areas of agglomeration developed during the “156 Projects” period including the Central Plains region, the Chengdu-Chongqing region, and the regions along the Yellow River gradually weakened. Entering the 21st century, the distribution of industrial bases was inclined toward becoming more balanced, as a trend of shifting from north to south emerged for areas of agglomeration and industrial bases became further concentrated in south eastern coastal regions. The Pearl River Delta matured as an area of agglomeration and the western Taiwan Strait region also starting to swell, and a whole belt of agglomeration was formed along the eastern coast starting in Beijing-Tianjin and terminating in the Pearl River Delta. Meanwhile, most areas of agglomeration for industrial bases in northeastern, central and western China, including the south-central Liaoning region and the Chengdu-Chongqing region continued to weaken. By 2010, industrial bases were showing trends of a northward shift and diffusion to central and western regions. The degree of base concentration in the Pearl River Delta and the western Taiwan Strait region diminished, while concentration constantly increased in the Yangtze River Delta and Shandong Peninsula areas of agglomeration. As such, three major areas of agglomeration in the Yangtze River Delta, the Shandong Peninsula, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region became high-density areas for China’s industrial bases. Simultaneously, areas of industrial base agglomeration showed a westward push along the Yangtze River, as the degree of base concentration in the Wuhan and Chengdu-Chongqing regions intensified.
Numerous examples from the development of industrial bases in China prove that bases of different scales and categories have different growth paths and influencing factors. Small industrial bases generally follow a path of industrial growth featuring dependence on natural resources and maintenance of a single leading industry. Medium industrial bases evolve industrial portfolios with double, triple, and quadruple leading industry compositions, reflecting their characteristic of gradually becoming more comprehensive. Large industrial bases evolve toward an industrial portfolio that includes basic materials industries and manufacturing industries, demonstrating their inclination to develop a competitive industrial composition. Looking on the whole, therefore, we can see that as industrial bases grow in scale, their industrial structures first develop from homogenization to diversification, and then again from diversification to competitive adjustment, while the leading industries of cities progress along the track of light industries, basic materials industries, and advanced manufacturing industries. Furthermore, along with growth the necessary factors of production become more complete, with the most crucial set of factors transitioning from traditional ones like natural resources and labor to new ones like information and capital.
It is worth noting that due to limitations on the availability of data, this paper has carried out detailed differentiation and screening of each major category of industry and has not given consideration to the connectedness that exists between industries. Discerning these connections could distinguish industrial bases more scientifically, for example the connectedness between the coal industry and electric power may require the integration of a few indicators to carry out differentiation. Therefore, the process of differentiation needs to become more detailed in follow-up research. In addition, since this article uses prefecture-level cities as the basic unit for differentiation and analysis, using a regional scale to carry out further analysis of industrial base differentiation, methods of industrial organization, and paths of spatial expansion is a task of equal importance and a question worth deeper exploration.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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He C F, Zhu Y G, Zhu S J, 2010. Industrial attributes, provincial characteristics and industrial agglomeration in China.Acta Geographica Sinica, 65(10): 1218-1228. (in Chinese)This paper explains industrial agglomeration by combining industrial attributes and provincial characteristics.Based on data from the first economic census in 2004,this study found that industrial agglomeration significantly varied by industry and across province.Overall,industrial agglomeration in the western provinces is much higher than that in the coastal provinces.Indidvidual industries however show significant different patterns.Statistical analysis indicates that provincial characteristics such as per captita GDP,road and raiway density,ratio of non-state-owned economy,ratio of governmental expenses to GDP,number of development zones,social capital and law enforcement,and trade barrier indeed influence the extent of industrial agglomeration.Controlling for provincial dummies,industrial attributes such as agricultural input intensity,labor input intensity,average enterprises size,industrial linkages,ratio of foreign capital in total capital,ratio of exports in gross output,ratio of profits and value added taxes in total sales,ratio of state capital in total capital,transportation input intensity and planned key industries are associated with industrial agglomeration.The significance of many interactions between industrial attributes and provincial characteristics suggests that industrial agglomeration is not only industry-specific but also province-specific.The policy implication is that local governments shall carefully choose industries to develop industrial clusters.


Jin F J, Chen M X, 2010. The evaluation of regional policy in Northeast China since 2003.Economic Geography, 30(8): 1259-1265. (in Chinese)Regional policy is an important component of regional study.This paper reviewed the main policies,a total of 39 items,since the implementation of the strategy of revitalizing northeast China,which were divided into 7 types.Tax and financial support were important external forces to revitalize the northeast;industrial development and enterprise reform were the key and subject to revitalize the northeast.Policies were formulated which have significant fluctuations inter-annually and the space-oriented of large region.Regional policies have achieved apparent effects in economic development,structural adjustment,social benefits,and institutional innovation.However,there are two major problems: In the process of implementation,policies effort is inadequate;policies are not perfected;policies are difficult to implement,some policies have expired,etc.In the process of policy formulation and post-implementation,policies have project-oriented and state-oriented.The future focus of regional policy in the Northeast China should emphasize four aspects: the optimization of industrial structure,and state-owned enterprise reform,inter-provincial growth poles and industrial spatial location,social harmony development and infrastructure construction,opening up and regional cooperation mechanisms.

Jin F J, Chen M X, Wang J E, 2012. Key Issues of Northeast China Development. Beijing: The Commercial Press. (in Chinese)

Jin F J, Lu D D, 2004. Development of resource-based cities under the revitalization policy of Northeast China industrial base.Science & Technology Review, (10): 4-6. (in Chinese)Limited Functions are key impediments for the development of resource-based cities in northeast China. Under the revitalization policy of northeast China industrial base, it is very important to foster internal growth power and multi-ways of development for resource-based cities. The governments should make more efforts to upgrade the urban functions such as service center, business center of resource-based cities, and optimize the economic development conditions, and improve urban environment. This paper suggests that the long-term strategy for resource-based cities should focus on three aspects: building a sustainable industrial system based on the development of natural resources, improving the innovation capacity, and fostering clusters of industry according with local advantages.

Jin F J, Zhang P Y, Fan J et al., 2006. Study on the Revitalization and Sustainability of Northeast China. Beijing: The Commercial Press. (in Chinese)

Li C G, 1996. A study on the mechanism of recession and structure transformation of Northeast old industrial base.Acta Geographica Sinica, 16(2): 106-114. (in Chinese)On the basis of analying the features of "Northeast phenomenon" and the historical development process of western old industrial bases, using the industrial structure theory and economic growth theory, this paper discusses the restrictive factors in old industrial bases recession and studies the mechanism of recession of old industrial buses. According to the successful experience of western old industrial bases transforming, the paper point-ed out the aim, way and measure of northeast old industrial base transforming in China. The main conclusions drawn from the study are as follows:1. The main feature of recession of old industrial bases is low increase, low speed and bad benefit. 2. The regional superiority is the objective foundation of industrial base for-mation and development. 3. The main reason of lod industrial base recession is the indus-trial structure aged. 4. The adjustment industrial structure is the dey way of northeast old industrial base transforming. 5. The aims of northeast old industrial base transforming in-elude adjusting the relationship between raw industry and manufacture industry, light in-dustry and heavy industry, adjusting industrial technical structure and product structure. 6. The way of northeast old industrial base transforming consists of making new industrial development pattern, adjusting industrial allocation, improving regional investment envi-ronment, speeding up the developlment of southern coast zone, developing greatly town industry, laying down a series of measures that promote the reform of northeast old indus-trial base.

Li C G, Li P X, Tan X Let al., 2003. Situation and countermeasures of industrial structure adjustment and escalation of Northeast China.Acta Geographica Sinica, 23(1): 7-12. (in Chinese)The author considers that industrial structure adjustment and escalation is pivotal to develop Northeast China vigorously and to achieve the sustainable development, and the goal of industrial structure adjustment is to make it opened, higher, clean and integrated. On the basis of analyzing industrial actuality and having newly surveyed area comparative predominance of Northeast China, the paper presents the structure adjustment strategy that industry structural system of integrating the traditionary industry with high-technology industry should be built. At the same time it is put forward that to form the Chinese equipment industrial base, modern green agricultural base, resource refined base and industry base of science and technology should be the main future character of Northeast China. The paper settles the industrial functional position of Northeast China and confirms the strategic emphasis and countermeasure of adjustment and escalation of industry structure, which is achieved by viewing from an integrated visual angle. Structure adjustment of utilizing resources, integration of industry and economic area, optimization of ownership and enterprise structure, promotion of urbanized progress, system construction of area innovation, integration of infrastructure construction and environment protection, all are concerned.

Li W Y, Lu D D, Chen H X et al., 1990. China’s Industrial Geography. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

Lu D D, 2003. Theory and Practice of Regional Development in China. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

Lu D D, Fan J, 2009. 2050:The Regional Development in China. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 2002. Industrial Classification for National Economic Activities. Beijing: National Bureau of Statistics. (in Chinese)

National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 2012. China Cities Statistical Yearbook (2011 Edition). Beijing: China Statistics Press. (in Chinese)

Pred A R, 1966. The Spatial Dynamics of Urban Industrial Growth 1800-1914:Interpretive and Theoretical Essays. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Research Group of the Old Industrial Base of the State Council (RGOIBSC), 2013. Plan for the Adjustment and Reconstruction of the Old Industrial Bases throughout the Country (2013-2022). . Plan for the Adjustment and Reconstruction of the Old Industrial Bases throughout the Country (2013-2022). (in Chinese)

Scott A J, 1988. New Industrial Spaces: Flexible Production Organization and Regional Development in North America and Europe. London: Pion.

Wang C J, Wang W, 2013. Developing level of old industrial cities and decline mechanism.Journal of Natural Resources, 28(8): 1275-1288. (in Chinese)Since the mid 18th century,the continuous construction and development of China’s industry had fostered many industrial bases or industrial cities.During the developing process of market economic since the 1980s,China’s industrial cities showed different trends,many old industrial cities declined obviously and became the problem regions.In this paper,based on the elaboration of the conception of old industrial city,we design the major indexes and auxiliary index,and apply the data in 1985 to identify and discuss the spatial pattern.The result shows that China has 100 old industrial cities and they concentrate mainly in the regions of "Nuruer Tiger Mountain→ the Great Wall → the Yellow River → Funiu Mountain → Daba Mountains,Wuling Mountain→the Yangtze River".Then,the quadrant model and the ratio of industrial value and GDP in 1985-1986 and 2008-2009 are applied to analyze the industrial role and comprehensive urban benefit,and estimate their developing status.The results show the old industrial cities are divided into four types,the increasing-developing type includes 23 cities,the decreasing-developing cities reach 26,and 46 cities declined obviously with backward urban economic development,but only 5 cities belong to the increasing-lagged type.Meanwhile,we probe the declining mechanism of old industrial cities from the viewpoints of super-large industrial projects,industrial structure,national enterprises and institutions.These cities have close relationship with 156 super-large projects under USSR’s help,2ed Five-Year Plan and "Three Lines"construction,these projects chiefly developed resources exploitation,raw material and equipment manufacturing industries.Another important factor is that these old industrial cities are locked in the specific industrial technology,equipment and production,and have the low capacity to innovate.Furthermore,the predominance of super-large national enterprises determines they are locked in the planned-economic institution and have the low adaptable ability to the market economy.

Wang J C, 1982. Discussion on the layout and site selection of China’s petroleum chemical fiber industry.Economic Geography, (3): 194-199. (in Chinese)

Wang Q Y, 2007. Identification of China’s old industrial base and city.Macroeconomics, (5): 3-7. (in Chinese)

Zhang L, Lu D D, 1999. Progress of China’s industrial geography in the 20th century.Acta Geographica Sinca, 54(5): 391-400. (in Chinese)

Zhang P Y, Ma Y J, Liu W Xet al., 2004. New urbanization strategy for revitalizing the traditional industrial base of Northeast China.Acta Geographica Sinica, 59(Suppl.1): 109-115. (in Chinese)Northeast China is a typical old industrial area with high urbanization level in China. There are 90 cities in 2000, and urbanization level is 46.55%, which is around 10 percent higher than the average level of the whole country. However, since 1978, the area has experienced a tough reconstruction process. Regional development lagged behind in respect to southeast coastal area, and the rate of urbanization slowed down, urbanization quality was low. Due to the decline of traditional industries, regional urbanization was encountered with all problems such as state owned enterprises reform, unemployment and laid-off workers, transformation of the resources-exhausted cities, and eco-environmental quality degradation etc., hence to quicken the pace of urbanization and improve urbanization quality becomes a key way in revitalizing the old industrial base. According to the current situation, regional urbanization tendency, characteristics of the declining area, and related urban regeneration theories, the authors put forward a new urbanization strategy for the old industrial base. The overall object is to reconstruct Northeast China into a modern settlement system with prosperous economy, advanced cultural society, beautiful physical environment, clear urban function, reasonable distribution and coordinating structure of different sized cities. The general layout is to establish 4 megalopolises centered by Dalian, Shenyang, Changchun and Harbin, which have the potential to form a huge megalopolis along the key traffic axis from Harbin to Dalian. There are 6 key aspects for carrying out the new urbanization strategy, which are transforming economic structure of the resources exploiting city, regenerating the old industrial zone inside big city, improving industrial agglomeration and reorganizing industries among the megalopolises, rural urbanization, accelerating urban informationization, renovating urban environment and renewing urban ecology. The authors give an in-depth analysis on the existing problems in relation to the above aspects and bring forward main countermeasures.

Zhang W Z, 2009. Theory and Practice of Industrial Development and Planning. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

Zhang W Z, Dong K G, Tian S C, 2009. Development and evolution of spatial distribution of Chinese petrochemical industry.Geographical Research, 28(5): 1378-1388. (in Chinese)The development of Chinese petrochemical industry in the past decades can be divided into four stages,and each stage has exhibited its unique characteristics.Since 1998,Chinese petrochemical industry has been growing rapidly.The spatial pattern of Chinese petrochemical industry has evolved into an unbalanced state with the rapid development.In general,the majority of Chinese petrochemical industry is located in eastern and northwestern China as well as coastal areas on a macro scale.Besides,eight bases such as Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei,central-southern Liaoning and Shanghai-Nanjing-Hangzhou regions have developed into the fundamental part of Chinese petrochemical industry.On a micro scale,petrochemical enterprises have tended to be re-located in the neighborhood of ports because of convenient transport.More and more enterprises are concentrated in industrial parks which specialize in petrochemical and some related industries.Based on the above analysis and research,this paper can offer some suggestions to the future development and spatial pattern of Chinese petrochemical industry.