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General Research Fund (GRF)

*2013-2014 (Year Awarded)

Modeling Car Ownership and Time Use in Urban China: A Household Time and Money Budget Allocation Approach

Principle Investigator: Prof. Donggen Wang
Amount Awarded: HK$771,840

The economic miracles of countries such as China and Brazil have led to explosive growth of private car ownership. The rapid growth in motor vehicle fleets has resulted in serious problems like traffic congestion and air pollution. In response to these problems, the so-called plate-number-based traffic rationing policies, which restrict the usage of cars with certain plate numbers on specific days, have been implemented in Mexico City, Beijing and other cities. The existing literature on car ownership may help answer some of the problems faced by the developing countries. However, the scale of car ownership growth observed in China and other developing countries today and the types of response policies adopted deserve research efforts, which may improve our understanding about car ownership. Equally important, we think that the existing car ownership studies can be extended along a different direction. Existing studies mostly treat car ownership as questions of whether to own or how many to own; to our knowledge, hardly any study considers car ownership as a household expenditure commitment competing with other long term decisions such as employment commitments and housing choices. We believe that car ownership should be studied from the point of view of household time and money allocation. This research project is proposed to: a). Develop a household time and money allocation-based model to analyze households’ decision on car ownership. The model will incorporate households’ consideration of income earning, spending patterns and the time allocation of individual household members. Variables on government traffic rationing policies will be included in the model; b). Collect data on car ownership, car usage, time use and households’ socioeconomics to calibrate the model and study the features of households’ decision on and determinants of car ownership in urban China; and c). Study the impacts of plate-number-based traffic rationing policies on car ownership and the resulting time and budget allocation. This proposed research will contribute to the literature with a new perspective and a modeling approach that links car ownership decision with other household long run decisions. The study will also enrich the literature on determinants of car ownership with new evidences from China; a country that has recently entered the motorized era. Finally, this study will provide evidences on how the plate number–based traffic rationing policies impact on car ownership. Findings of this research will be of highly relevance for policy making.

Investigation of the Scale-adaptive Digital Terrain Analysis Method for Rainfallrunoff Process Modelling in the Aridzone of China

Principle Investigator: Prof. Qiming Zhou
Amount Awarded: HK$592,987

The rapid growth of the world economy and population has created a great impact on the earth’s water cycle and water resources. Moreover, intensive human activities, such as the clearance of forests and expansion impermeable surfaces, have also made our living environment vulnerable and susceptible to extreme weather conditions. The hydrological cycle is a complex process. A better understanding of rainfall-runoff responses is a key issue for preventing and reducing natural disasters and for the better use of water resources. In an aridzone, runoff from mountainous region is essential for the survival of human settlements in the lower reaches. The rainfall-runoff often shows an unstable spatio-temporal pattern, largely due to variations in mountain topography. Because of water shortage and its influence on settlements, regional water resource studies often form a focus of hydrological modelling. Fewer investigations have looked at rainfall-runoff events, which may cause devastating consequences due to the poor water holding capability of the environment. As is common with geographical problems, an understanding of the rainfall-runoff process also closely relates to the investigation scale. This study, therefore, will investigate methods for multi-scale hydrological modelling that are suitable for aridzone applications in China’s west. A 3-dimensional terrain-based hydrological process model will be developed by integrating a multi-scale digital terrain model with a topological flow-path network model, which is capable of representing complex hydrological processes by a set of flow tubes perpendicular to contours at a given investigation scale. Thus, the water movement over a 3-dimensional surface can be simplified and modelled to one dimension. Then a conventional one-dimensional formula in fluvial hydraulics can be linked to the flow path segments for dynamic event-based simulations. A software platform will be developed to implement the proposed spatio-temporal models to establish a ‘test-bed’ for the analysis of impacts of environmental variables and scales, and for better understanding about the hydrological processes in the aridzone of western China. Answers will be sought for fundamental research questions in the aridzone hydrology including: (1) the topographic control on the spatio-temporal distribution of rainfall-runoff in the mountainous region, (2) the relationship between the runoff and other environmental variables in the aridzone, (3) the process of flow generation and convergence corresponding to rainfall events over a small catchment, and (4) the impact of scales of data and analysis on the hydrological modelling outcomes.

Trans-local Parenting: How the Intersection of Social Structure and Individual Agency Reconstructs Parenthood among Migrant Workers in South China

Principle Investigator: Dr. Yinni Peng
Amount Awarded: HK$492,025

The proposed project investigates how the intersection of structural factors and agency of various actors in migrant families in South China reconstructs parenthood in a separated-family situation. Mass internal migration in China since the 1970s has given rise to the issue of left-behind children, who have become a serious social problem in Mainland China and attracted both public and academic attention. Previous studies on this topic have mostly focused on the behavioral and psychosocial problems of left-behind children caused by their physical separation from their parents. The agency of migrant parents and their parental practices in childrearing have not been discussed, although transnational parenting has become a fast-growing topic in the studies of international migration. Existing literature on transnational parenting focuses on maternal experiences. The role of migrant fathers and the collaboration between migrant parents and substitute caregivers of left-behind children in childrearing are understudied. Meanwhile, current discussions of Chinese parenthood concentrate on the impact of Confucian culture, the rural-urban divide and the increased education level of parents on parenthood construction. The influence of internal migration on parental practices has not been discussed, although migration greatly affects people’s lives in both urban cities and rural villages. In order to fill these gaps, this project will adopt a multi-sited and multi-voice design to investigate: (1) how the interaction among migrant parents, left-behind children and substitute caregivers of left-behind children reconstructs the meaning of parenthood for migrant workers in South China; (2) how the structural factors (migration, gender ideology, Chinese culture, the penetration of information and communication technologies) shape the process of trans-local parenting practices. This project will have the following contributions: (1) it deepens the theoretical discussion of parenthood by demonstrating how the interaction of various structural factors and the diversified agency of different actors in trans-border families shapes parental practices from afar; (2) it enriches the discussion of migrant parenting and trans-border families by investigating both migrant fathers and migrant mothers and examining both the care givers and the care receivers; (3) it enriches the discussions of the meaning of parenthood in Chinese societies by revealing how mass migration challenges traditional Chinese understanding of parenthood and provides new opportunities for migrant parents to reconstruct parenting ideologies; (4) the multi-sited and multi-voice research design will provide important methodological implications for studies of migration and trans-border families in both China and elsewhere.

*2012-2013 (Year Awarded)

China's Growth-Energy Nexus-Aggregate and Disaggregate

Principle Investigator: Dr. Yuk-shing Cheng
Amount Awarded: HK$205,514

How economic growth and energy consumption affect each other (the so-called growth-energy nexus) has long been a subject of academic and policy interests. The importance of exploring this relationship is particularly timely and relevant for the case of China. The nation’s rapid economic growth and the accompanying rising energy demand have far-reaching economic and geopolitical impacts on the world. The phenomenon of global inflation in the past decade was driven up by the increase in energy prices, which was at least partly attributable to China’s competition for resources. The new geopolitics and energy security consideration have also led to drastic changes in international relations. The Chinese government has been aware of its economic expansion and growing energy need. It has made great efforts to achieve a more energy-saving and environment-friendly growth in recent years. Formulating sensible growth and energy policies, however, requires an in-depth understanding of the relations between growth and energy in China. Unfortunately, there is only limited understanding available from extant research. This project aims to provide analyses to improve this understanding, by applying state-of-the-art methodologies to new data sets of China. Specifically, a long series of data covering the period 1952-2010 will be used in the aggregate analysis. Moreover, a panel data set covering most provinces for the period of 1991-2010 will be used in the disaggregate analysis. The nature of the data sets allows us to discern whether there exist structural breaks over time and regional variations. We will start with an estimation of the output elasticity of energy, followed by various causality tests. Our research will contribute to energy economics and inform the formulation of China’s energy and economic growth policies in the next decade.

Managing Social Order in Maritime South China: Late-Ming (1550-1645) Judicial Court Experiences

Principle Investigator: Dr. Ka Chai Tam
Amount Awarded: HK$508,101

This study explores how social order was maintained by the Ming regime (1368-1645) in south-east China during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, in the light of cases tried by local judges. By examining these documented legal cases, the study seeks to identify the security challenges, particularly the management of discriminated-against social groups such as mariners, foreigners, bondservants, prostitutes, homosexuals and wandering beggars, in the south-eastern provinces where international and domestic trade flourished. In doing so it also explores the conceptions of maintaining local security proposed by frontline officials in a rapidly-growing economy. Through a deep understanding of the crimes and realities of local communities in the late-Ming and early-Qing regimes on the south China coast, and by building an electronic database of all the available late-Ming court cases, the study aims to contribute to social and legal studies of traditional China, propose ideas for confronting similar problems in contemporary Chinese society, and contribute generally to research on problems of social control.

From Exports to Selling in China: Market Rebalancing of Transnational Corporations and Restructuring of the Export-led Development Mode

Principle Investigator: Dr. Chun Yang
Amount Awarded: HK$994,887

The rise of China as the ‘world factory’ since the late 1970s has been attributed to the export-led development, driven by the cross-border investment of Transnational Corporations (TNCs). However, since the early 2000s, export-led path has encountered unprecedented challenges, owing to the changing business environment at global, national, regional and local levels. Transformation of the prevailing model towards a domestic consumption-driven development has been designated by the central government in China’s 12th Five-year Plan (2011-2015). Rebalancing between exports and domestic market, especially embarking on domestic sales in China has been recognized as a viable strategy pursued by the export-oriented TNCs at the wake of the global financial crisis. Despite such a consensus, selling the products previously target for the Western markets in China has turned into a daunting and complex process, the study of which has been rare in the literature. Drawing upon the evolutionary perspective on global production networks (GPNs) approach and the notion of ‘strategic coupling’, the project investigates the changing interaction between local assets and GPNs and subsequent effects on urban and regional evolution in China and particularly the Pearl River Delta (PRD), a typical export-led city-region which has undergone dramatic restructuring. The process of market rebalancing engaged by export-oriented TNCs, particularly the emerging recouping with China’s domestic market over time and space, will be examined, based on a refined GPNs-inspired framework, which incorporates the dynamic GPNs, changing local assets and institutional transition in the contemporary economic globalization. Through intensive field investigation, in-depth interviews, firm-level survey and case study, the project offers an updated and systematic investigation of how the export-led production networks have been reconstructed in response to the rise of local market in the post-crisis globalization. The study is being constructed at an unprecedented junction, when the world, national and local economies are in flux. The study hopes to advance the theoretical debates on strategic coupling of regional evolution and GPNs, and enrich the literature on urban and regional restructuring primarily dominated by the cases in the western developed countries. As a pilot attempt at articulating host domestic market into the GPNs analytical framework and empirical application, the study ellucidates fundamental implications of evolving interactions among GPNs, institutional transition and market shift for reshaping urban and regional trajectories in the dynamic global-local interactions. Suggestions could be proposed for relevant governments and business to strategically tackle challenges and pursue opportunities arising from the onging restructuring process.

*2011-2012 (Year Awarded)

Urban Form Remaking, Car-Dependence and Traffic Congestion in Urban China

Principle Investigator: Prof. Donggen Wang
Amount Awarded: HK$781,755

The significance of traffic congestion and air pollution in Chinese cities was highlighted during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The average speed of motor vehicles in the city centre at rush hour travel at 12-18 km per hour compared to 15 km per hour of a bicycle. Transport-related air pollutions account for about 23% of total air pollution in Beijing. Many attribute the problems to the rocket soaring car ownership and the increasing dependence on car for urban Chinese in their daily travel. More fundamental issues, however, have not yet received sufficient attention: apart from increased income, what other factors contribute to the growing demand for car? Apart from increased accessibility to car, what other factors contribute to the increased urban traffic? Based on our recent research on urban transportation in China, we hypothesise that urban form remaking, or spatial restructuring in Chinese cities, resulted from Danwei (or work unit), land, and housing reforms, has largely, if not fundamentally, changed the ways that urban Chinese use time and space and consequently their travel behaviour. This research is thus proposed to investigate the interrelations between urban form remaking, car-dependence and traffic congestion in Beijing. Specifically, we will collect first-hand data on individuals’ preference towards living environment and travel behaviour, actual activity-travel behaviour and socio-economic variables at two time points. Secondary data will be collected to characterise the built environment in which individuals live. Econometric models especially longitudinal modeling tools such as the two-wave structural equation models will be used to establish associations as well as cause-effect relations between built environment and activity-travel behaviour in terms of car ownership, the use of time and space, travel frequencies and duration, and shares of motorised and non-motorised transport modes. This proposed research has both great academic significance and policy relevance. It will enrich the current literature on the connections between built environment and activity-travel behaviour with empirical findings from a case outside North America and Europe. It will also greatly contribute to the understanding of congestion and air pollution problems related to urban traffic in Chinese cities and based on which appropriate remedy policies may be proposed.

Residential Inequalities in Urban China under Spatial Restructuring

Principle Investigator: Prof. Si-ming Li
Amount Awarded: HK$856,696

Ever since the implementation of the paid transfer of land use rights in the late 1980s, China’s major cities have undergone immense spatial structuring. A coalition between municipal governments and real estate interests has emerged to exploit the huge rent gaps, arising largely from institutionalized segmentation of urban and rural land tenures. To counteract the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, the Chinese government designated real estate and auto production as growth engines. Accompanying this was the ending of the welfare allocation of housing in 1998. Accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 implied the subjection to the full force of globalization, a consequence of which was world city formation. The world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) have since scrambled to set up regional headquarters in China’s leading metropolises. They are joined by China’s own emerging TNCs, primarily large state-owned enterprises corporatized under the enterprise reform. Typical of world cities are workforce polarization, growing income spreads, rapidly rising housing costs, and increased spatial segregation. In China the contrast between traditional work-unit compounds and gated commodity housing estates is particularly striking. Complicating the picture is the proliferation of migrant communities on urban-rural fringes. Growing economic and housing inequalities have brought widespread discontents, as testified by repeated efforts by the Chinese government to cool down the overheated housing market. The discontents are particularly severe among the urban poor, many of whom were forced to move to inaccessible suburban locations due to redevelopment programmes, and young professionals who were too young to benefit from the housing reform of the 1990s. The proposed study aims to conduct a multi-facet analysis of the changing nature of residential inequality in China cities under phenomenal spatial restructuring. More specifically, two major dimensions of residential inequality will be examined. The first concerns the extent and nature of housing inequality, especially after the 1998 housing reform and under increased workforce polarization. In relation to the above, the second concerns how this inequality is exacerbated by spatial segmentations in the housing and labour markets. Phenomenal suburbanization, massive investments in urban freeways, and rising car ownership have further enlarged the differences in mobility over space and hence accessibility to jobs, housing and other urban amenities between socioeconomic groups. Surveys conducted by the PI in Guangzhou will form the primary data source for the proposed work.

Spatial Strategy, Planning and State Governance in China

Principle Investigator: Dr Him Chung
Amount Awarded: HK$349,804

This research will investigate a new form of state governance in China and its implication on the country’s central-local relationships. Unlike conventional discussions which concentrate on fiscal matters, personnel arrangement and institutional frameworks, this study seeks to examine how spaces – spatial planning and land – have been used for central regulation. Regional development strategies have been used as a tool to distribute resources and balance local powers since the first Five Year Plan. During the pre-reform period, it was a powerful technique as the central state was the only channel for resources. Economic reform since 1978 has increased new channels for resources and hence decreased the effectiveness of those strategies. In addition to the growing of local discretion and the formation of a fragmented governance landscape as a result of power decentralization, the need to develop a new spatial strategy is raised. In 2009, the introduction of eight regional plans by the State Council is a respond to such need. Focusing on the current practice of regional and urban planning in the Pearl River Delta, this research will investigate the central state’s new spatial strategy and its associated techniques. Specifically, this research investigates the Guangzhou-Foshan integration plan. It seeks: (a) to examine the governing reasons that lying behind the spatial strategy; (b) to investigate the relationships between regional planning and urban planning in the pursuit of spatial strategy; and (c) to examine the role of land in the process. It is expected that the spatial perspective will provide new understandings on China’s state governance and central-local relationships, an arena which has been dominated by political scientists.

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