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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Piper R. Gaubatz

Subject Categories

Human Geography


China’s unprecedented urban expansion has drawn extensive scholarly and public attention. The mechanisms and fundamental changes that the urbanization process has brought to Chinese cities have been heatedly discussed in the academic realm. However, research attention has been largely paid to the eastern coastal region. Western Chinese cities in contrast, although they have been catching up with the economic and urban development with two-digit growth in the past two decades, have received relatively little attention. This dissertation analyzes the driving forces, characteristics, and impacts of this recent urban expansion in western Chinese cities. In particular, it focuses on Xining, a multicultural western Chinese city on the environmentally-sensitive Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Using Xining as a case study, it argues that the urbanization process in western Chinese cities has been deeply affected by the central state’s policy of balancing growth and regional disparity. The analysis of the case study is approached from three geographical scales. The city-scale analysis reveals the degree, characteristics, and the overall transformation of demography, land use, infrastructure development, transportation system, and economic and social structure through a combination of data analysis, map analysis, relevant literature review, and data collected from interviews. Based on this contextual work, it assesses the degree of the urban expansion, identifies its morphological characteristics, and explores the transitions of Xining’s spatial structure. The second scale of analysis takes development zones as the major objects. Using data collected from the local statistical bureau, field site observation, interviews with government authorities and deputies of the relocated enterprises, and in-depth oral history interviews with dwellers living around the industrial development zone, this part of the analysis compares Xining’s experiences with those posited by the Pollution Haven Hypothesis. It discusses environmental impacts brought by industries relocated to Xining from eastern China in terms of energy consumption, resource exploitation, and pollution generation. It also addresses how the transformation of urban form and urban spatial structure which has accompanied Xining’s drive toward industrial development affect the city’s environment. The final component is, a micro-scale analysis of Kangchuan New Town, a concentrated resettlement community that holds 23-thousand farmers who were displaced from their farms and villages by the development of Xining’s new industrial zones, This explores urban expansion’s impacts on urban social and spatial structure in a multi-ethnic context. Based on in-depth interviews with both local leaders and residents, this section of the dissertation reveals that urban expansion generated an underclass enclave that also faces the challenge of multicultural tension.