Producing Infrastructure in Contemporary China: Notes from the Airport Industry

Max Hirsh

Recent scholarly work on China has devoted much attention to policy directives that aim to export a “China Model” of infrastructure-led urban and regional development to emerging economies in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Less attention has been paid to the origins of those infrastructure models, which form the centerpiece of the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). My project addresses that gap by studying the development of China’s airport infrastructure from the 1980s to the present. In so doing, I posit aviation as an insightful lens for framing the multidirectional processes by which infrastructural expertise was imported into China from Europe, Japan, and North America during the period of Opening Up and Reform. At the same time, the project reveals how large-scale transport projects, such as airport hubs and high-speed rail stations, have assumed a double function as both a node of global connectivity and as a strategy of urban expansion and rural reform. Ultimately, I argue that an analysis of the transnational origins of China’s infrastructural expertise, coupled with an attention to the expanding spatial and functional scope of large-scale transportation projects, can help us to better conceptualize the processes by which the “China Model” of infrastructure is currently being exported abroad.

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