Discussion paper

DP9748 Economic Reforms and Industrial Policy in a Panel of Chinese Cities

We estimate the effect on economic development of China's industrial policy, in particular, the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ). We use data from a panel of 276 Chinese cities and prefectures from 1988 to 2010. Our difference-in-difference estimator exploits the variation in the establishment of SEZ across time and space. We find that the establishment of a state-level SEZ is associated with an increase in the level of GDP of about 20%, but not with a permanently steeper growth path. This finding is confirmed with alternative specifications and in a sub-sample of inland provinces, where the selection of cities to host the zones was based on administrative criteria. Decomposing the effect of SEZ on GDP into different channels shows that this worked mainly through the accumulation of physical capital, although there is some evidence of increasing productivity and human capital investments. Using light intensity as an alternative measure for economic activity confirms the positive effects of SEZ.


Zilibotti, F (2013), ‘DP9748 Economic Reforms and Industrial Policy in a Panel of Chinese Cities‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 9748. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp9748