GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (1): 64-74.doi: 10.11821/dlyj020180468

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From central place to city network: A theoretical change in China's urban system study

Shijun WANG1(), Chao LIAN1, Ziyu ZHAO2()   

  1. 1. School of Geographical Sciences, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, China
    2. Department of Geography & Spatial Information Technology, Ningbo University, Ningbo 315211, China;
  • Received:2018-08-07 Revised:2018-11-05 Online:2019-01-20 Published:2019-01-29


The systematic and organizational nature of the urban system is not naturally formed and immutable, but it is actively reconstructed and evolved along with the process of social spatial production. The evolution of the characteristics of the research object has promoted the theoretical development of the urban system research. The research perspective has changed from the hierarchical central traditional theory to the modern urban network of the relational system. Based on the integration of relevant research results, the paper first briefly reviews the theoretical and empirical progress of the Christaller center theory in China's urban system research. By analyzing the inherent defects of the central geography theory and the logical changes in the research of the urban system, the limitations of the traditional central theories in interpreting and solving the problems of the modern urban system are expounded. That is, the main deficiencies of the central theories are owing to closed systems. The hypothesis of spatial homogenization created by theory is too ideal and the perfect structural picture which is devoted to the condition of strict hypothesis is unlikely to exist in reality which leads to the lack of universality in its application and the influence of practical value. Secondly, it is pointed out that the theoretical failure of central land theory and the rise of urban network theory are reflected in the following aspects: the time and space compression brought by the traffic revolution leads to the failure of the interpretation of location theory, the generation of space of flow theory, the generation of globalization and production network, the evolution of system and the transformation of the central organization principle. Thirdly, from the three research perspectives of enterprise organization, infrastructure, and information flow, and the evaluation index system of degree-centrality and cluster structure, etc., the network thinking of China's urban system research is revealed. Finally, it is pointed out that from the level to the network, the differences between the traditional and modern urban system research and the theoretical transformation of China's urban system research are reflected in the main characteristics changing from the central to the node attributes, and the main relationship, from hierarchical subordinate to functional complementary. The analysis logic of the subject relationship is transformed from vertical, monopoly and control of research objects, scale relation to vertical and horizontal, complementary and cooperative, and complex relationship network relations; spatial scales change from the locality to the global; the foothold of the research is from the result of closed and static to the process of open and dynamic.

Key words: central place theory, city network, urban system, theoretical change, China