Predicting city branding choices made by Chinese metropolitan cities: examining the impact of geographic context and national plans

Biying Zhu, Ju’e Guo, Martin de Jong, Yunhong Liu*, Erlong Zhao, Gao Jing

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: This paper aims to examine the unique Chinese context by analyzing the city labels (e.g. smart city and eco city) used by Chinese local governments at or above the provincial capital level to represent themselves (adopted city labels) and the developmental pathways they actually pursued (adopted developmental pathways). Design/methodology/approach: The authors compared the city brand choices to those anticipated based on their geographic and economic contexts (predicted city labels and developmental pathways) as well as the directives outlined in national planning documents (imposed city labels and developmental pathways). The authors identified ten main categories of city labels used to designate themselves and establish the frequency of their use based on municipal plan documents, economic and geographic data and national plan documents and policy reports, respectively. Findings: The authors discovered that both local economic development and geographic factors, as well as top-down administrative influences, significantly impact city branding strategies in the 38 Chinese cities studied. When these models fall short in predicting adopted city labels and pathways, it is often because cities favor a service-oriented reputation over a manufacturing-focused one, and they prefer diverse, multifaceted industrial images to uniform ones. Originality/value: The originality and value of this paper lie in its contribution to the academic literature on city branding by developing a predictive model for brand development at the municipal level, with explicit attention to the national-local nexus. The paper’s approach differs from existing research in the first cluster of city branding by not addressing issues of stakeholder involvement or adoption and implementation processes. Additionally, the paper’s focus on the political power dynamics at the national level and urban governance details at the municipal level provides a unique perspective on the topic. Overall, this paper provides a valuable contribution to the field of city branding by expanding the understanding of brand development and its impact on the socioeconomic environment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Place Management and Development
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2024

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