LEWI Research


Trade, capital and human mobility have been growing in volume globally. Simultaneously, urban centres have become magnets attracting labor, capital and commodity. Any analysis of society is incomplete without an examination of the relationship between urbanisation and types of mobility. This working group aims to generate knowledge to understand types of mobility in and out of urban centres, as well as connecting mobility to global production and value chains. Through these analyses, this working group purposes to provide evidence-based policy recommendations for global, regional, national and local policymakers to develop suitable governing and regulation frameworks to monitor and facilitate types of mobility globally.




  • Capital-Labor-Commodity mobility nexus
  • Rural-urban mobility dynamics
  • Global production and value chains
  • Migrant integration and social service landscape in urban centres in Asia




  • Dr Kaxton SIU, Hong Kong Baptist University




  • Dr Jenny CHAN Wai-ling, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
  • Professor CHENG Yuk-shing, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Dr Adam KL CHEUNG, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Professor CHOW Yiu-fai, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Dr HAO Pu, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Dr JIANG Jin, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Dr PENG Yinni, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Professor Charlotte YANG Chun, Hong Kong Baptist University
  • Professor YOON In-Jin, Korea University
Economic geography of unplanned commercial establishments: An investigation of Shenzhen’s urban villages
The built environment of modern cities is largely shaped by urban planning rather than spontaneous development. While whether planned urban space adequately accommodates human needs remains heatedly debated, the increasing complexity of urban development continues to challenge the competence of planners and policy makers. In Chinese cities, given the rigid control of land use and development, planning generally goes undisputed. However, the distribution of urban activities is increasingly redirected by market forces, leading to unplanned development. Most commonly seen are various commercial establishments that have emerged spontaneously within and around the planned fabric of the urban environment, such as a convenience store popping up at the corner façade, a hair salon opened in the roadside garage and a studio concealed in an apartment building. Despite the downsides of these establishments, they not only meet market demand that is unheeded in city plans, but they also facilitate entrepreneurial endeavours for individuals who cannot afford regular premises. In general, unplanned commercial establishments are distributed sporadically. However, such establishments prevail in urban villages, which are migrant settlements that have been transformed from rural villages engulfed by urban expansion. In a state of quasi-urban jurisdiction where rural collective land ownership remains, the construction and utilization of buildings are beyond the control of planning or building codes. The high level of autonomy allows for excess commercial establishments to emerge in residential buildings and non-residential buildings. This research explores the spatiality of unplanned commercial establishments in Shenzhen’s urban villages. The configuration and distribution of unbridled commercial development are examined with respect to the intrinsic structure of the buildings and neighbourhoods that accommodate such activities as well as the land, labour, consumption, and capital markets within and beyond the neighbourhoods.


Rural Landholdings and the Geographic and Social Mobility of China’s Rural Migrants
Rural Landholdings and the Geographic and Social Mobility of China’s Rural Migrants


Express Delivery, Labor and Platform Capitalism in China (2017-2022)
Dr Jenny CHAN Wai-ling
This project traces the privatization of postal services and the changing labor relations of delivery service work in China’s digital economy. A majority of deliverymen, unlike those directly employed by the state-owned EMS and the biggest privately-run SF Express, are classified as “independent contractors” under franchise. As self-employed individuals, however, they are not entitled to employment contracts or social insurance benefits. While these “micro-entrepreneurs” enjoy a certain degree of freedom at work, I find that they are simultaneously regulated by mobile logistics technologies, supervisors, and customers, resulting in steady intensification of labor, reduction of delivery times, and securing of higher profit for the company at the expense of workers. Deliverymen seek to beat the time specified to pick, pack, and send the goods as a means to increase their income. But it is precisely in this way that they routinely consent to their own exploitation by driving up the required speed for fellow workers. The isolated and atomized work environment induces further competition through price-cutting, slashing personal income and weakening labor solidarity. Through participant observation in Beijing and extensive review of company data, this research will contribute to platform capitalism, gender studies, and labor politics in global China.


Internships, Informal Labor and Vocational Skills Training in China (2018-2021)
Dr Jenny CHAN Wai-ling
Jenny Chan is principal investigator of a Research Grants Council’s Early Career Scheme Project (RGC ECS Project No. 25602517) on “Internships, Informal Labor and Vocational Skills Training in China,” which builds on previous research funded by a John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) Research Fund. While it focuses on China's working youth, internships are now widespread and the subject of controversy throughout the world. This research centers on the state-capital-school relationship in framing student internships in China’s development. Interestingly, some employers are climbing value chains by upskilling their employees through methods including the recruitment of student interns. But others collaborate with local governments and school administrations to exploit legal loopholes incentivized by the convenience of obtaining interns under short-term employment and by the low cost of young students’ labor, including non-contribution of social security. The informalization of labor, particularly the place of student interns, deserve detailed analysis. In the context of slowing growth and an ageing population, proper training of vocational students is significant to sustainable development in China and far beyond.


Regional energy-growth nexus and energy conservation policy in China
Professor CHENG Yuk-shing
China’s ambitious decarbonization strategy disaggregates the national energy conservation target by province. Using panel data of 30 provinces for 1995–2017, we revisit China’s energy-growth nexus that considers the likely cross-section dependence among the provinces within each of China’s three regions. Our key finding is a bidirectional causal relationship of energy (natural log of per capita energy consumption) and income (natural log of per capita real GDP) for the Eastern and Central regions and a unidirectional causal relationship from income to energy for the Western region. The Eastern and Central regions’ bidirectional relationship suggests caution in China’s energy conservation policy which may decelerate these regions’ economic growth. The Western region’s unidirectional relationship suggests promoting energy conservation without adversely affecting this region’s economic growth. Hence, the East and Central regions’ conservation effort should be accompanied by cost-effective development of emissions-free renewable resources like hydro, solar and wind for displacing China’s fossil-fuel consumption.