Every country needs to establish an administrative structure to both carry out national policies and make local decisions. The administrative structure itself has a large impact on urbanization. In large and rapidly changing countries like China, both the relationships among the central government, sub-national governments like provinces or provincial-level municipalities, and different levels of local government, and the boundaries and authority among different administrative divisions are complex and changing. Which level of government has authority to make key decisions and has access to revenue is highly political. The centralized top-down system of governance characteristic of China under Mao has evolved into a more decentralized system with a hierarchy of governments that is difficult to understand—especially for Westerners unfamiliar with reality on the ground. It is difficult even for scholars who understand the structure to do cross sectional or longitudinal analysis, because the structure permits great variation so that a category may mean quite different things in different places or from one year to the next. Higher levels of government often establish ambiguous policies that lower levels interpret in different ways, and some statistics are unavailable, unreliable, inconsistent, or collected in ways that make analysis difficult or impossible.
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