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China has promoted sustainable urban development since the early 2000s, particularly new urbanism ideals of TOD (transit-oriented development) of satellite towns. Yet most experts indicate that these new cities ultimately fail to meet their sustainability goals. Instead, entrepreneurial local governments and institutions skillfully utilize their power to convert farmlands to constructed lands for various kinds of industrial and commercial development, projects deemed necessary for sustaining local operating budgets. In this paper I analyze three case studies of Chinese “eco-city” development in the context of its policies of “suburbanization planning” that aim at integrating vast regions as metropolitan networks. In it I identify rural land-conversion mechanisms in order to elucidate China’s rapidly evolving urbanization strategies. In particular, I attend to how the rhetoric of eco-city development rationalizes rural land transfers, concluding that most eco-city projects function primarily within a virtual speculative economy rather than significantly contributing to the social or ecological good.

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