China’s urban land reforms are being implemented within a framework of general economic reforms which are gradualist in nature. Thus, the urban land reforms are moving step by step towards the establishment of a land market. This gradualism is developing in association with a redefinition of central‐local intergovernmental relations in the reform era, and with the advent of localism. In this context, gradual urban land reforms have become an implicit programme to nurture local enterprises and developers, a means of fostering local government‐enterprise coalitions and an instrument to strengthen local government’s position in local development. During the systematic transition toward a socialist market economy, booming Chinese cities are formulating informal local ‘urban regimes’ to compete for local growth by capitalizing on financial gains derived from a dual market of urban land and property development.