The Changing Urban Landscapes of China

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Introduction: The Changing Urban Landscapes of China
by Anthony M. Orum

Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago

Visiting Scholar, Center for Urban Research and Learning, Loyola University, Chicago
Among the more remarkable stories of the early years of the 21st century is that of China. Twenty-five years ago I had the good fortune to visit China and to spend several weeks in Shanghai. I had heard much of the country and always harbored a dream that I would be able to visit it. But I was unprepared for what I saw. Shanghai, in particular, was a strange mix of the urban and the rural. Across the city farmlands were interspersed with urban businesses and apartments. I visited Fudan University and taught a few classes there. It was and remains one of the finer institutions of higher education in China. But the buildings were very old and possessed none of the amenities to which we were accustomed in the United States and other Western countries. Only a few blocks away from the university I saw the small huts in which peasants lived, and the night soil they left on the streets. And the streets themselves were unpaved: they consisted of hardened dirt; there was virtually no automobile traffic; and bikes, especially at the university, provided the principal means of transportation for most people.

During the past ten years I have returned to Shanghai several times, including a stint as a Fulbright teacher at Fudan. In the space of twenty-five years the changes to the city and to the country have been extraordinary. China has undergone a singular social and economic transformation, taking decades to complete what took other centuries for other nations. China watchers, among others, wonder at the effects these changes will have. Can the economy change rapidly – from a socialist economy to a capitalist one – without setting off other major changes? How can a centralized government, run by the Communist Party, actually implement a market economy – and a successful one at that – when such a feat has never been done before? These and many other questions remain to be answered as the country and its people evolve in the coming decades.

This collection of articles offers one set of answers to these questions. I have chosen a number of the best and most recent writings on the changing urban landscapes of modern China. Chinese cities and metropolitan regions provide the sites where many of the most important transformations are taking place. They thus furnish a window through which one can observe the changing economy and its effects on people. The first section of this issue includes articles that furnish a broad context for understanding the changes. It includes work by a number of leading China scholars, among them Dorothy Solinger, who offers important insights into Chinese cities. Other articles in the section cover different facets of the changes, including population growth and climate change. The second section, on migration, inequality and poverty, treats some of the most salient issues confronting modern China. Migration from the countryside to the city has brought in millions of workers who can now work in factories and help to construct the new urban landscape. But it has also produced a variety of new problems, including emerging patterns of inequality and poverty for the migrants. These are key issues facing the government and the people, and the articles in this section provide readers with a taste for the new living conditions in Chinese cities.

The third set of articles deal with the new settlements and housing conditions in the urban areas. Among other things, over the past few years more and more old housing sites have been demolished, their residents moved to new quarters, away from their old neighborhoods, and new high-rise apartment buildings or commercial firms have replaced them. This has unleashed a host of concerns, not the least of which has to do with whether the homeowners have received fair treatment in the relocation process. The articles in this section deal with these issues, and provide some of the best empirical evidence we now have about them. The final set of articles deal with the urban transformation, especially in Shanghai. Shanghai has become the site of some of the most spectacular and vivid urban construction, and much of this has been inspired by the newly-emerging class of artists and creative figures in modern China. The articles here treat these developments, and try to show both the nature of their origins as well as the variety of different developments.

Finally, for those readers unfamiliar with the main threads of events in modern China, I have furnished two excellent references that will provide many more details about China, its transformation, and the transformation of cities in its neighboring countries of Asia.
The Setting: Broad Themes and Issues

Understanding the City: Contemporary and Future Perspectives: The China Difference: City Studies Under Socialism and Beyond

Demographic Dimensions of China’s Development

Reform, Growth and Inequality in China

Urban Poverty and Marginalization Under Market Transition: the Case of Chinese Cities

Chinese Urbanization, State Policy, and the World Economy

Climate-Change Mitigation Revisited: Low Carbon Energy Transitions for China and India

Structural change and growth in China under economic reforms: Patterns, causes and implications

Migration, Inequality and Poverty

Rural Migrants in Shanghai: Living Under the Shadow of Socialism

Understanding Dual-Track Urbanisation In Post-Reform China: Conceptual Framework And Empirical Analysis

Poverty Concentration and Determinants in China’s Low-Income Neighborhoods and Social Groups

Welfare Program Participation Among Rural-to-Urban Migrant Workers in China

Housing and Urban Villages

Spatial Analyses of the Urban Village Development Process in Shenzhen, China

Access to Housing in Urban China

Effects of Residential Relocation on Household and Commuting Expenditures in Shanghai

The Changing Right to the City: Urban Renewal and Housing Rights in Globalizing Shanghai and Mumbai

Urbanization and Informal Development in China: Urban Villages in Shenzhen

Space, Place and Remaking Chinese Cities

The ‘Entrepreneurial State’ in ‘Creative Industry Cluster’ Development in Shanghai

Artistic Urbanization: Creative Industries and Creative Control in Beijing

Property-led Redevelopment in Post-Reform China: A Case Study of Xintiandi Redevelopment in Shanghai

Restless Urban Landscapes in China: A Case Study of Three Projects in Shanghai

Additional Sources

Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong, Editors, Worlding Cities; Asian Experiments in the Art of Being Global, Blackwell, 2011.
John Logan, ‘Bibliography,’ in John R. Logan, The New Chinese City, Blackwell, 2002.