China is an immense chessboard on which a dynamic and complicated game is in
progress. A better understanding of this space, and especially of the regions
and their geographic characteristics, has long been an intellectual and economic
necessity. While there are many studies of Chinaís geography, Thierry Sanjuanís
book has the signal merit of analysing the dynamic trends of change in the Chinese
area in terms of social transformation.
The author begins by describing clearly and succinctly the foundations of
Chinese society, its durability and its territorial stamp, in particular by taking
up the traditional dichotomy between the interior and coastal regions. A debt
of gratitude is owed to the author for demonstrating, more characteristically,
not only how the territorial architecture of China has been influenced by historical
and political conditions, but also how the ideologiesómodernity, nationalism,
communism, etc.,óhave been shaped by geographical conditions. This approach also
makes possible an appreciation of the importance of localism and the role of
the familial, professional, and regional networks in the spatial economic and
social structuring of the country.
Thierry Sanjuan then draws a picture of the profound changes that China has
experienced over the last twenty years. The author demonstrates how the establishment
of a social production system inspired by socialism has allowed China to rebuild
its transactional space, conceived as an indispensable preliminary to the adoption
of a modernisation programme based on a policy of opening to the outside world.
Lastly, Thierry Sanjuan explains how demographic and economic changes have
brought about a recomposition of geographic spaces, especially of urban infrastructure.
The author places the historical model of urban development in the Maoist period
in the perspective of the emerging one of the world city. Income growth and the
rise of an urban middle class are generating a new dynamic. This critical analysis
allows the author to make a convincing demonstration of the limitations of certain
paradigms when applied to the Asian megalopolises, as well as to underline the
rich diversity of the Chinese megalopolises. This section is without any doubt
the strong point of the book.
Thierry Sanjuan attaches a particular importance to society in territorial
management. He offers us an original perspective on the problems of territorial
development from the point of view of the changes in Chinese society. The author
draws on several sets of themes in order to measure their regional impact, thereby
giving a very good picture of development conditions. On the other hand, a few
more detailed pages on transport networks and the geographical corridors of development
would certainly have made it possible to bring out more clearly the relational
aspect of the direction of change.
China: Territory and Society is a very well written book, abundantly referenced,
with a wealth of maps and reading aids. It makes it possible for a wide public
to understand better the geographical consequences of social change, and to identify
some of the stakes involved in development, which only a close study of Chinese
geography can bring to light.
Translated from the French original by