China Perspectives 2013/3


The Urbanisation of Rural China

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China Perspectives 2013/3

Special Feature

Editorial Page 3

Jonathan UngerBen Hillman

For the first time in history, more Chinese people now live in towns and cities than in rural villages. Reaching 51% in 2011, urbanisation in China is accelerating. Convinced that this holds the key to the country’s ongoing social and economic development, China’s leaders recently announced an urbanisation target of 70% (approximately 900 million people) by 2025. However, leaders including Premier Li Keqiang have emphasised that future urbanisation would be characterised not by an expansion of megacities (dushihua 都市花), but by growth in rural towns and small cities (chengzhenhua 城镇化). The Party is essentially seeking to take the cities to the rural populace rather than bring the rural populace to the cities. Following the policy announcement at the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, a group of national ministries has been tasked with developing guidelines for promoting the urbanisation of rural China.
In reality, this understudied dimension of China’s urbanisation has been underway for some time. Following the industrialisation of many rural areas along the coast and within distance of cities, many “villages” have grown to accommodate 30,000 or more workers. Today many of these villages, especially in the Pearl River Delta, have become urban-like nodes in an everwidening urban sprawl. Even in China’s agricultural heartland, vast numbers of county towns are becoming small cities, a process accelerated by the increasing concentration of public services in county towns and the expansion of industry in China’s inland provinces. In a separate thrust, in much of China, under the auspices of the Building a New Socialist Countryside programme (jianshe shehui zhuyi xin nongcun 建设社会主义新农村) that began in 2006, (1) government policies are encouraging whole villages to demolish their current housing and to move into communities of high-density townhouses, sometimes merging several villages in order to provide supermarkets, libraries, etc., in a replication of urban life. All of these forms of onrushing urbanisation are reshaping rural China – its landscape, culture, and social structures…

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Urbanisation in Between: Rural traces in a rapidly growing and industrialising county city Page 5

Andrew B. Kipnis

 This article focuses on the lived experiences of people who have moved to Zouping, a rapidly urbanising city in Shandong Province. It argues that the variety of their experiences reveals much about Chinese processes of urbanisation. Recent writing on Chinese urbanisation often portrays a sharp social break with rural experience. This article discusses the variable degrees of continuity with rural pasts that different groups of new urbanites experience. It presents Zouping as an intermediate case of Chinese urbanisation, illustrating aspects of both migrant and in situ development, and also argues for the importance of attention to divergent examples of lived experiences, which often blend or transcend the ideal types presented in models of urban experience.

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Peripheral Urbanism: Making history on China’s northwest frontier Page 13

Tom Cliff

This paper analyses the motives, processes, and effects of urbanisation in Korla, a small but rapidly expanding city in northwest China, where the author conducted over two years of fieldwork. The paper aims to show that the historical monuments of the urban environment are physical manifestations of a stirring, and often violent, program of ideational and socio-economic change that is directed at the periphery and all of its residents – even as some of those residents are also posed as agents of the ongoing transformation.

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The Causes and Consequences of Rapid Urbanisation in an Ethnically Diverse Region:Case study of a county town in Yunnan Page 25

Ben Hillman

In contrast with China’s coastal regions, where rural urbanisation has largely been a result of industrialisation, urbanisation in the once predominantly rural towns of the interior is sometimes driven by local government policies. This article focuses on a case study of Zhongdian (Shangri-la), where urbanisation has mainly been driven by tourism. It shows that while the problem of land seizures has been generally less violent in this sparsely populated area of the interior, the urbanisation of this ethnically diverse area of northern Yunnan has generated a distinct set of problems. While local officials have strong incentives to pursue policies that promote urbanisation, they have few incentives to pursue policies that promote equal access to the new economic opportunities that accompany urbanisation.

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The Guangdong Model of Urbanisation: Collective village land and the making of a new middle class Page 33

Him ChungJonathan Unger

In some parts of China – and especially in Guangdong Province in southern China – rural communities have retained ownership of much of their land when its use is converted into urban neighbourhoods or industrial zones. In these areas, the rural collectives, rather than disappearing, have converted themselves into property companies and have been re-energised and strengthened as rental income pours into their coffers. The native residents, rather than being relocated, usually remain in the village’s old residential area. As beneficiaries of the profits generated by their village collective, they have become a new propertied class, often living in middle-class comfort on their dividends and rents. How this operates – and the major economic and social ramifications – is examined through onsite research in four communities: an industrialised village in the Pearl River delta; an urban neighbourhood in Shenzhen with its own subway station, whose land is still owned and administered by rural collectives; and two villages-in-the-city in Guangzhou’s new downtown districts, where fancy housing estates and high-rise office blocks owned by village collectives are springing up alongside newly rebuilt village temples and lineage halls.

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The Extent of In Situ Urbanisation in China’s County Areas: The case of Fujian Province Page 43

Jinmei ChenLiyue LinMin LinYu Zhu

By developing and using indexes reflecting “quasi-urban” status, this paper attempts to quantitatively estimate the “invisible” contribution of in situ urbanisation to the overall urbanisation process in the county areas of Fujian Province. The results show that the urbanisation level of the county areas in Fujian Province would be significantly increased if the urban characteristics resulting from in situ urbanisation were fully reflected, suggesting that the conventional urban statistics seriously underestimate the true extent of rural-urban transformation in the county areas. Furthermore, such underestimation is more serious in the coastal areas with most dynamic socioeconomic development, and thus distorts the true picture of the spatial pattern of rural-urban transformation. The paper explores the implications of the above results for the understanding of China’s urbanisation process, suggesting that rural-urban transformation and the corresponding planning practice in China should be conceptualised in the context of blurred rural-urban distinction and more important roles for rural areas in the urbanisation process.

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Urban Planning Goes Rural: Conceptualising the “New Village” Page 53

David Bray

A major goal of the national program to Build a New Socialist Countryside is to modernise and urbanise the rural built environment. This objective has been bolstered by the extension of state-sponsored urban planning regimes into rural jurisdictions. One of the implications of this is that every administrative village in China is now required to commission and implement a 20-year “master plan” for redevelopment. Through tracing the origins and rationale of key policy initiatives, in the first part of this paper I aim to show how urban planning came to be seen as an appropriate tool for solving a range of intractable rural “problems.” In the second part of the paper, I present a case study of village redevelopment in order to illustrate how the principles of urban planning have been applied to the re-making of rural built environments and the transformation of rural life.

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Urbanising the Rural: Local strategies for creating “new style” rural communities in China Page 63

Lior Rosenberg

The transition from traditional rural residences to urban-like multi-storey buildings and from traditional villages to rural residential communities (shequ) is one of rural China’s most profound developments of the early twenty-first century. Official discourse highlights the potential benefits for villagers, portraying the new residential communities as gateways to modernity and significant steps toward reducing inequality and disparity between the rural and the urban. Based on extensive research in two counties in Shandong and Anhui provinces, this article concludes that while imposing urban-like models of residence may coincide with prosperous communities’ circumstances, it may easily become a statist venture of predation and a source of tension and rural discontent in less prosperous communities.

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CEFC News Analysis

Occupy Central and Constitutional Reform in Hong Kong Page 73

Karita Kan

China Analysis

Reducing Inequality: Taking from the top to distribute at the bottom Page 80

Agatha Kratz

No Administrative Solution in Sight for Urban “Air-pocalypse” Page 82

Giulia C. Romano

Review Essay

From the Great Chinese Famine to the Communist Famines: On Eating Bitterness and the French translation of Mubei Page 85

Lucien Bianco

Book Reviews

David Shambaugh (ed.), Charting China’s Future: Domestic and International ChallengesLondon and New York, Routledge, 2011, 187 pp. Page 92

Ding Hui

Peter Nolan, Is China Buying the World?,Cambridge, UK, Polity Press, 2012, 147 pp. Page 93

Yu Tao

Lu Xueyi, Li Peilin, Chen Guangjin (eds.), 2013 nian Zhongguo shehui xingshi fenxi yu yuce (Analyses and projections for Chinese society in 2013),Beijing, Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2012, 333 pp. Page 94

Aurélien Boucher

Gotelind Müller (ed.), Designing History in East Asian Textbooks: Identity politics and transnational aspirations, London and New York, Routledge, 2011, 290 pp. Page 96

Yves Russell

Marc Andre Matten (ed.), Places of Memory in Modern China: History, Politics, and Identity,Leiden, Brill, 2012, 285 pp. Page 98

Valentina Punzi



























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