The UrbaChina project (2011-2015): completion and follow-up

The UrbaChina project has come to an end. This EU funded research project started in March 2011 and was completed in February 2015. UrbaChina’s main objective was to determine China’s urbanisation trends for the next 40 years and outline possible future scenarios with reference to concepts of sustainability. To reach this goal, UrbaChina used interdisciplinary methods and proposed a multi-faceted approach to the study of sustainability.

As the coordinator of this project, I found this a very rewarding experience. Working with some 11 leading Chinese and European research institutions and cultivating a network between them was very stimulating. We hope UrbaChina was the first step toward a fruitful cooperation between European and Chinese researchers in urban studies, leading to future cooperation.

During the past four years, the UrbaChina teams conducted several fieldtrips in China, mainly in the four cities selected for the project (Shanghai, Chongqing, Kunming and Huangshan), where we interviewed dozens of urban planners, land developers, scholars and officials at both the central and local levels of government. We also took part in several conferences in China and Europe, and organised several international events; we reviewed articles and endeavoured to inform a broad audience about the latest developments in China’s urbanisation.

Our findings have been shared with the scientific community and stakeholders in China and Europe. Most of our results can be found online.

The UrbaChina blog was launched in October 2012 to disseminate our results and identify the latest news on four specific themes regarding urbanisation in China:

  • Institutional foundations of city creation;
  • Land, property and the urban/rural divide;
  • Environmental and health infrastructures and services;
  • Traditions and modern lifestyles in cities.

The UrbaChina blog team was mainly composed of information specialists (Monique Abud, Jacqueline Nivard), a language editor (Aurélia Martin), Ph.D. students (Sébastien Goulard, Chi-Han Ai (艾之涵), Miguel Elosua,) and two interns Léa Daures and Oriane Pillet.

We carried surveys monitoring on urbanisation, putting a special emphasis on open access. Most of our posts link to articles available free online. In the same spirit, we opened an open archive providing images of the four cities under study in the UrbaChina project: Shanghai, Huangshan city, Chongqing, Kunming on MediHAL and a collection of working papers on HAL. The blog became an important tool for us to share this information effectively, with its newsletter ran by Sebastian Goulard every week.

We hope that our blog has satisfied your interest in urbanisation in China. Since the UrbaChina project is now finished, this blog will no longer be updated, but all posts will remain accessible. The blog will also be kept as an archive at the French National Library.

We would like to thank all our contributors and our readers who have helped keep our blog alive for the last three years. Our gratitude also goes to Open edition, the academic blogs platform, for hosting our blog and for their help, and to the China Centre at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales for its enthusiastic support.

Although this research programme is completed, China’s urbanisation still has many issues to deal with and will still be a hot topic for the next few decades. We will continue our research in other forms.

A new blog dealing with urbanisation topics in China will be launched by the end of the month.

We hope you will still continue to follow and enjoy our content.

François Gipouloux, CNRS, UrbaChina Project Coordinator

UrbaChina Newsletter 2015-10 (March)

The UrbaChina Newsletter 2015-10 (March) is now published. To subscribe to our newsletter please contact us at urbachina-edition@services.cnrs.fr

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. candidate in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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Shanghai future

Anna Greenspan (2014), Shanghai Future. Modernity Remade, London, Hurst.

China is in the midst of the fastest and most intense process of urbanisation the world has ever known, and Shanghai — its biggest, richest and most cosmopolitan city — is positioned for acceleration into the twenty-first century.

Yet, in its embrace of a hopeful — even exultant — futurism, Shanghai recalls the older and much criticised project of imagining, planning and building the modern metropolis. Today, among Westerners, at least, the very idea of the futuristic city — with its multilayered skyways, domestic robots and flying cars — seems doomed to the realm of nostalgia, the sadly comic promise of a future that failed to materialise.

Shanghai Future maps the city of tomorrow as it resurfaces in a new time and place. It searches for the contours of an unknown and unfamiliar futurism in the city’s street markets as well as in its skyscrapers. For though it recalls the modernity of an earlier age, Shanghai’s current re-emergence is only superficially based on mimicry. Rather, in seeking to fulfill its ambitions, the giant metropolis is reinventing the very idea of the future itself. As it modernises, Shanghai is necessarily recreating what it is to be modern.

Anna Greenspan is a Shanghai-based philosopher who focuses on urbanism and digital culture. She teaches at New York University in Shanghai.

 

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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Local accounts of high-speed rail reform in China

Speelman, Tabitha. (2015) A bullet train or a paved road? Local accounts of high-speed rail reform in China. The Newsletter, International Institute for Asian Studies, 70 (Spring 2015). URL : http://www.iias.nl/the-newsletter/article/bullet-train-or-paved-road-local-accounts-high-speed-rail-reform-china?utm_source=emailcampaign346&utm_medium=phpList&utm_content=HTMLemail&utm_campaign=%5BIIAS%5D+The+Newsletter+|+No.+70+|+Spring+2015f
The first Chinese high-speed rail (HSR) connection opened in 2007, but by the end of 2013 the country had over 12,000 km of high-speed tracks (the biggest network in the world and about half of all HSR tracks in operation worldwide). Service levels among China’s high-speed trains are high; passengers play games on their phones and consume luxury foodstuff s sold on board, as they near their destination at 300 km/h. The perfectly air-conditioned, mostly quiet HSR environment stands in stark contrast to the bustling carriages of regular Chinese trains, in which passengers chat over card games and share life stories, eating instant noodles and sunflower seeds (not for sale on HSR). Influencing traveling cultures is only one of many ways in which the construction of the world’s most advanced highspeed railroad (HSR) network is changing China, a country in which access to travel is closely tied to socio-economic development. So far, scholarly attention has been limited, but whether it is the economic impact of HSR on remote regions, emerging forms of tourism, or the nostalgia surrounding the disappearing slow trains, the approach of the HSR era in China brings with it many topics worthy of further research.

 

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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9781783602193

Ghost cities of China

Shepard, Wade (2015) . Ghost cities of China : the story of cities without people in the world’s most populated country. Zed Books, 192 p. (Asian Arguments). ISBN : 978-1-7836-0219-3

9781783602193Over the next couple of decades, it is estimated that 250 million Chinese citizens will move from rural areas into cities, pushing the country’s urban population over one billion. China has built hundreds of new cities and urban districts over the past thirty years, and hundreds more are set to be built by 2030 as the central government kicks its urbanization initiative into overdrive. As China redraws its map with new cities, it isn’t just creating new urban areas, but also engineering a new culture and way of life. Yet, many of these new cities, such as the infamous Kangbashi and Yujiapu, stand nearly empty, construction having ground to a halt due to the loss of investors and colossal debt.

In Ghost Cities of China, Wade Shepard examines this phenomenon up close. He posits that the shedding of traditional social structures in the country is at an advanced stage, and a rootless, consumption-centric globalized culture is rapidly taking its place. Incorporating interviews and on-the-ground investigation, Ghost Cities of China examines China’s under-populated modern cities and the country’s overly ambitious building program.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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UrbaChina Newsletter 2015-09 (March)

The UrbaChina Newsletter 2015-09 (March) is now published. To subscribe to our newsletter please contact us at urbachina-edition@services.cnrs.fr

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. candidate in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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The many forms of water security in China

Darrin Magee, The many forms of water security in China, China Policy Institute Blog, November 4, 2014.

By some measures, China is not a water-scarce country. Per capita water resources stood at just over 2,000 cubic meters in 2013 according to the National Bureau of Statistics, with overall water availability at nearly 2.8 trillion cubic meters. Yet these figures tell only part of the story. China’s seemingly sufficient water resources are severely polluted, unevenly distributed in space and time, inefficiently utilized, and increasingly diverted away from agriculture toward higher-value-added uses. Moreover, as the Chinese government moves forward on a path toward less reliance on carbon-based energy sources and greater use of non-hydro renewables like solar and wind, hydropower will almost certainly gain importance as a dispatchable electricity generation source that can balance the intermittent nature of solar and wind. Some of that hydropower will be developed on transboundary rivers in China’s southwest, further raising tensions with downstream neighbors already wary of China’s intentions.

Read the full text of the post

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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Still some red dust in Shanghai ?

years of red dustI recently read Qiu Xailong’s “Years of red dust”. This collection of short stories first published in France in 2008 describes daily life in one Lilong of Shanghai named “Red dust”, from 1949 to the mid-2000’s.

By looking at residents’ personal story, we can better understand China’s recent history and the impacts of some events (the Korean war or the Cultural revolution) on people’s daily life. Life in this lilong is not easy and people lack intimacy and  space; they have to endure other residents’ curiosity, but this can also be a place where they can find some friendship.

The last story of this book takes place in 2005. We can wonder if we can still find the “Red dust” lilong in today’s Shanghai. Maybe this place has been developed into a high rise building or a commercial center? But, actually this does not really matter. Because, people have not disappeared. Of course, we may not encounter “Old hunchback Fang” anymore and “ the iron rice bowl” has been broken down. But relations between residents may not have changed that much, inhabitants are still driven by ambition, love, and other feelings.

To me, the main message of this book is that cities are not made of concrete, cement and so on.., but they are made of inhabitants. This is also what I have learned with the UrbaChina programme. Cities do not exist without people, and so urban policies should focus on inhabitants and their well-being,… and policies should be made by inhabitants.

An interview of Qiu Xiaolong is available here.

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. candidate in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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The greening of Asia

Mark L. Clifford,  The greening of Asia: The business case for solving Asia’s environmental emergency, Columbia University, 2015. 320 p.

One of Asia’s best-respected writers on business and economy, Hong Kong-based author Mark L. Clifford provides a behind-the-scenes look at what companies in China, India, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand are doing to build businesses that will lessen the environmental impact of Asia’s extraordinary economic growth. Dirty air, foul water, and hellishly overcrowded cities are threatening to choke the region’s impressive prosperity. Recognizing a business opportunity in solving social problems, Asian businesses have developed innovative responses to the region’s environmental crises.

From solar and wind power technologies to green buildings, electric cars, water services, and sustainable tropical forestry, Asian corporations are upending old business models in their home countries and throughout the world. Companies have the money, the technology, and the people to act–yet, as Clifford emphasizes, support from the government (in the form of more effective, market-friendly policies) and the engagement of civil society are crucial for a region-wide shift to greener business practices. Clifford paints detailed profiles of what some of these companies are doing and includes a unique appendix that encapsulates the environmental business practices of more than fifty companies mentioned in the book.

The Greening of Asia from ChinaFile on Vimeo.

 

Excerpts on ChinaFile

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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“NIMBY in China: From the perspective of environmental movement

Centre franco-chinois – 中法研究中心
 
The Sino-French research center of the University of Tsinghua is pleased to invite you to the following conference (in Chinese) of

Pr. Ran Ran

Assistant Professor of Political Science 
School of International Studies
Renmin University of China
“NIMBY in China: From the Perspective of Environmental Movement “Friday, March 6th 2015, from 2PM to 4PM
Tsinghua University, Mingzhai Building, room 337Please confirm your attendance by mail to: contact@beijing-cfc.org

清华大学社会科学学院中法研究中心荣幸地
邀请您前来参加下面讲座:
冉冉讲师
中国人民大学国际关系学院政治学系
 
“环境运动视角下的“邻避事件”
2015年3月6日(星期五)
下午两点到四点
清华大学,清华园
明斋楼,337室
请发邮件确实参加: contact@beijing-cfc.org

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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China and Europe: reconnecting across a new Silk Road

Chen, Xiangming, Julia Mardeusz. (2015) China and Europe: reconnecting across a new Silk Road. The European Financial Review, February-March, pp. 5-12. URL: http://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1129&context=facpub [Retrieved 19 February 2015]
Since 2013, economic and trade relations between China and Europe have grown significantly. In this article, the authors look beyond conventional economic indicators, like trade, and political issues, like human rights, instead focusing on transport infrastructure, real estate and tourism to show that a new page is unfolding in the history of China-Europe relations.

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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UrbaChina Newsletter 2015-08 (February)

The UrbaChina Newsletter 2015-08 (February) is now published. To subscribe to our newsletter please contact us at urbachina-edition@services.cnrs.fr

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. candidate in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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NDRC’s plan to further high speed rail network in China

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has unveiled new plans to intensify railroad transportation construction, particularly in Western China.
China owns now the largest high-speed rail network in the world. This network is widely used by citizens especially these days, for New Year holidays.
But one can question the financing of such infrastructures. It has been noted that very few high speed rail lines in the world have proved to be profitable. The popular Beijing-Shanghai line has only turned profitable in 20141. But maintenance costs are still very high and can only rise as China labor costs is increasing.
During my studies, I examined the case of high speed railroad in Hainan. This province has the denser network of high speed railroads in China. I found out that this programme was very expensive for the provincial government and so the local government has increased its economic dependency toward the central authorities. They have also relied on intense real estate constructions along the network to finance these infrastructures and this has led to real estate speculation issues.
Although we cannot deny the social benefits of high speed train network, China has to make sure that these unprofitable lines would not become an economic burden.

  1. Lyu Chang (2015). ‘Beijing-Shanghai high-speed line turns profitable in 2014’. China daily, January 27. Retrieved February 22, 2015 from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2015-01/27/content_19414353.htm []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. candidate in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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Killing Time

Ping Pong

This photo was taken in November 2013 in Nanchuan district, Chongqing. Farmers have been relocated and concentrated in a remote area with little or no public transportation (as of the date when the photo was taken). The concentration of farmers’ homesteads usually takes place in order to optimise the use of arable land as farmers’ homes are scattered throughout the fields and this is an obstacle for the consolidation of arable land now taking place everywhere around the country. Other motivations include the preservation of the threshold of arable land set by the central government by recovering arable land, the improvement of rural infrastructures, and the search of a solution for the problem of the hollow villages (due to the massive migration of young people to the cities, many homesteads remain empty most of the time). A concentration of resources takes place, and farmers are relocated to newly built residential communities (xinxing nongcun shequ – 新型农村社区). Usually, farmers lease the new consolidated land to a cooperative, and some of them continue working the land as employees of the cooperative.

This case is very different. The local government has used the expropriated land in a more lucrative way for its budget, as it has managed to attract private investment (a real estate developer listed in the Hong Kong Stock Market), and develop a tourist town with houses dedicated to the upper-middle class of Chongqing who are in the look for a weekend retreat outside of the metropolitan area. Normally, the law interdicts urban residents to buy rural land but, through the intervention of the visible hand of the government, farmers’ land is expropriated and converted into state land. The miracle is performed. Profits are handsome for the local government, for the real estate developer and, by extension, for all the investors who put their savings into this company, and who will see the dividend payout increase as a result of the difficult-to-match-elsewhere performance of the company. The only ones who won’t make a penny are the original owners of the land.

As a result, the collective economic system is completely wiped out. Farmers will not recuperate their land, except if they buy it at the market price (unattainable after the development of the area). They have a sense of having been cheated. There have been barred from entering the new town, except for the few lucky ones who will be hired by the developer for gardening work. The construction of their new town miles away from the tourist area limits the possibility for entrepreneurism. Youngsters leave their ancestral land to look for a job in the city, and the old ones remain in the new town, which becomes a retirement town. Most of them do not have enough savings for paying the utilities’ bill and need to improvise outdoor kitchens. They live off the remittances from their offspring.

During the Third Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress held in Beijing in November 2013, the government announced plans to implement reforms regarding farmers’ construction land-use rights. The Chinese leadership finally agreed on the need to equate rural construction land use rights with urban construction land rights under the “same land same rights” principle (tongdi tongquan – 同地同权).1 Would farmers agree to sell their homesteads and be grouped in new residential communities given the choice to transfer their land use rights to whomever they wish?

 

  1. Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party to strengthen the important problems posed by the reform (zhonggong zhongyang guanyu quanmian shenhua gaige ruogan zhongda wenti de jueding– 中共中央关于全面深化改革若干重大问题的决定). http://www.hmdjw.gov.cn/article/show-4104.html. Last retrieved December 10, 2013. []

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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Conserving historic urban landscape for the future generation

Chao-Ching Fu (2016), Conserving Historic Urban Landscape for the Future Generation – Beyond Old Streets Preservation and Cultural Districts Conservation in Taiwan, International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2016. DOI: 10.7763/IJSSH.2016.V6.676

On 10 November 2011 UNESCO’s General Conference adopted the new Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape by acclamation, the first such instrument on the historic environment issued by UNESCO in 35 years. This paper will first review the preservation of “old streets” and the conservation of “cultural districts” in Taiwan. Then, the paper will discuss how the concept of “historic urban landscape” could be transformed into an approach or a tool for conserving historic cities and towns in Taiwan.

http://www.ijssh.org/vol6/676-CH399.pdf

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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