Jeremy Wallace on “China’s rush to urbanize”

Johnson, Ian. Q. and A.: Jeremy Wallace on China’s rush to urbanize. The New York Times. Sinosphere. 4 January 2015. URL: http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/q-and-a-jeremy-wallace-on-chinas-rush-to-urbanize/?emc=edit_tnt_20150104&nlid=16428923&tntemail0=y&_r=1 (Retrieved 5 January 2015).

How did you come to write “Cities and Stability”?

I always wondered how China had avoided the slums that seem to dominate the large cities of other developing countries. When I started my research for this book, I heard that China was concerned about “Latin Americanization” — meaning megacities, inequality and instability. At the same time, the government was abolishing agricultural taxes that had been collected in some form for over two and a half millennia. These developments seemed important to understand.

In your book you describe how China escaped the usual social unrest that accompanies preferential policies for cities thanks to its hukou, or household registration, system.

China’s household registration system separates its rural and urban populations. While those born in cities have a local hukou that gives them access to social services, those born in the countryside have a harder time getting access to services when they migrate to cities.

Most poor countries favor cities to promote development and ensure that people living in cities are pro-government. I argue that this kind of “urban bias” might tamp down protests today but also encourages more and more farmers to move to favored cities. These large cities, often full of slums, can explode. Urban protests can quickly overwhelm regimes, even seemingly stable ones like Mubarak’s in Egypt. China’s hukou system is a loophole to this Faustian bargain: favoring urbanites while keeping farmers in the countryside and smaller cities.

Read the interview


Monique Abud

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

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