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.
Collingridge, Vanessa (2014). Megacities of Asia, part I-III. South China Morning Post. Post Magazine. 15, 22, 29 June. Retrieved from: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/ (accessed 30 June 2014)
Megacities of Asia Part I: The rise and rise of the Asian megacity (and why ‘metacities’ are the next big thing)
Asia’s rapid urbanisation is changing the very shape and nature of what we think of as a city.
Qin Shao (2013), Shanghai Gone Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Megacity, London, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 326 p.
Shanghai has been demolished and rebuilt into a gleaming megacity in recent decades, now ranking with New York and London as a hub of global finance. But that transformation has come at a grave human cost. This compelling book is the first to apply the concept of domicide—the eradication of a home against the will of its dwellers—to the sweeping destruction of neighborhoods, families, and life patterns to make way for the new Shanghai. Here we find the holdouts and protesters, men and women who have stubbornly resisted domicide and demanded justice. Qin Shao follows, among others, a reticent kindergarten teacher turned diehard petitioner; a descendant of gangsters and squatters who has become an amateur lawyer for evictees; and a Chinese Muslim who has struggled to recover his ancestral home in Xintiandi, an infamous site of gentrification dominated by a well-connected Hong Kong real estate tycoon. Highlighting the wrenching changes spawned by China’s reform era, Shao vividly portrays the relentless pursuit of growth and profit by the combined forces of corrupt power and money, the personal wreckage it has left behind, and the enduring human spirit it has unleashed.
Housing reform has been at the core of China’s market economy and its success. Large scale demolition and relocation in urban China has visibly improved the lives of millions but also left hidden human wreckage at its wake. Domicide, violence, corruption, and arbitrary compensation have led to heightened housing dispute and persistent residents protest throughout Chinese cities in the past three decades.