Making rural China urban

Article by Mi Shih is a postdoctoral research fellow in the China Research Centre at the University of Technology, Sydney.

(…) ‘Unprecedented’ is the word commonly used to describe China’s urbanisation 都 市化. Yet the country remains less urbanised than most developed countries. What makes China’s urbanisation process remarkable and, indeed, unprecedented is its magnitude and speed. Today, fifty-one percent of the Chinese population live in cities as compared to the nineteen percent that did so in 1979.

In 2012, the process of urbanisation entered a new phase following central government directives to pursue a new policy of chengzhenhua (城镇化, literally ‘city- and town-ification’). The directives, first announced at the Eighteenth Party Congress in November 2012, have been widely discussed in the mainland media and online. The new policy marks the inauguration of a new Party leadership and the effectiveness of its implementation will undoubtedly be used to adjudge the performance of the Xi Jinping-Li Keqiang administration.

So, what distinguishes chengzhenhua from the former process of rapid urbanisation in China? Will the trajectory of ‘becoming urban’ remain the same, such that the chengzhenhua policy ends up being nothing more than novel rhetoric? What goals are China’s fifth-generation leadership attempting to establish, what new practices do they seek to adopt, and which aspects of the status quo does chengzhenhua intend to break away from?

This article attempts to shed some light on these questions. Readers should note that a cross-departmental effort organised by the National Development and Reform Commission (Guojia fazhan han gaige weiyuanhui 国家发展和改革委员会) is currently underway to furnish details about the new policy. The state media have already announced that ‘National Guidelines on Promoting Healthy Development and Planning for Chengzhenhua 2011-2020′ (Quanguo cujin chengzhenhua jiankang fazhan guihua gangyao 全国促进城镇化健康发展规划纲要 2011-2020) will be published in mid-2013. They will go into effect immediately.

Farmers’ old housing sites (on the left) and farmers’ apartments 农民公寓 currently under construction. ‘Moving up’上楼 is a common practice through which local governments merge farmers’ housing sites and redo land use planning in the chengzhenhua process.

Chinese urban planners and policy makers approach chengzhenhua by considering towns and villages as potential sites of transformation. To understand the process by which a rural entity becomes an urban one, we need to consider the institutional reforms that have facilitated this process of transformation. In the discussion below, the Chinese term chengzhenhua will be used to refer to the new policy as the English translation ‘urbanisation’ is misleading for two reasons. First, ‘urbanisation’ is already being used to translate dushihua 都市化, from which the new policy is intended to mark a departure. Secondly, ‘urbanisation’ evokes the image of an expansion of existing urban cores. As such, it forecloses possibilities of imagining the rural as a potentially urban site.


Read the full text article on The China Story Journal

The China Story Project is a web-based account of contemporary China created by the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW) at the Australian National University in Canberra.


Cite this blog post
Jacqueline Nivard (2013, July 3). Making rural China urban. URBACHINA. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

Jacqueline Nivard

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

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