Category Archives: Chengdu

Neighborhood politics in urban China

Tomba, Luigi (2014). The government next door : neighborhood politics in urban China. Ithaca : Cornell university press. 240 p. ISBN : 978-0-8014-5282-6.

80140100835180MChinese residential communities are places of intense governing and an arena of active political engagement between state and society. In The Government Next Door, Luigi Tomba investigates how the goals of a government consolidated in a distant authority materialize in citizens’ everyday lives. Chinese neighborhoods reveal much about the changing nature of governing practices in the country. Government action is driven by the need to preserve social and political stability, but such priorities must adapt to the progressive privatization of urban residential space and an increasingly complex set of societal forces. Tomba’s vivid ethnographic accounts of neighborhood life and politics in Beijing, Shenyang, and Chengdu depict how such local “translation” of government priorities takes place.

Tomba reveals how different clusters of residential space are governed more or less intensely depending on the residents’ social status; how disgruntled communities with high unemployment are still managed with the pastoral strategies typical of the socialist tradition, while high-income neighbors are allowed greater autonomy in exchange for a greater concern for social order. Conflicts are contained by the gated structures of the neighborhoods to prevent systemic challenges to the government, and middle-class lifestyles have become exemplars of a new, responsible form of citizenship. At times of conflict and in daily interactions, the penetration of the state discourse about social stability becomes clear.

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Monique Abud

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

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Nested maps

Nested maps: reality representation as a first action against easement process

Marlène Leroux is preparing a Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Densifying rural territories: China, from massive growth patterns to more sustainable urban planning” under the supervision of Prof. I Devanthéry-Lamunière (EPFL) and Prof. J.C. Bolay (Unesco Chair, CODEV)

The author’s doctoral research is primarily focused on analysing the issue of rural urbanisation as a key sustainable development challenge based on the conviction that rural areas today must be studied on their own account and no longer simply understood as the counterpart to urban areas1.

In China, vast rural areas are currently undergoing “modernisation” via the application of a generic, expansive urban model. This modernisation is evidenced in the creation of new towns and road infrastructures a process that simultaneously homogenises the complex reality of both rural practices and regional characteristics, flying in the face of natural resource availability and significant climatic and cultural disparities2. This forced coexistence of urban models conceived ex-nihilo (top-down) and the reality of a rural area (bottom-up) generates interactions and major tensions, too.

This post will draw on one of our case studies: the modernisation currently under way on Chengdu Plain. This area is a major agricultural production centre that functions with a mixed traditional rural system and industrial activity, supported by a dense fabric of rural villages(linban) spread across the territory. The region is currently undergoing transformation and urbanisation on a massive scale a process that has been amplified by the need for reconstruction following the devastating earthquake of May 2008 (7.8 on the Richter scale). This is a region that has experienced major human and material losses; its modernisation and reconstruction are a response to economic, social and political challenges.

Analysis of the “nested” maps allows us to observe the reality of a region at a given time and different scales. The first sample represents a region with a diameter of 500 km around the area of study i.e. a surface area of 200,000 km2 (20 m ha). This allows us to locate our case study on the national scale (proximity to major urban hubs, industrial centres, major communication routes, etc.) and also in terms of major landscape features (coastal areas, mountain chains, major rivers, etc.). It should be noted that 250 km is the distance that can be travelled in all day’s journey; in our view the impact of elements beyond this distance is no longer related to their geographic proximity.


The 100 km sample, i.e. a radius of 50 km around the area of study, allows analysis at a more local scale, situating the study zone within its more immediate context. Yet on this scale it is the network of waterways connected with the irrigation system that comes to the fore. The Min river, which has its source at the end of the Himalayas chain, divides into channels which fan out across the whole of the plain. From the original riverbed, the river is divided to obtain a fine network of irrigation channels. Thanks to the central Chinese subtropical climate (humidity, heat) a wide variety of crops can be grown and cropping frequency is high. The soil, which has always been fertile, is constantly enriched by sediments carried in the river water. This exceptional irrigation system gives the region its distinctive identity and has defined the way the area has developed for hundreds of years.

Finally, the 2 km sample covers the micro-local context, on a scale appropriate to walking and “soft” mobility. This scale permits precise observations of relations between the built environment, farms, fields and forests, allowing us to begin the process of identifying and classifying the elements that constitute the reality of the Chinese rural condition.

The first step would be to consider these emerging areas in a more positive light and to look for ways of optimising them, ways of integrating the existing infrastructures with new development projects. This means engaging with the reality of the rural areas concerneda reality located somewhere between [idealised] memories of a sophisticated rural idyll and megacity fantasies. Just as we inventorise our built heritage (listing, classifying and grading historic monuments) or even disused railway sites3), every element of the landscape, every rural infrastructure, every local custom should first of all be identified, catalogued and documented and then (as the second phase of the process) be given a value. These gradings would correspond to specific rules and procedures to be observed. The aim is not to depict a rural landscape that is frozen in time but to create a series of diagnostic tools and frameworks for action. Having been recorded and valued in this way, the topography, the water system, the paths, walls, the waste disposal sites greenhouses, vegetable gardens, could be preserved, reused or destroyed but at any rate they have been taken into account. The design decisions resulting from this process are then taken in view of the facts and not as a consequence of deliberate, convenient oversight.

This process of classifying rural territories, following a methodology as sophisticated as that used for urban areas, should be carried out using appropriate representational methods. The tools for this diagnostic process have yet to be devised, yet the process of innovation is already underway4. Only once these diagnostic tools are in place will it be possible to establish strategies for developing urban scenarios that are sustainable, realistic and practicable, via the creation of new planning tools5. These planning tools would need to be able to take national aspirations and ambitions into account while at the same time optimising local resources. The futures of urban areas and rural areas are inescapably intertwined. Prospective analysis of the globalisation phenomenon from the perspective of rural areas is crucial here: these rural areas may contain within themselves the potential to shape new identities, enabling China to generate a new, integrated model of regional intervention that will be absolutely vital in the long term6.

  1. Woods, M. (2010), Rural, Andover, Taylor& Francis []
  2. Friedman, J. (2005), China’s Urban Transition, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press []
  3. Devanthéry-Lamunière, I. (2008 []
  4. Vigano, P. (2012), Les territoires de l’urbanisame, Genève, Métispresse []
  5. Mostafavi, M., Doherty, G. (2010), Ecological urbanism, Baden, Lars Muller Publishers []
  6. Hassenflug, D.  (2010), The urban code of China, Bâle, Birkhauser []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. 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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A training on quantifying emissions of urban transport in Chengdu

HBEFA China Banner2

On 20 November 2014, GIZ and the China Sustainable Urban Transport Research Centre (CUSTReC) conducted a training on quantifying emissions of urban transport in Chengdu.

Chengdu is one of three pilot cities in the Large City Congestion and Carbon Reduction project financed through the Global Environment Fund and managed by the World Bank. One of the activities of the Project Management Office of the GEF in Chengdu is to monitor the development of their transport emissions. GIZ cooperates with CUSTReC and the World Bank to support the quantification of transport emissions, using the China Road Transport Emission Model (HBEFA China).

Read the full text on Sustainable Transport in China

Jacqueline Nivard

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

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Chengdu: China’s most liveable city according to ADB

ADB ChinaLast week, the Asian Development Bank released a report on China’s  most liveables cities. According to their findings, Chengdu ranks first, followed by Guangzhou and Ningbo. Cities in Southern China or on Eastern coast and enjoying higher economic development, obtained better scores than other cities.

This study explores the concept of environmental liveability and proposes the Environmental Livability Index (ELI) that looks at several environmental issues (namely water quality, water resources, air quality, solid waste, acoustic environment, ecosystems, environmental management, climate change and urban development).

In spite of constant improvement since 2000, China still face severe environmental challenges that could threaten economic development and people’s well-being.

Full report available online

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. 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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Urban Issues in Asia and the Pacific Rim

A special issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs, vol 36(1), 309-399 (May, 2014) contains articles on the new peri-urbanisation and urban theory in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Two articles specifically discuss China-related peri-urbanisation and peri-urban planning: Lin Ye and Alfred W report on their research on urbanisation, land development and land financing in China, and Nick Smith discusses household registration reform and peri-urban insecurity in Hailong Village in Chongqing. In addition, Richard LeGates and Delik Hudalah compare peri-urban planning in Chengdu and Yogjakarta and Douglas Webster, Jiaming Cai, and Larissa Muller discuss the new face of peri-urbanisation throughout Asia, including China. A fifth article by Bill Randolph and Andrew Tice discusses the suburbanisation of poverty in Sydney, Australia. An online version of the special issue may be accessed at

The JUA articles were first presented as papers in a special track at the 2013 UAA conference held in San Francisco. The UAA welcomes papers on China’s urban planning at their annual conference and submissions of manuscripts to the Journal of Urban Affairs. The UAA website provides information about membership, JUA and the 2015 UAA annual conference (to be held in  Miami, Florida April 8 – 11). The website address is:

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. 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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Plain, Elosua Miguel

A Qiang farmer in Wenchuan county, Sichuan (March, 2013). The Qiang ethnic group (qiangzu – 羌族), is one of the 56 officially recognised ethnic groups in China. There are about 200,000 Qiang people living in Northern Sichuan, secluded between Tibetan and Han territories. They usually live up in the mountains in fortress villages, but many young people have migrated to the cities during the last few decades of rapid economic growth. The violent earthquake that struck Sichuan in 2008 claimed numerous victims within this ethnic group and destroyed many traditional buildings. The Qiang people, whose history spans more than 3000 years, may be facing extinction. The transmission of their intangible cultural heritage is no longer guaranteed since they have no written texts but rely on oral communication. Many of the elderly who spoke the language died in the earthquake and young people living in the cities are growing increasingly removed from their culture.

Miguel Elosua

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

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Coordinating Urban and Rural Development in China: Learning from Chengdu


A new book by Ye Yumin (Renmin University) and Richard LeGates (San Francisco State University) titled Coordinating Urban and Rural Development in China: Learning from Chengdu describes the programs Chengdu–one of China’s pilot regions for coordinated urban-rural development–have carried out over the last two decades, was published by Edward Elgar Press in September, 2013.

Information on the book is available on the Edward Elgar Press website.

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. 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 lesson from the Ya’an earthquake

Ya'an veranda bridge (langqiao - 廊桥), Elosua Miguel

Ya’an is situated 120 kilometers southeast of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. The city is also known as the rainy city (yucheng – 雨城), as its fertile land is blessed with more annual rainfall than any other area in the region. The city was the capital of Sikang (xikang – 西康) before the province was dissolved in 1955. This area marks the end of Han territory, and the beginning of the Tibetan universe. Ya’an bridge is one of the few examples of veranda, or porch, bridges in China. The veranda serves not only as a place where locals can linger at their leisure, protected from the rain or the summer sun, but also as a market where local specialties are sold.

The Ya’an earthquake struck this seism-prone region almost five years after the deadly Wenchuan earthquake, which caused more than 90 thousand casualties. The Sichuan region is located on fault lines and both earthquakes occurred along the same fault (the Longmen Mountains fault). The epicenter of the seism was located in Yishan county, which, incidentally, is the place where the giant panda was spotted for the first time. The temblor left 196 people dead, 24 missing, and at least 11,826 injured. According to official sources, more than 80,000 buildings in urban areas, and more than 400,000 in rural areas, were damaged beyond repair. The Ya’an veranda bridge suffered no major damage.

However, it is well known that old does not necessarily mean good, as we learned from the number of schools that collapsed in the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake (more than 7,000). Thousands of students and teachers perished under the debris. Local authorities were widely criticized for not ensuring that the existing regulations for the construction of buildings such as schools were respected. The term “tofu construction” (doufuzha gongcheng – 豆腐渣工程) was coined to designate shoddily constructed buildings. Five years later, schools built in the area after the 2008 seism are still standing. According to official sources, “hospitals and schools built after 2008 have saved lives” as none of these buildings have collapsed.1

This brings up the issue of compliance with regulations. China’s building codes are comprehensive and include seismic construction guidelines. But the law falls onto stony ground if it is not applied. In an interview conducted during our field trip to Chongqing, Professor Liao Yuan He (廖元和) of the Chongqing Industry and Commerce University, reminded us of the importance of taking into account disaster management policies during the process of urbanization, specially when the size of urban built-up areas is about to triple in size by 2020 (taking 2007 as base).

The suggestions issued by the State Council for the reconstruction of Wenchuan also encourage public participation through public hearings in the elaboration of new urban plans.2

The Ya’an earthquake should serve as a lesson about the positive results that can be achieved when policies are implemented.

  1. SCMP, Friday, 26 April, 2013: “Officials say schools and hospitals rebuilt after 2008 saved lives” (retrieved on Apr 30th 2013, 10:42pm []
  2. 2008年9月19日国务院关于印发汶川地震
灾后恢复重建总体规划的通知(Guowuyuan guanyu yinfa wenchuan dizhen zaihou huifu zhongjian zongti guihua de tongzhi) : (retrieved on April 30th 2013, 10:20pm []

Miguel Elosua

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

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Women selling local delicacies

Local specialties, Elosua Miguel This photo was taken in Jinli ancient street in Chengdu (Sichuan), in 2010. The street was renovated in 2004 and has become since one of the city’s most popular spots for both tourists and locals. Located next to the Wuhou Memorial Temple, the pedestrian street abounds with stores selling folk handicrafts, teahouses (even one Starbucks), and stalls with an astonishing variety of local snacks. In this one, cold cakes (huntang lianggao – 混糖凉糕) and bamboo rolls of beef (zhuye niurou – 竹叶牛肉) were made on the spot for 7 and 10 yuan the piece, respectively. This pattern of urban development has been replicated in almost every provincial capital in the last decade with much success. Pedestrians stroll against a backdrop of picturesque façades, getting a taste of the old rural life left behind.


Miguel Elosua

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

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Chengdu’s gigantic building

Sebastien Blanc (2012, December 21). China is building a structure 20 times bigger than the Sydney Opera House. Business Insider.

A thousand kilometres from the nearest coast a towering glass wave rolls over  the plains of Sichuan, the roof of what Chinese officials say will be the  world’s largest standalone structure.

The 100-metre-high “New Century Global Centre” is a symbol of the spread of  China’s boom, 500 metres long and 400 metres wide, with 1.7 million square  metres of floor space, big enough to hold 20 Sydney Opera Houses according to local authorities.

By comparison the Pentagon in Washington — still one of the world’s largest  office buildings — is barely a third of the size with a mere 600,000 square  metres of floor space.

The Global Centre is just a few kilometres from the US consulate where the  police chief of Chongqing fled to seek asylum, triggering the fall of his patron  Bo Xilai and exposing the biggest scandal to rock China’s Communist Party for  years.

But it represents a different side of China, where lower costs and government  subsidies are still fuelling double-digit growth in Chengdu, the capital of  Sichuan province.

The city of 14 million people plans to expand its subway from two lines to 10  by 2020, build a new airport and become a new Silicon Valley.

The Global Centre will house offices, conference rooms, a university complex,  two commercial centres, two five star hotels, an IMAX cinema, a “Mediterranean  village”, a skating rink and a pirate ship, among other attractions.

About 400,000 square metres will be devoted to shopping, most of the outlets  high-end luxury brands.

Despite Chengdu being around 1,000 kilometres from the sea the complex has a  marine theme, with fountains, a huge water park and an artificial beach,  accented by the undulating roof, meant to resemble a wave.

“This is an ocean city built by man,” said guide Liu Xun. “There will be  1,000 rooms (in the hotel) and all will have seaside views.”

 Full text available on Business Insider:


Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. 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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