Category Archives: Guangzhou

Chinese homeowners’ participation in policymaking

Jiang, Yihong ( 2013 ). Altering the rules : Chinese homeowners’ participation in policymaking. Journal Of Current Chinese Affairs, 42(3), pp. 121-148. [Retrieved January 17, 2014, from]

This study looks at Chinese homeowners’ participation in policymaking. Drawing on evidence from Guangzhou and Beijing, it shows that various organised homeowner activists have moved upstream in the policy process and have begun to push beyond policy implementation into the domain of agenda setting and “rule-making”. These advocates display rights-conscious patterns of behaviour that are closer to that of interest or lobby groups than to the typical repertoire of Chinese contentious citizens. The study suggests that this kind of political participation is on the rise amongst Chinese homeowner activists. This result complements and extends other recent findings that suggest the Chinese policy process is gradually opening up. Such a trend could have significant implications and calls for more research in different domains of state-society relations.

Read full text (PDF)

Monique Abud

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

More Posts

Residential satisfaction in China’s informal settlements

Li, Zhigan1, Wu, Fulong2 (2013) Residential satisfaction in China’s informal settlements: a case study of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Urban Geography. Published online: 22 Jul 2013 [Ahead of print]

China’s informal settlements—villages inside urbanized areas—are often characterized by local governments as dirty, chaotic, and dangerous places. This negative discourse inevitably leads to recommendations for demolition. A number of criteria have been invoked in state decisions regarding the demolition of informal settlements; however, rarely are these places evaluated from the residents’ perspective. This paper, following a long tradition of residential satisfaction research in Western nations, uses a household survey to examine this topic in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. We find that local contexts not only matter, but may be the principal determinants of residential satisfaction. The residential satisfaction of village dwellers is not necessarily low, and most socioeconomic attributes are not statistically significant determinants of resident satisfaction. Migrants and low-income groups are not less satisfied than nonmigrants or middle-range income earners; the most important determinant is social attachment within the community. The perception of being excluded, or lacking neighborhood social attachment, significantly reduces residential satisfaction. No facilities can compensate for this negative exclusion factor. We conclude that demolishing informal settlements does not help to build a “harmonious society,” which is the purported goal of such programs. Removing the social and institutional barriers for migrant integration into the city is likely the most effective way to enhance residential satisfaction and neighborhood quality.

Full text available online (restricted access or purchase options)

  1. Guangdong Key Laboratory for Urbanization and Geo-simulation , School of Geography and Planning Sun Yat-sen University
  2. Bartlett School of Planning , University College London

Monique Abud

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

More Posts

Guangzhou Bus Rapid Transit system

Guangzhou Bus Rapid Transit system from Momentum for Change on Vimeo.

The Guangzhou bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor opened in February 2010 after an extensive planning and design process by the Guangzhou Municipal Engineering Design and Research Institute in partnership with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). The Guangzhou BRT is the is the first ‘metro replacement’ level BRT system outside South America. The system carries more than triple the single-directional passenger flows of any other BRT system in Asia, and is second only to Bogota’s BRT, Transmilenio, worldwide.


Jacqueline Nivard

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

More Posts - Website

Real estate speculation and its social consequences

SPECIAL FEATURE Edited by Natacha Aveline-Dubach

China Perspectives 2013, 2.

Editorial by Natacha Aveline-Dubach

China is undergoing intense urbanisation at a rate largely surpassing anything Asia has experienced and the magnitude of which might well have a lasting effect on the global economy. Some 350 million rural residents are expected to move into urban areas by 2025. If current trends persist, 221 cities could have populations surpassing one million by 2025 – against 35 in Europe now – of which 23 could have more than five million. This urbanisation phenomenon poses a major challenge to the building industry and opens up formidable investment potential. In dealing with real estate issues in China, academic literature has largely focused on land use as a means of capital accumulation by local authorities, conflicts over expropriation procedures, or distortions in land use – especially wasteful use of farmland. However, little is known of the workings of property markets and the modalities of action in that industry. This special feature aims to open new paths of reflection on the structuring effects of property dynamics in China’s urbanisation.

Rooted in Deng Xiaoping-era reforms, China’s property market really took off in the 1990s with the growth of a private housing market. In just a few years, official steps to externalise the real estate of work units transformed thousands of people into owner-occupants. This has been accompanied by a marked rise in property prices in coastal cities. Is this because of speculative activities, or do these spurts stem from the Chinese productive system’s economic performance? The media have reported on extreme instances of real estate oversupply in several places, the most spectacular being the Ordos “ghost city” in Inner Mongolia. Mylène Gaulard notes these supplydemand distortions and defends the bubble hypothesis. She points to the abnormally high property-price/income ratio and to rising real estate debt in the Chinese economy. She traces the origin of speculative activities to 1994, when there was a convergence of fiscal recentralisation, an upsurge in local collectives’ indebtedness based on land collateral, and housing commodification… Read the full text of the editorial

Changes in the Chinese Property Market: An indicator of the difficulties faced by local authorities – Mylène Gaulard

(Download PDF)

ABSTRACT: For the past decade, China has faced an extremely sharp rise in property prices and increasingly large investments made in this sector. Although some economists consider this change to be no more than the result of the increase in urban salaries that has gone hand-in-hand with China’s strong economic growth, this article will show that it is in fact a “property bubble” resulting from the speculative activities of certain economic agents operating in this sector. Local authorities play a major role in this, especially in their efforts to increase their income, and their behaviour needs to be analysed in order to better understand that a bursting of this bubble might expose economic problems of a far deeper structural nature than those usually identified.

Challenges and Opportunities Facing China’s Urban Development in the New Era: A statistical and spatial analysis – Han Ruibo, Wang Linna

ABSTRACT: The acceleration of urban expansion has greatly impacted the study of China’s urban system, and the urban function at the national level has largely been characterised by the spatial distribution and evolution of cities. In order to understand the dynamics of urban development in China, it is necessary to analyse the history of city evolution and understand the context in which that evolution took place. The first section of this paper introduces the urbanisation process in China since the 1950s in order to demonstrate the origins of China’s recenturbanisation patterns. Subsequently, the structural transitions of city scaling and urban clusters are presented by employing Rank-size Analysis and satellite imagery, followed by the challenges brought about by these changes. Finally, the spatial distribution and transition patterns of China’s urban system are analysed using Centrographic Analysis.

Finance Capital Launches an Assault on Chinese Real Estate – Natacha Aveline-Dubach

ABSTRACT: Over the past two decades, global market finance has taken root in China to seek property investment. This article examines the spatialities and anchorage methods of finance capital within Chinese national territory. It highlights the spatial and sectoral differences in the composition of property portfolios as a function of the return/risk coupling. These differences are exacerbated by a split in the geographical origin of the funds, which determines differentiated conditions of access to land and management of the investment time horizon of the assets portfolios. The penetration of finance capital into urban space tends to increase the fragmentation and functional specialisation of districts, a phenomenon fostered by entrepreneurial urban policies. As a result, urban projects are becoming standardised in terms of both design and program. They are increasingly governed by external references that favour the expansion of multinationals and transform lifestyles and consumer habits.

Commodity Housing and the Socio-spatial Structure in Guangzhou – A study based on estate-level residential property prices – Ryanne Flock, Werner Breitung, and Li Lixun

ABSTRACT: Commodity housing has become a major engine of urban restructuring and social change in China. It is alleged to aid growing residential segregation and urban fragmentation. In this context, housing price is viewed as an important sorting mechanism. This article investigates this claim by looking at Guangzhou’s housing market and analysing data of 797 commercial housing estates. It analyses the development of commodity housing and the trends of housing prices in the city and maps the locational patterns of high, middle, or low housing affordability within this sector.

China’s Regional Strategy and Challenges in East Asia – Joseph Y.S. Cheng

ABSTRACT: China has rapidly developed a sophisticated regionalism strategy in East Asia. Minimising the region’s “China threat” perception has been a significant consideration in this strategy. Unfortunately, the ongoing escalation of tension concerning territorial disputes over the Diaoyutai / Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea, initiated by a series of high-profile naval exercises in the latter half of 2010, has reinforced the “China threat” perception and bolstered the hedging strategies of countries in the region. China is aware of its relative disadvantage, and it has been keeping its options open while allowing ASEAN to maintain the initiative.


Jacqueline Nivard

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

More Posts - Website

Is China about to introduce a national carbon price?

Arup, Tom. (2013) Where there’s smoke there’s China. The Age World, 8 May (accessed 7 June 2013).

As a former top diplomat in Beijing, and after three decades of professional and personal engagement with the country, Professor Ross Garnaut is no stranger to China.

In January, the respected economist and former Labor climate policy tsar found himself in Beijing again, this time to open a workshop hosted in part by China’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission.

Gathered were a group of international policy wonks, including many Australians and local government officials. They met to discuss options for what some in the public debate deny is happening – the introduction of a national carbon price in China.

In just over a month China will begin a massive experiment in emissions trading when the first of seven regional pilot schemes kicks off (and which one day may develop into a national scheme).

The stakes are high. China emits one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases. It is easily the world’s largest consumer of coal. In 2011 it released an estimated 9.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – more than the US and India combined.

In his speech Garnaut painted a cautious, but encouraging, picture of where China stands on climate change.

Read more here


Monique Abud

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

More Posts

Chinese cities and colonial heritage preservation

Colonial villa in Shanghai, Goulard Sébastien

All Chinese cities do not preserve their architectural heritage in the same way. Many Chinese coastal cities were under Western influence, with the Unequal Treaties, from the second half of the 19th century to the end of WW2. The foreign presence was reflected in the introduction of Western architecture. Europeans imported their way of life into the legations and concessions, including their own style of buildings.  These buildings were erected to symbolize the power of their nation or company, as illustrated on Shanghai’s Bund. Europeans also built villas to re-create a familiar environment. Many of these buildings were destroyed during the war against Japan, others disappeared with the Cultural Revolution, but the major threat to their longevity has been the massive urbanisation and land development of the last twenty years.

These buildings, usually in prime locations, have been easy prey for land developers who wish to modernize and densify city centres. Local urban planners have also chosen to “erase” the symbols of foreign domination and create new landmarks of China’s new prosperity. However local authorities have been gradually paying more attention to this heritage and its possible impact on tourism and city promotion.  

In an article published in 2007, Raymond Wong (CUHK) studied the preservation of colonial heritage in three Chinese cities: Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong1

  • In Shanghai, several hundred building have been put under protection since 1989. Priority was given to outstanding buildings with historical value. However, traditional residential units had to give way to modern construction programmes.  Despite these transformations, Wong feels that Shanghai has managed to preserve a very wealthy architectural heritage.
  • From a historical point of view, Guangzhou was the main gate for foreign traders in China. This role is reflected in her local architecture. In the 19th century, both the French and the British population increased in Guangzhou and they erected buildings in the inner city. Guangzhou was also an emigration centre, and when the Cantonese came back home, many of them adopted both Chinese and Western architectural styles for their homes.This heritage faced serious threats with the implementation of economic reforms in Guangdong in the 1980s. Many traditional residential units were removed or redeveloped.Since 1998, the local government has developed new plans to preserve historical legacies, but unlike in Shanghai, heritage preservation policies in Guangzhou have not been effective.
  • The case of Hong Kong is different, because of two particularities. First, Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and because of her political stability and economic prosperity, the city attracted many immigrants. Secondly, Hong Kong is a very small territory and Hong Kong Island, where the British first settled, has a very “hilly” environment. Because of land scarcity, most of the original colonial buildings have been replaced. The few remaining ones are mainly administrative buildings.

In Hong Kong, local administrations did not have the right to prevent land developers from removing old private buildings. Preservation was mainly the result of public pressure and grassroots organisations protesting against land development programmes.

Wong lists some issues that prevent Chinese cities from preserving their architectural heritage. Because of rapid economic growth and the improvement of infrastructures, many historical buildings have to make room for new buildings. According to the author, there is no single remedy for this. Cities will learn to preserve their heritage only through time and experience. However, it could be argued that this problem needs to be addressed quickly before the heritage of Chinese cities disappears. It is obvious that every historical legacy cannot be preserved; otherwise a city will become static and take on the aspect of a museum. So, two main questions arise: which building should be preserved and who should decide on this subject?  When we look at Hong Kong, we can see that market forces alone are not effective for the preservation of historic buildings. Locals, historians and urban planners should all work together to preserve this part of their heritage. Inhabitants should be involved in the decision-making process, since what they may want to preserve may not have any “architectural value”, but still represents the soul of their district, and so strengthens their city’s identity. 

  1. Wong R. (2007), Preservation of Traditional Buildings with Heritage Value in Asian Cities with Colonial Background – Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong Cases, Housing Science, no.4, vol. 31, []

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)

More Posts

The extension of high-speed railways and the possible consequences for urbanisation

High-speed train in Shanghai, Goulard Sébastien

On December 25, 2012 China inaugurated a new high speed railway (HSR) connecting Beijing and Guangzhou.  The journey between the two cities will now take only about eight hours.

In less than ten years, China has built the world’s largest HSR network, and new lines will be opened by 2020. This infrastructure is necessary in order to meet the requirements of China’s economic growth and to better control the development of transportation. High-speed railways will also provide a cleaner alternative to air transportation and motorways.

Modernizing the Chinese railway system has been a great technical and financial challenge, for several reasons:

  • Beijing had to deal with several issues in the process of extending the HSR. First, several fatal accidents occurred. A major accident occurred in Wenzhou in July 2011, caused by the collision of two high-speed trains.
  • After having first imported foreign techniques, China developed her own know-how and is now considering exporting her high-speed trains to foreign countries.
  • Huge amounts of money have been invested in this infrastructure and the programme may never be profitable because of high maintenance costs. This has already been observed in other countries.
  • This public investment and its hidden management have favoured corruption. Several cases of corruption involving high-placed politicians have come to light1.
  • Last of all, considering the high price of tickets, high-speed trains may not prove to be competitive.

High-speed trains and city connections

High speed trains still cannot compete with airlines in terms of travel time for long journeys. Whereas a Beijing to Guangzhou flight takes about two hours, a high speed train covers the same distance in five hours, for roughly the same price. Moreover, because these new railway lines require purpose-built facilities, in most cases new stations have been built outside the city centres, with the result that it takes more time for passengers to travel to the new high-speed train stations.

The consequences of HRS for metropolises and stop-over second tier cities are very important, and may have a strong impact on China’s urban trends. First, high-speed train services may serve to strengthen cooperation at the regional level. With HSR, Suzhou is only thirty minutes away from Shanghai. New employment and migration patterns may emerge as a consequence of the extension of HSR. Medium-size cities surrounding large megalopolises like Shanghai or Beijing may become satellites. Or, on the contrary, these second-tier cities may find themselves empowered as a result of their proximity to global hubs. Research conducted in Europe, where HSR has been developing since the 80’s, shows that the creation of HSR lines gives more opportunities to peripheral, medium-size cities2.

HSR may also encourage the development of second tier cities, especially in Central China.  Fast connections to Beijing and Guangzhou may revitalise cities in the hinterland. With lower real estate prices, companies may find opportunities to make investments.

The main problem for marginal areas is their remoteness; with HSR lines, Central China will be anchored to the major cities and benefit from these new links.

However, in order to fully optimize the HSR infrastructure, there needs to be greater cooperation between Chinese cities, so that no city lags behind. As Brunello, Hung and Bunker have pointed out, connecting facilities should be improved so that HSR stations become hubs offering fast connections to subways, buses and flights. They also stress that HSR stations and their periphery should be priority areas for land development, so that HSR services may be more integrated into the city environment.

Furthermore, HSR projects should not neglect small cities. For financial reasons, HSR networks cannot be extended to every city; however, small and medium size cities should benefit from HSR networks through the creation of shared infrastructures and the expansion of traditional connecting routes (ex:  light trains) to HSR stopovers. HSR infrastructures should be co-managed by regional authorities, so that local transportation needs are better satisfied.

If Beijing succeeds in making HSR stations regional transportation hubs, China’s HSR network may transform urban trends, and reduce regional inequalities. The investments made in building this network are impressive, and the programme may not become financially profitable, but it will surely help address some of the key issues in China’s urbanisation, such as regional disparities and pollution.  It is for this reason that these huge investments are worthwhile.

  1. J. Kaiman (2012, December 26). China opens world’s longest high-speed railway line. The Guardian Retrieved ( []
  2. Georges Gac (1990). Effets  socio-économiques du TGV A au Mans: restructuration du centre, conséquence la plus immédiate. OEST []

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)

More Posts

Planning People’s parks in China: the challenge of urban governance

While strolling around Chinese public gardens in the evening, foreign visitors may be intrigued by the sight of the intense leisure activities pursued there. Some people may be playing badminton, others practicing gymnastics. Parks seem to be essential to Chinese urban dwellers.  Because they live mostly in small apartments, the Chinese enjoy spending their leisure time in parks.  As a result of intense urbanisation, new parks are needed in Chinese cities.  Generally, local governments have adopted a very bureaucratic approach to planning, managing and designing these urban parks. Citizens (and park-users) have often been excluded from this process, because of the municipalities’ top-down methods.

Morning workout in a park in Shaoxing, Goulard Sébastien

In 2011, Shan Xi-Zhang (South China Normal University) published an article1 arguing that Chinese urban dwellers are willing to be involved in decision-making on matters concerning the infrastructures of green spaces. The author conducted surveys in the city of Guangzhou, and found that about 85% of interviewees supported the idea of public participation in urban park planning, management and design,  and three quarters showed an interest in being actively involved in this decision making process. However, a second observation was that the degree of willingness depended on different factors. Firstly, the study confirmed that the more educated people were the most willing to be involved in decision-making.  Secondly, however, elderly inhabitants, who were used to top-down governance, were more reticent. Thirdly, people living in suburban residential areas were more likely to be interested in public participation than city center residents.  

With these research results in mind, Shan Xi-Zhang listed some recommendations for municipal governments. Obviously, he called for more public participation in the management of green spaces, as well as an end to the bureaucratic approach of local governments. However, since the public’s willingness to participate varies according to age, education level and place of residence, municipalities should launch specific training programs for each social category.   With stronger public participation, civic support for local government would increase.

Although these results were predictable, Shan Xi-Zhang’s paper highlights the increasing demand for public involvement in urban affairs and the rise of a new urban class. 

By pointing out that Chinese urban dwellers are willing to participate in decision making on issues concerning green spaces, this article shows us that Chinese urban inhabitants have assumed their urban status; they have demonstrated their willingness to take possession of their cities. Clearly, Chinese municipalities should encourage this enthusiasm and listen to the city dwellers’ expectations, in order to strengthen relations with residents and improve city governance.  The involvement of inhabitants in decision making can reduce infrastructural costs, increase efficiency and also promote citizenship.

However, public participation in the management of green spaces is only a first step.  The new Chinese urban class will soon be eager to be involved in other issues relating to their city.  Lack of time or experience may mean that they will not be able to intervene on every matter, but they will still want the authorities to hear their opinion.   They will need to have their interests represented, and only grassroots organisations and local political representatives can fulfill this task.  The new generation of educated urban dwellers will undoubtedly break up the current top-down decision making process in Chinese cities.

  1. Shan Xi-Zhang (2012), Attitude and willingness toward participation in decision-making of urban green spaces in China, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, Volume 11, issue 2, p. 211-217 []

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)

More Posts

Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed rail line

China began service Wednesday morning on the world’s longest high-speed rail line, covering a distance in eight hours that is about equal to that from New York to Key West, Florida, or from London across Europe to Belgrade.

Bullet trains traveling 300 kilometers an hour, or 186 miles an hour, began regular service between Beijing and Guangzhou, the main metropolis in southeastern China. Older trains still in service on a parallel rail line take 21 hours; Amtrak trains from New York to Miami, a shorter distance, still take nearly 30 hours.

Completion of the Beijing-Guangzhou route is the latest sign that China has resumed rapid construction on one of the world’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure projects, a network of four north-south routes and four east-west routes that span the country. Read the full text of the article written by published: December 26, 2012 in the New York Times.

Source: CCTV Video: Last section of Beijing-Guangzhou high speed rail begins test run


 See also

Jacqueline Nivard

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

More Posts - Website

Urban villages and urban integration

This article written1by Liu Yuting (South China University of Technology), He Shenjing (Sun-Yatsen University), Wu Fulong Cardiff University) and Chris Webster (Cardiff University), analyses the phenomenon of urban villages in China and their physical and social integration into cities.

In China, the concept of urban villages should not be understood as in Western countries, where it refers to an urban planning project promoting pedestrian facilities and mixed use zoning. In China, urban villages (城中村: villages surrounded by city) are the unplanned results of an intensive urban sprawl. Chinese cities have been spreading into their rural surrounding for the last twenty years.  Many farmlands have been requisitioned by city governments; however in most cases, villagers have kept their housing lots. However, in the absence of farm lands, villagers have become landlords: they have constructed buildings on their housing lots and are renting to large numbers of migrants. These urban villages are often depicted by the media and by researchers as problem areas, suffering from poverty, social disorder and low quality housing.

The authors have deliberately chosen to look at the positive aspects of urban villages; the aim of their article is to study the dynamics of urban villages, based on several field trips conducted in 2006 and 2007 in eleven urban villages located in six major Chinese cities of different sizes and income levels (Guangzhou, Kunming, Nanjing, Wuhan, Xian and Harbin).

The authors first look at the residents in urban villages and the way they adapt to this rural-urban environment.

  • Because of urban sprawl, local villagers’ working activities have changed. Without farmland, they can no longer work in the fields. Furthermore, they lack the necessary working skills to find jobs in the city. By renting apartments or rooms to migrants on their housing lots, local villagers can expect a comfortable source of income, and thus gain a higher social status.
  • Another point is that local villagers have been empowered by their participation in collective organisations. Farm land that belongs to the village itself has not been requisitioned by city governments, but has been transformed into low-cost housing units for the migrants. Every local villager has become a shareholder of this organisation, and receives money from the tenants. The local villagers’ committee is also in charge of social welfare in urban villages and acts as a governing body.
  • Urban villages offer cheap accommodation to rural migrants. In their studies, the authors note that rental prices in urban villages are half of those in urban districts. Urban villages also offer a wide range of informal employment to the newly arrived migrants. According to the authors, urban villages facilitate migrants’ integration into cities.

Low quality housing in Shaoxing, Goulard SébastienSecondly, the authors argue that urban villages are not only physical places, located between cities and rural areas, but also represent a social transition between traditions and modernity. The authors note a vacuum of formal authority within the urban village. City governments do not wish to be responsible for management and social welfare in the urban villages, as this would demand large investments.   In the absence of city regulations, urban villages have kept their traditional forms of governance.  Because they are located in urban villages, rural settlements remain collective and the community still plays an important role. The article describes the villagers’ community as a patriarchal society with strong family connections.

The authors plead for more tolerance for urban villages. However, they also point out that the longer city governments wait to begin, the more costly urban redevelopment will be. They also call for the authorities to empower local grassroots organizations to deal with social issues, and advocate the introduction of market rules in the housing sector of urban villages.

This article depicts another facet of urban villages. However, we may raise objections concerning the sustainability of urban villages. The absence of formal regulations may create unsolvable issues in the long run. Moreover, promoting villagers’ committees may not be a sufficient remedy for the integration of urban villages, because villagers committees only represent local residents’ interests, while rural migrants living in those urban villages have little chance to defend their own interests.  A sustainable solution would involve large scale investments by city governments in public housing and a reform of the hukou system.

  1. Liu, Yuting, He, Shenjing, Wu, Fulong & Webster, Chris. 2010 “Urban villages under China’s rapid urbanization: unregulated assets and transitional neighbourhoods”. Habitat International, 34 (2), pp. 135-144, retrieved from 10.1016/j.habitatint.2009.08.003, []

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)

More Posts

Electric mobility in China: a policy review

Tagscherer, Ulrike (2012). Electric mobility in China: a policy review. Fraunhofer ISI discussion papers innovation systems and policy analysis 30, 18 p.

In 2009, the annual car production in China was 13.8 million cars, a year-on-year increase of more than 48% (Sun 2010: 3). In 2010, automobile production reached 18,264,700 units, an increase of 32.4% compared with 2009. China’s share of the global market for car sales amounts to 20%, up from 13% (Sun 2010: 4). China became the biggest car market in the world in 2010 (China Association of Automobile Manufacturers CAAM 2011). Considering the car ownership per capita, there is still a huge development potential for the Chinese car market. And it is exactly this huge development potential which makes analysts believe that China will become the largest market for electric vehicles in the future.
This belief is shared by the Chinese government, and the government has implemented or drafted several different policies and rules to support and speed up the development of electric vehicles. At the highest policy-making level, the Chinese government adopted the development of electric vehicles in its highest priority national plan, the 12thFive-Year Plan (12 FYP 2011-2015). At the same time, the electric vehicle industry has been selected as one of the seven strategic emerging industries by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). This again has also been manifested in the 12 FYP. The overall goals foresee a rapid development of electrification of cars in China and by 2015 the number of electric cars on Chinese streets should reach 1 million.
The following analysis will take a deeper look into the different policies that are behind these developments in order to increase the understanding of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Hence, contributing to an evaluation of the current development in this field is one of the major goals of this working paper.
As in all other countries, there is no single policy dedicated to electric mobility in China today. Yet there are many different policies from different ministries and agencies with different main targets which influence the development of e-mobility or electric vehicles to a certain degree. The following review looks especially at the impact of these different national policies on the development of electric vehicles and tries to analyze the relations between these policies as far as this is possible from an outsider’s perspective.
The current strategy of the Chinese government concerning the development of electric vehicles is supported mainly by three major policy fields: support for R&D, support for the related industry, and support for private and public consumption. The majority of the policies are in fact industrial policies and they have been adopted by the highest levels of government.


Monique Abud

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

More Posts

Aspects of urbanization in China

This book, edited by Gregory Bracken (TU Delft), offers impressive arguments on the subject of Chinese cities and their evolution. Contributions deal mostly with architectural aspects of Chinese urbanization1. However, architecture is not an end in itself, for it is used by the authors as a tool to study the transformation of Chinese cities from post-colonial to global megalopolises.  The collected texts highlight the relations and conflicts between local and global interests and their consequences on Chinese urban society, as well as examining the impact of architecture on the social environment.

The three Chinese cities studied in this book share a common trait: they were colonial or semi-colonial cities. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997; Shanghai was divided into foreign concessions; Guangzhou’s commercial relations with the Western world date back to the Ming dynasty, and foreign merchants enjoyed special rights there (as described by GuoXiangmin and Liu Changtao),. These cities maintain a complex relationship with their history (Lena Scheen wonders whether or not this is nostalgia) and tend to use their Past to move from post-colonial cities to global cities.

The book is divided into three sections, entitled “global ambitions”, “cultural expression” and “architectural expression”.

Contributions to the first section examine the efforts made by Chinese cities to become global cities. Leslie Sklair (LSE) studies the influence of capitalist globalisation on architecture. His view is that iconic urban monuments are used by a “transnational capitalist class” to ensure the development of global consumerism. After decolonization, cities attempted to develop a national style of modernist architecture, but this was often determined by the Western world. According to the author, although postcolonial architecture was thought to be a factor of national identity, it in fact strengthened  global consumerism   Leslie Sklair illustrates his point with several examples of cities in developing countries

The second contribution was written by Jacob Dreyer (NYU) and focuses on the creation of a new image for Shanghai. The author describes China’s efforts to transform Shanghai into a modern city with Expo 2012, using urban planning, but postponing political reforms.  The vision of the authorities is that of an ideal city. However, “a city is much more than buildings – it is a way of social relations”. These have to be taken into consideration in order to successfully transform Shanghai into a beacon of modernity. In the author’s opinion, Shanghai has the necessary infrastructures to become a global city, but needs to empower her inhabitants if she wants to acquire this rank.

Guo Xiangmin and Liu Changtao analyse discuss how Guangzhou can retrieve its status of global city without detriment to its regional role.  For the authors, “Guangzhou has to find its own special path towards being a global city in the post-colonial era”.  Throughout her history, Guangzhou has actively taken part in China’s openness to the world; this southern city was at times forced, both  by China and by foreign countries, to get involved with the rest of the world. Since the reforms, Guangzhou has become very dependent on foreign trade, and the development of the city was affected by 1997 Asian crisis, as well as the 2008 international crisis. The authors advocate a better balance between global and regional development, by expanding domestic demand and strengthening regional cooperation. In their opinion, this would increase Guangzhou’s international influence.

The second part, entitled “Cultural expression”, looks at the way Chinese cities are perceived and represented in contemporary fiction. Ana MoyaPellitero (StudioMEB) has chosen to study how contemporary Chinese film makers (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Jia Zhang-keand Wang Xiaoshuai) depict relations and migrations between rural and urban China. Migrants’ daily lives in metropolises and urban dwellers’ bonds with their native rural homes have increasing become subjects of interests for the Chinese cinema. These movies illustrate the increasing inequalities between countryside and cities. The fifth generation of filmmakers (1980’s and 1990’s) tried not to openly criticise governmental policies on issues such as the hukou system, for fear of censorship and retaliation, whereas contemporary (sixth generation) filmmakers, using underground methods and digital cameras, have more freedom to point out the gap between rural and urban realities. The author is confident that this new fiction, as well as the new documentaries, will greatly contribute to the opening of a social debate in China.

The next text was written by Tsung-yi Michelle Huang (National University of Taiwan), who argues that in postcolonial cities such as Hong Kong, localness is a creation. To illustrate this statement, Huang chooses to analyse the movie “Little Cheung” directed by Fruit Chan in 1999. In this movie, the story of a young boy in Hong Kong in the 90’s up to the handover of Hong Kong to China, the city’s landmark symbolising its global does also represent localness.

Lilong in Shanghai, Goulard Sébastien

Lena Scheen (Leiden University) has studied the revival of old Shanghai in contemporary literature. As Shanghai is again becoming a global metropolis, the people of Shanghai seem more and more interested in learning about their city’s recent history. Lena Scheen analyses a novel, Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai, by Wang Anyi, and the symbol in fiction of the “longtang”, which is a typical Shanghai lane house. According to the author, in this particular novel there is neither a criticism of the large-scale demolition of traditional houses, nor a sense of nostalgia for colonial Shanghai, but rather nostalgia for a typical lifestyle. Although the “longtang” seem to be transformed into characters in this novel, Wang Anyi does not plead for their preservation.  She is aware that this is an irreversible process, and although she may regret the sociability offered by the “longtang”,as well as and her own youth, she realizes that there are some things preservation programs cannot bring back.

The last part of this book is entitled “architectural expressions” and focuses on both old and new buildings in Chinese cities (Shanghai’s lilong and Hong Kong’s shopping malls).Like Lena Scheen, Non Arkaraprasertkul (Harvard University) focuses on Shanghai’s typical lane houses: the “longtang” or “lilong”.  The author does not call for the preservation of the “lilong” at all costs. Indeed, he presents  us with the drawbacks of these traditional houses, such as the poor conditions they offer to their inhabitants and the need for local authorities to increase the density of Shanghai’s city centre. However, he regrets that the social societies and residents are too often excluded from the process of decision making in matters of “lilong” preservation. He also stresses the informal heritage that the lilong offer.  When a decision is made in favour of preservation, it should not only concern the buildings, but also the residents’ social life.  The author calls for more research to be done on the lilong.

The last text, written by Jonathan Solomon (University of Hong Kong), looks at shopping malls in Hong Kong and their role as links between local and global spheres. This symbol of global cities can also be re-appropriated by locals. Although shopping malls are not meeting places where the different communities could mix together, they provide public space (a rare commodity in Hong Kong) for everyone.

This book should be read by everyone interested in Chinese cities, and not only by architects, as it demonstrates the consequences of architectural choices on many aspects of Chinese urban society. A point to remember is that cities are empty shells without their inhabitants and social activities.  Only when its inhabitants are closely involved in decision making can a city become truly global.  This book also gives us some hints about what a global city really is. It needn’t follow a Western recipe;  Chinese cities must develop their own models.

We hope that the contributors’ next studies will also include other cities in China. Because of their  history, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou are different from other Chinese cities. These three cities have been strongly influenced by foreign powers, and are now trying to revive their Past in order to become global cities again. But these cities are not the only ones to aspire to a global destiny. Building an international image has become the concern of many other cities that also have to strike a balance between preservation and development, local concerns  and global.

Concerning the style of the book, we should like to mention the cohesion of the contributions; this book is clearly the result of team work, and the authors complete one another, making the reading of their work all the more interesting.

Full text available online

  1. Gregory Bracken, Aspects of urbanization in China:  Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, Amsterdam university press, 2012, 212 p. []

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)

More Posts

Resisting motorization in Guangzhou

Zacharias, John (2012) Resisting motorization in Guangzhou. Habitat International. 36 (1) pp. 93-100.

Private motorization has accompanied unprecedented urbanization in China, as a matter of public policy. Planning at the provincial and city levels has supported the rapid build-up of the private car fleet in major cities through the development of regional and urban highway networks, higher capacity local streets and much higher standards for car parking in new developments. By contrast, urban planning until 1994 concentrated on the building of community and the support for a non-motorized lifestyle. Guangzhou experienced particularly rapid city-building during this period because it was at the centre of the market reforms launched in 1978. The communities that were built form a broad ring around the historic core of the city, constituting one of the most significant obstacles to government ambitions to maintain the recent growth rates in car ownership. Guangyuan and Jiangnanxi are examples of such middle-class, home-owning communities where daily life remains almost exclusively non-motorized. Self-organized groups in the community are increasingly vocal and active in their demands to enhance local environmental quality and restrict local motorization. Local municipal authorities, although increasingly active and autonomous, try to strike a balance between government objectives and local demands. The application of motorization illustrates the growing gap between high-level policy and grassroots urban planning in Guangzhou.

Full text available at: Spectrum. Research repository of the Concordia university libraries

 Other articles by the same author



Monique Abud

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

More Posts