Category Archives: Hong Kong

Aspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou

418533_coverAspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou by Bracken can be found at the OAPEN Library, an online resource for freely accessible academic books, mainly in the area of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Bracken, G. (2012). Aspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.


China’s rise is one of the transformative events of our time. Aspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou examines some of the aspects of China’s massive wave of urbanization – the largest the world has ever seen. The various papers in the book, written by academics from different disciplines,represent ongoing research and exploration and give a useful snapshot in a rapidly developing discourse. Their point of departure is the city – Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou – where the downside of China’s miraculous economic growth is most painfully apparent. And it is concern for the citizens of these cities that unifies the papers in a book whose authors seek to understand what life is like for the people who call them home.

OAPEN Library also provides a list of alternative platforms to acquire the book. For more information, click here.

Aurélia Martin

Chargée de communications et des médias pour l'UMR Chine Corée Japon (CNRS)

More Posts

Rural landscape preservation in China

photo-4The Department of Urban Planning and Design of Xi’an Jiaotong – Liverpool University, in collaboration with the International Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Design (ILAUD), launched the second International Workshop on “Critical Planning for Chinese Cities”. The workshop titled “Re-programming Dongshan Peninsula in Tai Lake. Policies and design solutions for preserving a cultural landscape” will take place at XJTLU from the 19th to the 26th of October 2013. Students coming different Chinese and European Universities will work intensively for ten days developing alternative strategies and design solutions for the selected area.

On Monday 21st October an International Seminar will be hosted at XJTLU titled “Managing rural landscape in China” aiming at discussing the challenge of conservation and management of Chinese peri-urban areas. This intensive programme is supported by the Suzhou Tourism Bureau, the Unitwin-Unesco Chair in Regional Planning for Sustainable Local Development and the Suzhou Industrial Park Design & Research Institute.

Contact persons


More information

Jacqueline Nivard

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

More Posts - Website

Dark cities, sustainable cities?


Hong Kong's symphony of lights, Goulard Sébastien

Cities are getting brighter, and more attention needs to be focused on this issue. *On July 1st, France introduced a new law banning night illumination for non-residential buildings. This is the first time a country has implemented a policy of this sort; the question is whether such a policy can help cities become more sustainable.

There are several objectives in reducing commercial lighting at night.

The main one is simply to save power. It is not sustainable to consume power the entire night for no purpose. Everyone, including companies, should be concerned by this issue. We cannot advocate for environmental preservation on the one hand, and continue to waste energy on the other hand.

Another objective is to reduce light pollution. Sky glow not only prevents amateur stargazers from looking at stars but has severe consequences on our environment. Light pollution disturbs the behaviour of fauna1, and may also have negative effects on human health.

Darkness may actually make cities greener!

This policy seems very ambitious and may create a sustainable precedent2, but there are other concerns involved.

  • First, we need to know more about the consequences of light reduction on security. Are dark cities more dangerous than illuminated ones? Despite all the diverging theses on the relation between darkness and safety3, we still cannot answer this question.  As this is the first time large metropolises in a developed country have implemented this kind of policy, no comparison can be made.
  • A second point concerns the enforcement of this policy, which applies essentially to non-residential buildings, but with some exceptions. The Eiffel tower will still be illuminated, and other major historical buildings will be exempted. We can assume that there will be other exceptions as well (for example, in tourist areas…). If a company does not respect the law, what will happen? Do the authorities have the necessary (financial and human) means to verify the implementation of the policy? What will be the sanctions applied to companies that disrespect it? A mere €750 fine? That is-not much for the budget of a supermarket occupying an entire building. These questions still need to be clarified.
  • In the absence of clear regulations and enforcement, this policy would only “remain on paper.”   The regulations need to be enforced; there should be more than just an “announcement effect”4.
  • It is also important to forecast the implications of the illumination ban on tourism and entertainment. Paris is known as the “city of lights”. Many visitors enjoy sightseeing from the Seine River and strolling through the lamp lit streets of the old districts by night. Without light, tourists may go out less and this will be detrimental to certain economic activities, for example, restaurants.

 If the policy proves to be successful, similar ones may be extended to other cities and countries, and nighttime will again be dark.

Can this policy be implemented in China?  Like Europe or the USA, China wastes a lot of power on night illumination. But illuminations are also a promotional tool, and in the case of Hong Kong a part of its identity. In the British ex-colony, illuminations have become a great tourist attraction, with the “Symphony of Lights” attracting thousands of visitors every night. As a recent article published in the South China Morning Post pointed out, despite complaints from environmental NGOs, “there is no reason to disappoint them (the visitors)”5. Nevertheless, lighting needs to be used efficiently and more attention should be paid to educating consumers.

 For the moment, there is no perfect solution to this problem. Cities must face the challenge and experiment with a wide range of policies. There has, however, already been a notable change in attitude: brighter cities do not mean better cities anymore.

  1. Terrel Gallaway T., Olsen R. and Mitchell D. (2009) The economics of global light pollution. Missouri State University, Department of Economics. Retrieved July 9, 2013. []
  2. Turning it down: cities combat light pollution by going dim (2013) NPR. March 13, 2013.  Retrieved July 9, 2013. []
  3. Bogard P. (2013) Turn down the city lights and make streets safer. Bloomberg. February 24, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013. []
  4. Shankleman J. (2013). Will Paris still be a ‘city of lights’ following illumination ban? Business green. January 30, 2013.  Retrieved July 9, 2013. []
  5. Switching off a city of lights isn’t the answer (2012). SCMP. March 30, 2012. Retrieved July 9, 2013. []

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

Part-Time Research Assistant, China Press

The CEFC invites applications for the following position:

Part-Time Research Assistant, China Press
Location: Hong Kong
Type of position: P/T
Start date: 22 July 2013

The French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC), based in Hong Kong, seeks a well-organized, energetic research assistant (P/T) to coordinate its monitoring and analysis of the Chinese-language press.

Candidates should be interested in working in a friendly, high-paced, collaborative trilingual (English, Chinese, French), academic environment, and have a strong academic interest in contemporary China (e.g. politics, economics, international relations, etc.) and/or PRC and Hong Kong press.

Job Description

The Research Assistant will work closely with the CEFC researchers and associate researchers to contribute to the CEFC’s research and publication activities, including:

  • Supporting research work on a wide range of thematic issues covered by the Centre (politics, economics, society, culture) through monitoring mainland and Hong Kong newspapers, Websites, journals, and other sources;
  • Maintaining and developing the Centre’s thematically-organized digital press archive, and small library (this includes some administrative tasks such as keeping track of subscriptions, book orders, etc.);
  • Producing in-depth news analysis notes and presenting them at the Centre’s fortnightly or monthly press meetings, preparing issue briefs on selected topics and other research assistance as needed for individual projects;
  • The Research Assistant is strongly encouraged to take initiative in submitting issue briefs or other research work to China Perspectives, and to participate in the CEFC’s research activities. S/he will have the opportunity to attend the Centre’s events, which may include lectures, workshops, and international academic conferences.


  • The candidate should hold an master’s degree in a relevant field (journalism, political science, economics, international relations, or another academic field), and have conducted research on China; Doctoral candidates are welcomed;
  • Excellent proficiency with mainland China media and academic material, including on-line research; experience in mainland China and good knowledge of Chinese politics would be a plus;
  • The candidate must be fluent in English and Mandarin, with familiarity of both traditional and simplified characters; and excellent writing skills in both languages. Good computer skills are essential. Knowledge of, or interest in, French, is a plus, but not required.


Salary commensurate with experience. The CEFC offers flexible hours and an attractive vacation policy. The CEFC’s resources will be available to the Research Assistant for his/her own research activities, outside of his/her working time.


Apply immediately. Please e-mail a cover letter, resume, and two reference contacts to Ms Heipo Leung . The subject of the email should be “Application: Research Assistant”.

The CEFC is part of a network of research institutions established around the world with funding from the French Foreign Ministry and the CNRS (French Centre for scientific research). It functions both as an independent academic institution hosting individual research projects, and as a think tank devoted to analyzing current developments in contemporary China. It publishes a quarterly peer-reviewed journal in two languages, China Perspectives and Perspectives chinoises.

Aurélia Martin

Chargée de communications et des médias pour l'UMR Chine Corée Japon (CNRS)

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

Cities in Asia: International summer program in architecture

Taught by a diverse group of faculty members from the University of Hong Kong, and speakers from internationally renowned universities and independent research groups, the course offers participants a design studio experience within Asia’s  contexts.

Fundamental to the study of architecture and cities is the question of rapid urbanization and innovation on the multiple fronts of society, culture and the economy. For the purpose of this summer program, the three key cities in east China, the Pearl River Delta and Southeast Asia will serve as platforms for the understanding of such issues, in the current neo-liberal world of urbanization, where international corporations have grown far more powerful than sovereign governments.

Through this course, participants will focus on different architecture and building types that have emerged from the current state of rapid urbanization. These urban building types are unique in the way they resist and subvert, or become mutated or subsumed by the prevailing urban conditions of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. The design and research studio would be based on the examination and re-invention of a number of these building types.

Participants will have the benefit of visiting numerous cities under-going massive change, exploring broad-ranging issues such as identity, migration, cultural production, colonialism, nationalism and globalization through topics in architectural history and theory. This program will include study trips to the cities of Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou and Shenzhen. In support of the design and research studio, a daily lecture and seminar program will further enrich the participants’ knowledge in these fields.

Deadline for registration

  • April 15, 2013


  •  SHA: Jul 5-18, 2013
  • HKG: Jul 19-26, 2013
  • SIN: Jul 27-Aug 2, 2013

Program directors



Monique Abud

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

More Posts

Preserving local traditions in an urban context

Tsang Tai Uk, a preserved Hakka village in Hong Kong, Goulard SébastienDespite its modernity and the demographic pressures it endures, Hong Kong has preserved some aspects of its traditional villages. Urbanisation and land development have not completely wiped the villages from the New Territories, which have been carefully preserved by the government with a view to conserving their heritage and promoting tourism. In a recent article, three scholars from the University of Hong Kong and Tsinghua University have examined the impact of urbanisation and modernity on Lung Yeuk Tau, a village in the New Territories1. This village was once predominantly occupied by the Weitou Chinese, members of the Tang clan. Hakka Chinese have lived in the area for many decades as well, and are also considered “indigenous people”. Since the 1970’s and the development of the New Territories, a new population group has moved to Lung Yeuk Tau: in the wake of the handover to China, Chinese migrants from the Mainland have also settled there because of the relatively lower real estate prices. Although the Tang people are no longer the only inhabitants of the village, they still maintain their traditions, even if these have undergone modern alterations.

The authors note in their observations and interviews that traditions have been modified by urbanisation, but modernity has also emphasized and preserved the Tang cultural heritage.

Jaya, Li and Zhuang note three main factors of change:

  • Once a poor rural area, this village has experienced an increasing standard of living. Fields, sold or rented to the government, have been transformed into urban areas. Inhabitants have seen their social status upgraded. As a result, some of their traditions have been abandoned. For example, the Tang clan members now prefer to buy traditional meals instead of preparing them together, and this affects their sense of community.
  • A second aspect of modernity is the growing role of women in the community. Whereas women were mostly excluded from traditional practices and rituals before the 1990’s, they are now taking part in certain festivals. According to the authors, this is a result of the growing power of women in Hong Kong. Although the Tang clan is a very male-dominated community, the village is not isolated enough to be unaffected by the rise of feminism in urban Hong Kong.
  • Another factor of transformation is the growing intervention of the State in the community. The Hong Kong authorities have been interested in preserving local Tang clan traditions in order to promote them as tourist attractions. The government funded the renovation of the Tang clan’s ancestral hall, but in exchange it had to be opened to (non-Tang) visitors.

The authors feel that the opening of temples to the public enshrines local culture and preserves traditions. They also argue that the government’s promotion of local culture unifies traditions and influences perceptions of Tang clan history: what is published on tourist posters is assimilated by local inhabitants. This contributes to the construction of the Tang community.

The authors also mention the special rights granted to the “indigenous people” of the New Territories. Inhabitants whose ancestors lived in the New Territories villages before British rule in 1898 have special representatives. This particular feature is examined in detail in this article, and its importance in identity preservation cannot be denied.

Hong Kong rural society has undergone important transformations over the last forty years. Local culture has also evolved. Traditions are not static and are adapted to their new urban environment.

We need to look at the role of tradition in urban societies. In the case of Lung Yeuk Tau, it can be argued that traditions are important not only for the purpose of promoting tourism but also in order to preserve a sense of community. What has happened in Hong Kong is occurring on a larger scale throughout China as a result of intense urbanisation. What will become of the individual characteristics of each village? Their preservation may be necessary in order to help locals adapt to societal changes as their rural world disappears.

  1. Jaya  Gopan, T., Li Z. and Zhuang S. (2012). Modern traditional village life in Hong Kong: the case of Lung Yeuk Tau;  Hong Kong Anthropologist , vol.6,  []

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: the world’s largest marketplace for art?


Vases on sale in a department store in Shanghai

Vases on sale in a department store in Shanghai

China has become the largest art market in the world.  This could have important consequences for Chinese cities.

The new urban upper class has rediscovered its heritage and has been exploring new artistic trends. Thanks to China’s new passion for art, fresh talents have emerged and have been widely recognized. Chinese art lovers are flocking to the main international art market centres, where auction houses cater to the new clientele, offering Chinese language services. 

Since 2010, China has progressively come to dominate the art market. In 2011, China represented 41.4% of global fine art auction sales revenue, while the USA and the UK lagged far behind, with 23.6% and 19.4%, respectively1. Does this mean that Chinese cities have caught up with – and surpassed – New York and London as the leading auction marketplaces?

If we take a closer look at China’s art market, we notice, first of all, that this market is concentrated within a few cities.  Beijing and Hong Kong represent the lion’s share of the market, although Shanghai and some other provincial capitals, such as Hangzhou, are making progress.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong is still the main artistic hub.   In China, Hong Kong has played a similar role to Monaco vis-à-vis the French market. Because foreign auction houses were not allowed to operate in France until 2000, during the 60’s American Sotheby’s set up in Monaco, where French customers could easily buy pieces of fine art. Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the two main rivals, began looking to Asia in the 70’s and 80’s, opening offices in Hong Kong in 1973 and 1986 respectively. There, these companies could operate in a very business-friendly environment thanks to a reliable legal framework, the absence of taxes and the role of Hong Kong as Asia’s main hub. When China started to open up to the world, auction houses based in Hong Kong saw new perspectives and increased their activities. It would appear that Hong Kong will continue to be an important marketplace for art in Asia, thanks to its tax policy, its financial power and the legal environment the city offers to its clientele.

The rise of auction houses in Beijing is much more recent. Although many auction firms operate in China, the market is dominated by two groups, “Guardian”, a private company, and “Poly”, a state-owned company that is run by the army. Sotheby’s is also active in China through a joint venture with a public group2. Although revenues produced by auctions held in Beijing in 2011 surpassed those in Hong Kong in the same year, one may well have doubts about the sustainability of this trend. First, some of the top bids at China’s auction houses may be the result of corruption, as described by Jia Guo3. The strong links between auction houses and the authorities may have helped to boost Beijing as China’s art capital4. However, these unhealthy connections could also hasten its fall. In the last two years, several cases of fake works of art have been revealed. The Beijing Review a state-owned weekly, and CCTV, China’s national TV group, reported several irregularities 56.   

Consequently, it is quite possible that the tremendous development of art auctions in China is fragile. The key to success for auction houses is based on respectability and trust. Christie’s, the world largest auction house, was founded in 1766. The history of Dorotheum, Vienna’s leading auction house, can be traced back to 1707. These companies have been successful because they deliver reliable services and are perceived by art lovers as trustworthy.

For all these reasons, we feel that, where art sales are concerned, the Chinese authorities need to better regulate the industry, open the market to foreign companies and sever the links between auction houses and local authorities. The initial result of such policies would perhaps be a decline in art sale revenues, but these measures would also reduce art speculation, make transactions more transparent, and thus render the development of China’s art industry more sustainable. It would help Beijing and cities other than Hong Kong to become international or regional art marketplaces.

  1. Art Market Trends 2011, Art Price, accessed March 5, 2013 []
  2. Chow, J. (2012, September 21), Sotheby’s to Sell Art in China.  The Wall Street Journal,  accessed March 5, 2013 []
  3. Guo, J. (2011) What Drives the Chinese Art Market? The Case of Elegant Bribery). Columbia Business School, accessed March 5, 2013 []

  4. Why Beijing rules big art auctions and Shanghai lags far behind, ( 2010, July 6), Xinhua accessed March 5, 2013 []
  5.  Bai, S. (2011, October 31), For real or not, Beijing Reveiw, accessed March 5, 2013 []
  6. Art auction boom in China, face loopholes, 2012 August 28, CCTV,  accessed March 5, 2013 []

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

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