Category Archives: Nanjing

‘My generation had it all easy’

Zavoretti, Roberta. (2014) ‘My generation had it all easy’: accounts of anxiety and social order in post-Mao Nanjing. Cambridge Anthropology, 32(2), pp. 49-64. DOI:

In urban China, young people are under increasing pressure to embody the ideal of a financially secure ‘match’. At the same time, their parents define marriage as ‘a family matter’ and provide a large part of the starting fund for their children’s new family. This situation often leads to inter-generational tensions, which can be fully appreciated only by looking back at the life experiences of the parents. Many members of this older generation were displaced to the countryside to ‘learn from the peasant masses’. In their accounts of those times, marriage was a troubling issue as most of them did not want to marry villagers for fear of getting stuck in the countryside. The anxieties of the old and new generations seem to be underpinned by policies promoted by state and market respectively; however, informants point to the state as the main source of responsibility for both change and continuity.

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Monique Abud

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

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Youth Olympics games in Nanjing (16-28, August)

nanjingAfter Beijing hosting the Olympic Games in 2008, Nanjing is now home to the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

Athletes aged between 15 and 18 years old are now competing in 28 sports.

More information available at the official website of the city of  Nanjing.

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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Green apartments in Nanjing, China

Hu, Hong, Stan Geertman and Pieter Hooimeijer. (2014) Green apartments in Nanjing China: do developers and planners understand the valuation by residents? Housing Studies, 29 (1), 26-43. DOI:10.1080/02673037.2014.848268

The Chinese government promotes green construction as part of the strategy to reduce energy consumption. In practice, green construction can be impeded because various stakeholders valuate green attributes in different ways. This paper uses the analytic hierarchy process to analyse the extent to which developers and planners understand the valuation of green apartment attributes by residents in Nanjing. Results show that buyers of green apartments rank green attributes lower than safety and accessibility, and rank healthy construction materials and comfort much higher than thermal isolation or reduced energy costs. Green developers tend to focus on aspects that define their margin, such as green attributes and locational benefits and overlook the social needs, which are not addressed in building codes and not under their control. They have better understanding of green residents’ priorities with health issues; planners are more familiar with the social needs of residents and lack green marketing knowledge.

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Hu, Hong, Stan Geertman and Pieter Hooimeijer. (2014) The willingness to pay for green apartments: The case of Nanjing, China. Urban Studies. Prepublished January, 7, 2014. DOI: 10.1177/0042098013516686

Faced with the challenge of developing sustainable cities, the Chinese government sets green construction as part of the national strategy to reduce energy consumption. However, the consumer market has shown limited response to such policies. To upscale green building, it is crucial to understand the market demands for green apartments. This article employs a conjoint model to estimate the willingness to pay for green dwellings versus accessibility to metros and jobs and neighbourhood quality by different socio-economic groups in Nanjing, China. Results show that the socio-economic status of homebuyers determines their willingness to pay for green attributes. Only the rich are prepared to pay for green apartments to improve their living comfort. To all, the notion of health is appealing as consumers are willing to pay for an unpolluted environment and for non-toxic construction materials used in buildings in good locations.

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Monique Abud

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

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The city master plan in transitional China

In 2011 China’s urban population exceeded its rural population. Chinese cities have been changing very rapidly. This evolution leads scholars to question the relevance of the master plan as an instrument of urbanisation and to study how local governments adapt their policies to central directives. 

After following a Soviet model of urban planning until the late 1970s, China chose to adopt traditional (Western) urban planning. However, this model was not well adapted to the rapid economic development in China. Since the late 90s, China has been trying to develop its own type of urban planning, one that suits its transitional characteristics1.

In a very interesting paper published in 2011, Qian Zhu (University of Waterloo) studied the case of Nanjing 2, and argued that local governments use master plan directives to carry out their pro-growth strategies.

In this article, the author explains, first of all, the statutory aspect of city master plans: “The City Master Plan reflects the central-local government policy visions of the ideal direction for a city’s growth in terms of demographic, economic, and social objectives”.

Qian selected Nanjing as his case study because this city, unlike to Beijing or Shanghai, did not benefit from special policy programmes. Moreover, Nanjing, which was overshadowed by Shanghai, had devised several strategies in order to survive competition from its gigantic neighbour. According to  Qian, the preparation of a city master plan is very time consuming and so master plans are quickly out of date. For example, the Nanjing master plan for 1991-2010, was only officially validated in 1995. However, Qian also noticed that in 2001, after being revised, the new version of the master plan showed more flexibility, was more adapted to market uncertainty and tried to answer social challenges. Despite these improvements, the goals defined in the master plan were not all attained. For example, new townships did not manage to attract the number of inhabitants specified by the master plan.

Qian lists several reasons that may explain disparities between master plan objectives and urban realities.

  • First, he points out that Nanjing had suffered from political instability, with 10 successive mayors over the previous twenty years. Each of these mayors had a different strategy for Nanjing, and this was reflected in the implementation of the master plan.
  • In Nanjing, local government was confronted with the problem of dealing with central government interests, which were widely represented through central government owned companies and through the presence of the military. As a result, the implementation of the city master plan was out of the hands of the local authorities.
  • The author states that large projects -usually government supported- did not respect the master plan.
  • Competition between districts was strong, resulting in the duplication of several projects (e.g. industrial parks).
  • Tension among the numerous local administrations sometimes slowed down the implementation of the master plan.
  • Other factors disrupted the master plan, such as the emergence of market forces, as well as the activities of land developers, who had their own agenda.

Qian concludes that the presence of both old and new institutions makes the city master plan less efficient. For the author, two different solutions might solve this problem. One possibility is the complete reform of the master plan. The other, which Qian prefers, would involve greater coordination among local stakeholders, including the authorities, private entrepreneurs and inhabitants.

  1. Gu Chaolin, Yuan Xiaohui and Guo Jing (2010), China’s master planning system in transition: case study of Beijing, 46th ISOCARP Congress 2010 []
  2. Qian, Z. 2012. Master Plan, Plan Adjustment and Urban Development Reality under China’s Market Transition: A Case Study of Nanjing. Cities []

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 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)

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Housing the urban poor

Based on the case study of Nanjing, this article, written by Guo Chen (Michigan State University)1, looks at the households and housing conditions of China’s urban poor. China’s housing system has greatly evolved since the late 1970’s, with the progressive transfer of housing responsibility from state subsidies to a market-oriented system.  These reforms have boosted housing development and improved housing conditions in China. But has this privatization of housing provided solutions for poverty issues in Chinese cities?

 To better understand the impact of the recent evolution in housing policies on poverty,   Guo Chen has chosen to study the housing conditions for different categories of poor households in Nanjing, according to background, housing tenure and location.

  • Guo Chen’s research, based on surveys and interviews, firstly shows that the hukou registration system still has a strong impact on housing conditions. Rural migrants are still the least privileged group among poor urban households and so live in the worst conditions.
  • Housing conditions also depend on tenure status:  Guo Chen argues that owners’ homes have better living conditions than renters’.  The latter are very dependent on the way they procured their housing:  from work units, housing bureaus or on the private market. She notes that work units remain an influential factor in housing. Thus, resettled households enjoy better and larger housing when it is provided by work units instead of private companies.
  • Another point deals with location. At the time Guo Chen was conducting her research, Nanjing was undergoing very intensive urban renewal, which led to large resettlement programmes in Nanjing’s suburbs. The author examined the condition of the housing offered to the resettled poor households. According to her surveys, resettlement housing “when made by work units and housing bureaus” offered better quality to residents than the former housing.

Poor housing in Haikou, China, Goulard Sébastien In spite of the ongoing privatization of housing, Guo Chen argues that there is a path dependence to the pre-reform system with the continuing influence of hukou and working units on housing conditions.  She also notes that those who are the most exposed to the housing reforms suffer the most from poor housing conditions.

The author pleads for a better administered system for housing provision and support, as well as greater municipal participation in relocation programmes.

Although this article was published in 2011, the research and surveys were conducted in 2004. Since then, many reforms have been carried out in China, urban development has improved and real estate prices have increased. But we can assume that the author’s conclusions are still relevant today. Issues related to rural exodus have not disappeared and rural migrants still suffer from poor housing conditions. The hukou system has not been abolished, and migrants without local hukou face more difficulties in integrating into city life. On the other hand, Chinese municipalities seem to be paying more attention to issues concerning poor housing and are heavily investing in public housing in order to reduce social discontent. However, municipal investments in public housing are, for the most part, financed by the sale of land and by taxes from private urban development programmes. City governments need to find a balance between the private housing market and a system of public housing subsidies.

This article also reminds us that poverty is not only rural, but urban. Recent research2 conducted in Europe shows that poverty is greater in large cities than in middle-size agglomerations. The problem of housing the poor has still not been resolved in Europe. Another interesting point that is highlighted in Guo Chen’s paper is the fact that poverty is not homogenous; there are several different levels of poverty and so a wide range of measures is needed to solve these issues.

  1. Chen, Guo. 2011. “Housing the urban poor in post-reform China: Some empirical evidence from the city of Nanjing”, Cities []
  2. Compas, Premières estimations du taux de pauvreté des plus grandes communes de France, étude n°2, August 2012, retrieved from (accessed 30 November 2012) []

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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Traditional architectural forms in market oriented Chinese cities

This paper entitled “Traditional architectural forms in market oriented Chinese cities: Place for localities or symbol of culture?”, written by Fei Chen (University of Liverpool) gives a critical analysis of urban conservation and regeneration programmes in China1.  Ever since Beijing’s implementation of regulation on urban conservation, major Chinese cities have undertaken urban conservation projects. The author has selected four of them to study:  “Hu’er hutong” in Beijing, “Tong Fang Xiang” in Suzhou, the “Xintiandi” project in Shanghai and “Nanjing 1912” in Nanjing. The initial objectives of these conservation programmes were to provide modern facilities to residents and to preserve some of the traditional urban characteristics of the area, but because of capitalisation in the historical districts, the author notes that local authorities and land developers gradually came to neglect social cohesion, as the price of land increased. 

Fei Chen analyses these four programmes from three different perspectives: developers’ and local governments’ initiatives, their impact on residents, and the use of traditional architecture.

  • According to Fei Chen, the way in which local authorities intervene through these regeneration programmes has changed over the years. On the one hand, local authorities have decreased subsidies for the preservation of these particular historical districts as real estate prices have risen. On the other hand, municipal governments have, more and more, supported measures aimed at improving an image or promoting a place. Urban regeneration programmes have become tourist destinations.
  • Secondly, the author notes that these programmes did not all have the same objectives. Whereas the early ones tended to maintain the original residents in their historical districts, the later ones had a more commercial purpose and did not offer in situ housing lots for former residents who were then relocated far from the city centre. But even in the case of Beijing and Suzhou, the original residents were not able to keep their homes in these “preserved districts”; real estate pressure caused most of them to choose to sell or rent their former house to the emerging middle-class, which was seeking a more traditional “Chinese” atmosphere. These projects have in fact exacerbated the gentrification process of historical districts in Chinese cities.
  • In the field of architecture, Fei Chen observes an evolution of the regeneration process. The first urban development programmes tended to adapt traditional aspects to modern life. For instance, in Beijing’s Ju’er Hutong, the new courtyards were built to a design that allowed residents to socialise, thus respecting the “substance” of Chinese traditional living.  But more recent programmes have given preference to reproducing particular features of traditional architecture, such as curved roofs, to enhance their projects.  In other words, conservation efforts are limited to aesthetic considerations. The author notes that, in every case, tradition has been manipulated for the purpose of promoting a particular place, in order to offer an “exotic” and attractive image to the new Chinese upper-middle class and to tourists. Fei Chen regrets that in transforming these districts, many original buildings have been destroyed and she illustrates this with the case of Xintiandi, where only 2 historical blocks out of 23 have been preserved. 

Sinan Mansions, a high end complex near Xintiandi, Shanghai, Goulard SébastienFei Chen advocates more local resident participation in regeneration programmes, in order to avoid gentrification and truly respect traditions. For the author, traditions cannot persist exclusively in the form of architectural elements, but need the involvement of residents who will adapt traditions to their needs. Thus, we can conclude that the author opposes the creation of historical districts that resemble museums with frozen traditions.

As Fei Chen points out, Chinese cities have had to “modernise” their city centres as a consequence of rapid urban development. However some parts have been preserved or transformed into historical districts. Residents have been excluded from these initiatives, which have mainly served commercial and tourist purposes.  

Issues regarding historical conservation are being dealt with in many cities around the world, and particularly in Europe. But unlike Chinese cities, the historical districts in European cities are not preserved by means of a single large scale programme. There is a variety of projects (regeneration, rehabilitation) for the same area. This diversity of projects makes historical districts more vibrant and creates links with other parts of the city.

Full text available online

  1. Chen, F (2011) “Traditional architectural forms in market oriented Chinese cities: Place for localities or symbol of culture?” Habitat International vol 35, issue 2:410-18 []

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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