Category Archives: Suzhou

Utilities networks and urban fabric in China: the quest for an environmentalization in the framework of an accelerated development

Thesis defense of Rémi Curien1: Services essentiels en réseaux et fabrique urbaine en Chine : la   quête d’une environnementalisation dans le cadre d’un développement accéléré – Enquêtes à Shanghai, Suzhou et Tianjin (Utilities networks and urban fabric in China: the quest for an environmentalization in the framework of an accelerated development – Field surveys in Shanghai, Suzhou and Tianjin)

Members of the Jury

  • Sabine Barles, Professor of urban planning, Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne, president of the thesis committee.
  • Catherine Chevauché, Deputy Director of Research, Innovation and Sustainable Development at Safege, Suez Environnement, examiner.
  • Olivier Coutard, CNRS Research Director, LATTS, supervisor.
  • François Gipouloux, CNRS Research Director, UMR 8173 Chine, Corée, Japon (EHESS), referee.
  • Dominique Lorrain, CNRS Research Director, LATTS, examiner.
  • Franck Scherrer, Professor of geography and urban planning, Université de Montréal, referee.
  • Zou Huan, Professor of architecture and urban planning, Tsinghua University, examiner.


Environmentalising the country’s development without significantly changing the pace of economic and urban growth: such is the difficult challenge set since 2006 by the Chinese authorities to deal with the increasing pressure bearing on natural environment and major environmental damage caused by accelerated development. China is probably the only country in the world where a goal of energy and environmental sobriety in the provision of urban utilities (water, waste-water, electricity, gas, heating, waste management) is so vigorously sought in circular economy policies, more specifically in eco-industrial parks and eco-cities projects, in the context of a strong and extended economic and urban development. Based on an investigation conducted in Shanghai, Suzhou and Tianjin, three cities at the forefront of transformations in China, and combined with a study of the national framework and the overall situation in the country, the thesis aims to analyze the substance and the forms of the urban utilities’ environmentlisation implemented in China. Our research shows that the ambitious Chinese policies of urban utilities’ environmentalisation leads in the cities to a partial improvement in the environmental quality of their provision, while the horizon of sobriety and circular economy remains distant. The prevalence of the developmentalist urban fabric stands structurally in the way of the emergence of resources reuse-oriented alternative technical systems to conventional networks. The urban utilities’ environmentalisation path taken in the Chinese cities is too technocentric and too exogenous to urban planning for the environmentalisation and especially the quest for sobriety to be more substantial. Operationally, these findings encourage a greater integration of utilities’ provision issues in the planning and development of cities, both in China and beyond the Chinese context.


November, 21, 2014, at 2:30 pm


Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (Cité Descartes, 6-8 Avenue Blaise Pascal, 77455 Champs-sur-Marne, France) – Amphithéâtre Navier

If you wish to attend  this event, please contact Rémi Curien (


Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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The costs of urban growth at the fringe of a Chinese city

Verdini, Giulio1 (2014). The costs of urban growth at the fringe of a Chinese city : evidence from Jinshi Village in Suzhou. International Development Planning Review, 36:4, p. 413-43. Published online October 08, 2014. DOI : 10.3828/idpr.2014.27.

The rate of city growth in China today correlates well with an overall loss of the most fertile agricultural areas of the country. A consequence of this growth includes the rapid reshaping of peri-urban livelihoods in their densely populated fringe. The policy response from central government has focused on containing city growth and pursuing modern rural development. Both policy directions have failed, in part, to acknowledge the intrinsic nature of the urban fringe in China. This paper explores the features of the fringe of Suzhou, a fast growing city in the Yangtze River Delta. The aim is to outline potential social costs of this current policy framework, through analysing the case study of Jinshi Village. The paper advocates a different regionalist approach to policy implementation.

Read full text at Liverpool (secured access)

In 2013, Giulio Verdini has been a visiting scholar at the CECMC (EHESS), the institution that hosts the editorial team of the UrbaChina blog. The activities of Giulio Verdini at the CECMC are presented in Carnets du Centre Chine :

 1. Urban Planning and Design, Xi’an Jiaotong – Liverpool University, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China.
See more at:


Monique Abud

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

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The city of Suzhou rewarded for its best practices in sustainable urbanisation

The city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China, won the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2014 for its demonstration of sound planning principles and good urban management.

The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize is co-organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore and the Centre for Liveable Cities. It aims to honour cities which tackle urban challenges through good governance and innovation. The prize places an emphasis on practical and cost effective solutions and ideas in order to facilitate the sharing between cities accross the world of best practices in urban solutions and sustainable urban development.

Suzhou has undergone remarkable transformation over the past two decades. The significance of its transformation lies in the city’s success in meeting the multiple challenges of achieving economic growth in order to create jobs and a better standard of living for its people; balancing rapid urban growth with the need to protect its cultural and built heritage; and coping with a large influx of migrant workers while maintaining social stability.

For more information, see the web-page of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize.

Oriane Pillet

Intern at the CNRS, UrbaChina project. M.A. in urban local development (IEDES, Paris); M.A. in international development studies (Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris - Utrecht University); B.A. in geography and law (Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris).

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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

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The growth of development zones and the urban planning strategies in Suzhou

Accelerated urban growth, the extension of huge new development zones, integrated industrial-urban projects: all these urban transformations, which have been taking place in Suzhou for nearly thirty years, are a good illustration of urban transformations in the coastal regions of China. Through the study of the Prefecture-City of Suzhou, one can largely measure the evolution of urban planning and development strategies, models and processes in China.

Located in the southern part of Jiangsu Province (the so-called “Sunan”) and adjacent to the Municipality of Shanghai, Suzhou is famous primarily for its historical role: it was the capital of China, is known the world over for its classical gardens and was the manufacturing and commercial centre of the Yangtze Delta up to the time of the first Opium War (1839-1842). Then, during the period of Western domination, Suzhou gradually declined, while Shanghai prospered. Since the 1990s, Suzhou has experienced a dramatic revival and has become one of the most attractive and dynamic cities in China, as well as a major export-oriented industrial centre1 . During the 1980s, the authorities in Suzhou took the decision to intensively develop new industrial and urban zones around the old centre, thus preserving the historic city from extensive restructuring (under pressure from very active local architects), a rare – if not unique – event in China. Since 1985, many development zones have been created across Suzhou’s 8500 km² wide territory, which today includes about 10 million inhabitants.  Some of these development zones are among the most important in China: Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), Suzhou New District (SND), Kunshan ETDZ, Wujiang Economic Development Area, Zhangjiagang Tariff-Free District2.

What are the driving forces behind this accelerated transformation, and what is the logic that underlies it?

In 1979, the new Chinese President Deng Xiaoping and his government observed the poor state of China’s economy and the inefficiency of state-owned enterprises. The main causes they identified were a lack of capital and expertise, and insufficient technological development. In order to solve these problems, they undertook “Chinese economic reforms”: the introduction of market mechanisms and opening to foreign capital, pro-urban policies and the liberalization of real estate. They singled out a model based on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): attracting foreign investment seemed to them to be the best way to inject capital, advanced technology and management skills into the Chinese economy, and eventually to generate growth, boost local economies and develop the country.

Following these reforms introduced by the Chinese central government, during the 1980s Suzhou experienced a turning point in its model of development. Whereas, during the Maoist period, Suzhou (and more generally the Sunan) experienced a domestic market oriented rural industrialization (with the establishment of township and village enterprises), a radically new and different economic model was chosen from 1985 on: the FDI oriented model.  Attracting FDI is now a priority for the authorities of Suzhou. The economic results of this policy are spectacular: Suzhou has become a Prefecture-City that is at the forefront in attracting FDI and generating growth, experiencing an annual GDP growth rate of about 15% between 2000 and 2005, and 12% between 2005 and 2010 (among the highest rates in China).

There is a key factor in implementing this FDI-oriented model: the development zones, which are huge free zones, created and developed to attract foreign investment by means of favourable tax agreements3 . Since 1985, the authorities in Suzhou have opened up large development areas of this sort around the old city (SND, then SIP and others). The creation of these special zones has enabled the city to construct dedicated objects and environments, specially designed for the reception of foreign investment.

These development zones are not only key tools for economic growth, but also major territorial objects, often of considerable size (it is not uncommon for them to occupy dozens of square kilometres), which have become urban poles defining the structure of the Prefecture-City of Suzhou.  They are at the heart of its spatial development and logistical planning: they are not only industrial or business parks, but also important urban entities. During their development in the 1990s and 2000s, after having attracted industries and businesses, they integrated many other urban functions (residential, commercial, administrative, educational, recreational…), constituting hybrid “industrial park-cities”4 .  Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) (Suzhou Gongye Yuan Qu) is the most important of them.  It was created in 1994 by the Chinese central government within the framework of a strategic partnership with Singapore. Located to the east of the old centre of Suzhou, and very close to Shanghai, SIP today comprises an area of 288 km² (nearly three times that of the City of Paris). It first attracted many industries (SIP now includes nearly 10,000 companies), and then developed and incorporated its residential and other urban functions: it now includes about 800,000 inhabitants.

Through the deployment of these “industrial parks”, which in actual fact are new cities, a specific model of development and planning is at work and provides the driving force for Suzhou’s economic and urban boom. The attraction of foreign investment draws urban development into the development zones5 : the jobs thus created generate a need for nearby housing and the attraction of FDI indirectly finances the construction of urban facilities and infrastructures6. This mechanism is reinforced by the intense competition in which the different administrative territories are engaged7 at all levels, whether it be between different development zones, different districts in the Prefecture-City of Suzhou, or between Suzhou and the other Municipalities in Jiangsu (Nanjing , Wuxi, Suzhou, Changzhou, Zhenjiang, Yangzhou, Taizhou, Nantong) and Shanghai.

This pattern of development and planning is not specific to Suzhou; Suzhou is an emblematic case which exacerbates the process. (This is due especially to its strategic location in the Yangtze Delta region, at the forefront of Chinese development). The case of Suzhou illustrates the paramount role of development zones in the economic and urban development of Chinese cities, as well as the shift in the type of urban planning models used in China since the 1980s8. Whereas, prior to the turning point in 1978, spatial planning followed a technical rationality (to carry out the national economic plan), from the 1980s it completely changed its function, approach and purpose, becoming essentially a market-oriented instrument for economic competitiveness9. This shift has led to ever more serious problems of territorial coherence and environmental degradation.

  1. Liang S. and Zhang T. (2011), “Urban Metabolism in China – Achieving Dematerialization and Decarbonization in Suzhou”, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 15, n° 3 []
  2. Wei D.Y.H. and al. (2009) , “Globalizing Regional Development in Sunan, China: Does Suzhou Industrial Park Fit a Neo-Marshallian District Model?”, Regional Studies, Vol. 43, Issue 3 []
  3. These development zones can be regarded as the daughters of the “special economic zones” that were created in China in the early 1980s. []
  4. Geng Y. and Hengxin Z. (2009), “Industrial park management in the Chinese environment”, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 17, Issue 14 []
  5. Even the names of these entities (in Chinese and in English) – Suzhou Industrial Park / Suzhou Gongye Yuanqu for example -, which are lacking any residential or urban dimension, embody and make explicit the logical mechanism: despite their pronounced urban features, these development zones are first and foremost industrial parks that are designed to attract FDI, and only then are seen as “cities” with employees and residents. []
  6. Pereira A.A., 2004, “The Suzhou industrial park experiment: the case of China–Singapore governmental collaboration”, Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 13, Issue 38  []
  7. Chinese political chief executives are, indeed, evaluated mainly according to the level of economic growth in the territory that they have administered during the previous five years (every five years, they automatically have to change positions). The chief executives who progress the fastest in the hierarchy of the Chinese Communist Party-State are those who accomplish the fastest development for their territory. []
  8. Ma L. (2004) , “Economic reforms, urban spatial restructuring, and planning in China”, Progress in Planning 61, 237-260 []
  9.  Wu, F. (2007), “Re-orientation of the city plan: Strategic planning and design competition in China”, Geoforum 38, 379-392 []

Rémi Curien

Ph.D. Candidate in urban planning at LATTS (Ecole des Ponts ParisTech - Paris Est) and at Suez Environnement

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Challenges and opportunities for planning the urban-rural fringe

Conference by Giulio Verdini.Lecturer in Urban Planning at the Xi’an Jiaotong 西浦 – Liverpool University, based in Suzhou (China).


The rapid urbanization of China has been characterized during the past years by a unique process of countryside industrialization especially in some key coastal regions, like the lower Yangzi Delta, and has created a particular landscape of scattered industrial areas and new settlements surrounding dense urban areas.  This new spatial structure has merged with the legacy of the previous agricultural socio-economic system and, physically, with a complex system of rural villages.
The countryside in the north of Suzhou, Giulio Verdini

Even if the urbanization has been massive, for example in the conurbation Suzhou-Shanghai, some important areas have been left over and a journey through those areas would reveal today that new forms of peri-urbanity are slowly growing at the fringe of the city. The lecture will provide an opportunity to reflect upon the potential role that the system of rural villages could play in the future of the Chinese city.

Giulio Verdini, urban planner and PhD in Regional Economics from the University of Ferrara, is currently Lecturer in Urban Planning at the Xi’an Jiaotong – Liverpool University, based in Suzhou (China). His research interest lies in the area of the management of the urban growth in emerging countries; more specifically in the governance of the city fringe, the urban and rural conflicts, the urban containment strategies.

His research about the fringe of Suzhou is supported by the Suzhou Academy of Philosophy and Social Sciences (2011 and 2012). During February 2013 he is hosted by the Centre d’études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine.


  • 27th FebruaryConference Conference  2013, 15:00-17:00


  • EHESS  –  190-198 avenue de France, Salle 638  –  Paris 75013 Contact



Jacqueline Nivard

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

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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)

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The ecological effects of China’s urbanization: water pollution in Shanghai

 The problem of water pollution can be found throughout China, mainly due to agricultural and domestic waste products resulting from urbanization.  Indeed, since the late 1970s, China has been experiencing a period of economic reform and expansion accompanied by widespread urbanization.

The quality of China’s lake and river water are classified according to the country’s environmental quality standards for surface water. The ranking is organized in order of increasing pollution levels (based on the concentrations of 30 substances): from Grade I to Grade V, indicating good, fairly good, slightly polluted, poor, and hazardous.

Grade II and Grade III water are suitable for drinking, swimming, and household use; Grade IV water is acceptable for industrial use; Grade V water is only acceptable for agricultural irrigation.  There is also a category for the worst water, which is unsuitable for any use.

The map below shows the volume of the water supply (in millions of cubic meters) that does not meet the supply standards for each province. We can see that Shanghai province has more than 4000 million cubic meters, which does not conform to the Chinese environmental quality standards. According to the map, the city of Shanghai is located in one of the three worst areas in terms of water quality standards.

The map was produced by the World Bank using the Ministry of Water Resources survey data from 2000 to 2003. The multi-year coverage allows statisticians to take into account annual variations due to rainfall and other factors.

The graph shows that the percentage of water with quality levels above Category III has steadily increased, but this was the case only on remote islands and at the estuary of the Yangtze River. Within the central urban districts and most of the suburban areas, where extensive treatment and ecological rehabilitation were carried out, the percentage of water in Categories IV and V tended to decrease. However, the percentage of water classified as “the worst water” tended to increase, indicating a very sharp decline in water quality1. 

Moreover, a study carried out by the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau in 2001 revealed that water quality in the city centre has been improving since the 1990s. However, water quality in suburban and rural areas has deteriorated, due to the transfer of factories from the city centre to suburban and rural areas2.

Since the year 2000, a series of laws concerning environmental protection have been approved by the Chinese government. However, water pollution is still excessively high. A 1999 State Environment Protection Administration survey  revealed that 86% of the Chinese believed that poor law enforcement was the main cause of environmental degradation3. This can be explained by the “fragmented authoritarism”(( Sinkule and Ortolano, Implementing Environmental Policy in China, pp.12-19)) of the Chinese political system, which is indeed very fragmented. In actual fact, the local governments do not usually abide by the decision of the central government, considering that economic development is the main priority. Furthermore,  the environmental protection bureaus (EPBs or, in Chinese, “difang huanbaoju”) are subordinated to the local governement, which does not provide them with enough financing. As a consequence, they do not have sufficient staff to carry out their work satisfactorily.  In addition to this, the tendency in Chinese culture to save face and thus to maintain harmonious relationship with other people means that the EPBs is reluctant to impose harsh sanctions on polluting firms if the local government no longer supports them4. A Pollution Discharge Fee system was also set up, but the fees are too low. The idea is that industrial units which violate standards on emissions and effluents must pay fees for emissions. However, the municipal government of Shanghai did not want to slow down economic growth by confoming to the policies of other government agencies such as the Finance Bureau.

China’s water pollution is a major concern amongst all the environmental problems. This phenomenon concerns every area in China, and especially Shanghai. Water quality is satisfactory in the city centre, but poor in the suburban areas, as a result of the transfer of factories to these zones. Despite the environmental laws, the local government’s actions are limited by the fact that the economic growth is generated by industries.  Water pollution spreads from rivers and lakes to the coast, and from surface water to groundwater. A significant fact is that 300 million Chinese lack adequate access to clean drinking water. Most of China’s surface water is unfit for human consumption, and some is not even clean enough for industrial use. With this in mind, one wonders when China will change its destructive ways, knowing that, already, more than twenty years of intense pollution will be hard to erase.


  1. Hao Zhang Xiangrong Wanga, Hon H. Hob, Yi Yong, (2008) Eco-health evaluation for the Shanghai metropolitan area during the recent industrial transformation (1990–2003) in: Journal of Environmental Management  88: pp.1047–1055 []
  2. Ibid []
  3. Wu, Changhua and Robbins, Alicia (2000) An overview of Accountability Issues in China’s Environmental Governance,Sinosphere, Vol.3, Issue 2 p.38 []
  4. Lee, Seungho (2006), Water and Development in China: The Political Economy of Shanghai Water Policy []

Claire Behar

• Former Data Analyst on the project URBACHINA • Data Science Innovator • Women in Tech Advocate • Speaker

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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

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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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