Category Archives: Wuhan

Light and shadows

An article published last year in Energy and buildings1 highlights the importance of “thermal comfort” factor in the quality of outdoor spaces.

According to the authors, in cities such as Wuhan with a large temperature range, residents’ use of outddoor spaces is mainly determined by thermal comfort. Residents will only use outdoor facilities if they can find “shade” in summer and “light” in fall and winter.  Per consequence, the authors suggest urban planners to pay better attention to micro climatic conditions when designing public spaces.

  1. Lai, D., Zhou, C., Huang, J., Jiang, Y., Long, Z., and Chen, Q. 2014. “Outdoor space quality: a field study in an urban residential community in central China,” Energy and Buildings, 68, Part B, 713-720. []

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 history and urban development in China

Xue, Qian. 2013, March 8. Urban history : a knowledge base for urban development. (accessed 9 July 2013).

 Starting from 2013, the Hangzhou Cultural and Historical Research Association will embark on a five year Wuhan Changjiang Bridge, 1957project investigating various aspects of the city’s history, including industrial development, urban construction, transportation development, etc. It is expected to provide knowledge and referential experience for current urban development.

Since the 1980s, China’s rapid urbanization has drawn more and more scholars toward the study of urban history; research on Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing and Wuhan has achieved significant results.

Chinese urban history studies grow fast

According to incomplete statistics, during the period from 1979 to 2010, publications on Chinese urban history totaled more than 2,000 volumes.
Professor Li Changli at the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,  said that in the past 20 or more years, the urban development in China has inspired many new topics and subfields among urban historian. Research in the area is blossoming. Particularly in recent years, publications of Chinese urban history have seen greater serialization, covered a broader range of issues and reached a more international audience.

Urban history is a branch of history.  It originated in the 1920s in the west and saw a revival in the 1960s; till 1980s, the subject had only gradually drawn attention from Chinese academia. He Yimin, vice president of the Chinese Urban History Association and director of the Institute of Urban Studies at Sichuan University, noted that China’s social development, urbanization, industrialization and modernization are the driving forces of Urban History Studies. Scholars often take major emerging cities such as Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing and Wuhan as original research subjects; today, their research is developing quickly.

Read more on Social Sciences in China Press


Monique Abud

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

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Is China about to introduce a national carbon price?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here


Monique Abud

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

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Street vendors: poor and indesirable in the city

Solinger, Dorothy J. (2013). Streets as suspect: State skepticism and the current losers in urban China. Critical Asian Studies. 45(1) pp.3-26


The Chinese Communist Party has been suspicious of people engaged in commercial activity on the streets ever since it took over the country in 1949, but the reasons for this have shifted in a paradoxical way over the decades. In the years when Mao Zedong ruled the nation according to his understandings and beliefs about socialist values and for several years after his death the suspicion in the main concerned the capitalist practices that business entails – profit making, inequalities, price-consciousness, class differentiation. Except for a few short intervals, doing non-state trade or providing private services was banned. In the first few decades after 1980, marketing outside was treated more leniently, although fees and licenses were still required in order to avoid harassment, and peasant migrants faced challenges. But once millions of people were laid off after 1995, the Party hoped to enable them to make a living, and also to prevent them from protesting, so it gave them special leeway to work outside from stalls and even directly on the pavement. After the mid 2000s, however, the indigent – the majority of whom were probably once members of the ideologically sacrosanct proletariat – have, ironically (in light of the values of the past) been discouraged from appearing on city streets to make money. Thus now that capitalist activity is common, the impoverished are considered to damage the city appearance, so that instead of capitalism being banned, it is the interests just of large-scale moneymakers that are to be served.

Monique Abud

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

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Improving housing conditions in poor neighbourhoods

Traditional street in Wenchang, China, Goulard Sébastien

The current marketisation of the housing sector in China cannot solve every housing issue. Government still needs to intervene in order to reduce poverty and provide low-cost housing for the most vulnerable inhabitants. This is the point of view of Ying Chang and Graham Tipple (Newcastle University) in their article entitled Realities of life and housing in a poor neighbourhood in urban China1. The authors focus on the housing conditions in poor neighbourhoods and the way they can be improved.  Wang and Tipple argued that relocating poor people to suburban areas and providing larger housing units – the usual policy in China – may not be the best solution from the poor resident’s point of view.

During the 90’s, local governments sold off a large part of their municipal-owned housing units.  In most cases, poor residents were not able to buy them. Moreover, programmes for building affordable housing, because of their top-down approach, did not meet their objectives. Although the housing was designed for the poorest, only the middle-class could afford it. Since 2007, the authorities have changed their approach to housing provision. Although marketisation has not been excluded, new measures have been implemented to increase local government investment in rental housing. However, little investment has been made in improving housing conditions in poor areas.  Most of the programmes have failed to take into account the considerations of the poorer residents.

The authors chose to conduct their research in a poor neighbourhood in Wuhan, in central China. This neighbourhood, “Shanghai Lane”, is located in the city centre and is home to many poor households. Chang and Tipple used the “sustainable livelihood framework” (SLF) as their main investigating method for understanding residents’ assets and issues and for analyzing recent improvements in the inhabitants’ quality of life.

  • Their results showed that, in this poor area, sanitation was inadequate, and many households used the most polluting source of energy available (coal briquettes) to heat water or to cook, increasing pollution and health hazards for local inhabitants.
  • Their research also pointed out that inhabitants had to deal with employment issues, and many had to rely on casual, unskilled work. Overtime work was a common way to earn extra money for Shanghai Lane residents.
  • Intergenerational financial support was also widespread. Grandparents’ pensions were an important source of income for many households.
  • The authors noticed that there was a high level of social capital in the street they studied, as inhabitants had lived together for a long time. The area provided adequate space for meeting, chatting or playing mah-jong. However, feelings of trust and safety had decreased over the last few years, as more and more migrants moved into the lane. The authors remarked a loss of trust even among long-term residents. One illustration of this was the addition of removal heads on water taps in the shared toilets.
  • Residents had extended most of the housing units. Two thirds of households had extended their dwellings to install a private bathroom, a kitchen or toilets. The authors noticed that people with stronger political connections (former cadres) had been able to create new rooms to sublet to migrants, thus creating an overcrowding situation.
  • The authors noted that residents’ interests were poorly represented by residents’ committees. They underlined the lack of associations in Shanghai Lane.

Although the municipal government of Wuhan has launched a plan to upgrade several poor communities (improving roads, adding street lights, hiring security guards or opening mah-jong recreation centres), the authors argue that more efforts should be made to improve local residents’ quality of life. They feel that rental charges should be reduced and pensioners’ incomes should increase so that residents can afford to better maintain their housing units. However, according to the authors, the most important point concerns collaborative upgrading. Residents should be empowered, so that they feel more concerned about matters relating to their residence, thus increasing their desire to improve it. The authors argue that stronger collaboration between municipalities, resident committees and local organisations would greatly affect the overall housing conditions in these neighbourhoods.

 One might object, however, that empowering poor inhabitants, so that they change their habits and feel more concerned about their neighbourhood, requires time and large investments. Although municipal governments should pay more attention to this issue, as advocated by the authors of this article, in most cases they are more interested in relocating poor inhabitants to suburban areas and transforming poor, but central, neighbourhoods into CBD or middle-class residential areas. Local residents’ interests do not necessarily fit in with the municipalities’ short term interests. Promoting greater social diversity is a difficult objective to attain. Grassroots organisations will need to convince the authorities that improving poor central areas will benefit the whole city.


  1. Chang, Y. & Tipple, G. (2009) Realities of life and housing in a poor neighbourhood in urban China: livelihoods and vulnerabilities in Shanghai lane, Wuhan. International Development Planning Review, 31-2, accessed 20 January 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)

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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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