Category Archives: Urban communities

Reclaiming the Neighbourhood. Urban redevelopment, citizen activism, and conflicts of recognition in Guangzhou

Bettina Gransow, « Reclaiming the Neighbourhood. Urban redevelopment, citizen activism, and conflicts of recognition in Guangzhou », China Perspectives [Online], 2014/2 | 2014, Online since 01 June 2014, connection on 04 September 2014. URL : http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/6425

This study examines social interventions into the everyday life of residents, families, and communities during a redevelopment project in an old town neighbourhood of Guangzhou. It further analyses how citizen activism unfolds in response to these redevelopment interventions. To better understand contention over the renewal of an old town neighbourhood – beyond negotiation of compensation for economic losses – the study is structured by a recognition-theoretical model of social conflict following Axel Honneth and Nancy Fraser.

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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From socialist danwei to new danwei

Chai, Yanwei (2014). From socialist danwei to new danwei: a daily-life-based framework for sustainable development in urban China. Asian Geographer. Published online: 1 August 2014. DOI: 10.1080/10225706.2014.942948

The danwei (or work unit) compound was the basic spatial and social unit of urban China in the pre-reform period, and its transformation has been an important part of the larger transitions that have remade urban China during the reform era. This paper investigates spatial and social changes in urban China over three stages; namely, the formation of the socialist danwei system, the decline of the socialist danwei and the formation of a new kind of danwei. I argue that the socialist danwei included positive elements like mixed land use, job-housing balance and social equality, while the decline of the socialist danwei system has resulted in many negative outcomes such as spatial mismatch and social segregation. In proposing a framework for new danwei, I suggest that urban life should be structured around residents’ daily activity spaces based on their daily-life-circle systems. The concept of the new danwei offers a practical solution through combining a human-focused approach with consideration of China’s contemporary economic and social reality. The paper concludes with a discussion on possible avenues for future research.

Read full text on Taylor & Francis Online (restricted access)

 

Monique Abud

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

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Outdoor activities in gated communities

The development of gated communities in Chinese cities has been studied by several researchers such as Pow Choon-Piew1. In a recent article, Wu, Wei and Wang chose to focus on the use of outdoor open space in these communities, choosing a gated community in Xiamen for their case study2. This community contains several different housing types (low-rise, medium-rise and high-rise buildings) surrounded by different designs for green spaces. They conducted their research by distributing a questionnaire to the residents gathering information on their outdoor activities within their gated communities (walking, practising sports, walking their dog, swimming…) and correlated their answers with their profile (age, gender, education, job, family income).

According to these findings, children, housewives and retirees benefited most from outdoor spaces. This study also shows that residents living in communities with large open spaces, and have a high annual income, are not more likely to take advantage of this feature and do not necessarily practise more outdoor activities. Therefore, we can argue that residents see green space more as an indicator of social status rather than something that meets a real need for outdoor activities.

  1. POW, C.-P. (2009). Gated communities in China: class, privilege and the moral politics of the good life. Abingdon and New York: Routledge []
  2. WU Caiwei, WEI Yongping, and Mark Y. WANG (2014). Planned gated communities in urban China : outdoors activities and designed leisure spaces. In Mark Y. WANG, Pookong KEE, and Jia GAO. Transforming Chinese cities. London UK and  New York NY: Routledge []

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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Who is the collective? (II)

城中村

A village within the city – The village committee’s bureau of Dongshan village in Guiyang city

In last week’s article I introduced the collective, which is designated by the Constitution as holding ownership rights of China’s rural and suburban land. I will analyze in a separate article the reasons why the Chinese leadership granted ownership of rural and suburban land rights to the farmers’ collective instead of declaring State ownership not only of urban, but also of rural land. But first, let’s continue elucidating the nature of the farmers’ collective through the analysis of the organizing bodies that exercise its land property rights.

Article 60 of the Property Rights Law  (2007), which has taken me a long time to unravel, establishes the organizing groups that exercise the collective’s property rights. Article 10 of the Land Management Law (1986), includes a similar provision, although employing the terms “management” (jingying-经营) and “administration” (guanli-管理) instead of the more legal term “exercise of rights” (xingshi suoyouquan-行使所有权), revealing the strong political content of the Land Management Law, which has been widely criticized by Chinese legal scholars.

The three levels of farmers’ collectives are classified according to their territorial scope:

(i)                    Township (town) farmers’ collective (乡(镇)农民集体);

(ii)                  Village farmers’ collective (村农民集体);

(iii)                Inner village farmers’ collective (村内农民集体).

Each of these collectives has a representative body to exercise its rights, which are, respectively:

(i)                    The township (town) farmers’ collective group (乡镇农村集体组织);

(ii)                  The village’s committee (村委会) or economic group of the village (村集体经济组织);

(iii)                The villager’s group (村民小组).

Simply, each class of farmers’ collective have a different size and scope. The township (town) farmers’ collective assembles all the village farmers’ collectives, and each village farmers’ collective is formed by all the inner village farmers’ collectives, which is in turn formed by all the villagers living therein.

It is necessary to explain that the three representative groups of the farmers’ collective succeeded the commune, the brigade, and the team, respectively. However, there is an important difference between the two sets of groups. Before the promulgation of the Constitution, both political and economic ownership rights were vested in them whereas, after, a good part of the economic rights were disaggregated and given to the farmer’s household. In other words, the inner rights of ownership were split, separating bare ownership and usufruct, and granting usufruct rights to the farmers foremost through the house responsibility system (jiating lianchan zerenzhi-家庭联产责任制, now known as chengbao jingying quan zhidu 承包经营权制度).

In conclusion, even though there is still confusion among scholars and cadres about the identity of the collective, the law is not as ambiguous as has often been indicated. The law is not easy to understand, but this is the rule in and out of China. The law defines who holds property rights over rural and suburban land and who exercises these property rights. The key question boils down to determining who or what are these representative groups, and if they do really exercise ownership rights on behalf of the farmers.

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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The middle-class protest in urban China

Shi, Fayong (2014). Improving local governance without challenging the State: the middle-class protest in urban China. China: An International Journal, 12 (1), pp. 153-162.

The first decade of the new century had seen an increase in rights-protection protests in urban China. The main participants of these protests were local middle-class residents who initiated protests to raise issues on specific economic and social problems as opposed to abstract sociopolitical issues. They have started to claim rights which were granted to citizens by law in principle but never actually delivered. The sociopolitical changes facilitate the emergence and success of middle-class protests, which in turn have contributed to the improvement of local governance and positively reshaped local politics. However, their influence on the macro political structure of China remains to be seen.

Full text available on Projet MUSE (restricted access)

 

Monique Abud

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

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Neighbourhood governance in urban China

Yip, Ngai-Ming (ed.) (2014). Neighbourhood governance in urban China. Cheltenham : Edward Elgar. XI-213 p. ISBN: 978-1-78100-023-6

Neighbourhood Governance In Urban ChinaAs the economy and society of China has become more diversified, so have its urban neighbourhoods. The last decade has witnessed a surge in collective action by homeowners in China against the infringement of their rights. Research on neighbourhood governance is sparse and limited, so this book fills a vital gap in the literature and understanding.

The authors reveal how the Chinese authorities have themselves become increasingly sensitive to the potential risk of collective actions becoming destabilizing forces in urban arenas. This thought-provoking book looks at both the theoretical and empirical underpinning of the self-governance of homeowners and their collective action, as well as control mechanisms in neighbourhood governance. The book offers a window through which contending issues, such as changing state–society relations, rights-based social movements and the emergence of civil society, can be further explored.

Neighbourhood governance is a multifaceted concept that cuts across academic disciplines and intersects an array of policy areas. Therefore this book will find a wide audience amongst public and social policy academics, particularly those with an interest in urban studies, governance and Asian cities, as well as politics.

Monique Abud

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

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A vanishing Chongqing

This photo was taken behind the Ciyun monastery (慈云寺) in Nanan district (南岸区), Chongqing, on 30 May 2014.

There is a quote credited to William Faulkner, but which I have never been able to confirm, and describes perfectly the experience of walking through Nanan district: “A landscape is conquered with the soles of the shoes, not the wheels of a car“. Walking the steep and narrow streets of this doomed district is the only way to imagine and somehow feel how life was before urbanisation and modernisation brought all the artefacts seen in the background of this photo. This neighbourhood is a remnant of old Chongqing, tightly tucked away on the bank of the Yangtze in the shadow of a new bridge, across from the Jiefangbei CBD (located in Chaotianmen), on the other side of the river. Chaotianmen is at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers, at the tip of Yuzhong peninsula.

A vanishing Chongqing (II), Elosua Miguel

This old man spends a few hours a day taking care of his orchards, which are scattered around the neighbourhood. In spite of his old age, 93 years, he negotiates these steep steps with an astounding vitality. Looking at him, one marvels at his strength. But it also makes one wonder what the rationale is for building a city on such difficult terrain. A friend who walked the streets with me, who happens to be a geographer, suggested the easy access to water, to fishing and to trade routes as the most plausible reason.

A vanishing Chongqing (III), Elosua Miguel

The old man’s wife is 84 years old and also looks very healthy. The crutches are just temporary, as she’s recovering from a minor injury. Neither of them speaks Mandarin but the local dialect, as is often the case among the elderly. Looking at them, one just hopes that the bulldozers will not arrive before the old man and his wife have seen out their days in the only place that they have really known. To uproot them would probably break them.

A vanishing Chognqing, Elosua Miguel

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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Policy implementation through the lowest levels of the state

This presentation was given by Stephan Feuchtwang during the 4th international conference of UrbaChina held in Chongqing from May 28th to May 30th, 2014. It shows the results of the fieldwork completed this year in five neighbourhood committees (juweihui-居委会) in Chongqing.

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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City besieged (weicheng-围城)

Shanghai

This week, Shanghai put in place extraordinary security measures to ensure the smooth progress of the 4th summit of the CICA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia), which host the presence of Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the light of the recent wave of terrorist attacks, and the delicate situation in Ukraine, the city implemented the most stringent security measures, including the decree by the local government of a public holiday.

It is well known that in ancient China, as in many other territories, walls were once the most frequent form of city protection. In China, the city was arranged in a series of concentric squares whose importance descended moving outwards. The centre would not only include a palace but the central administrative zones or yamen (as can be seen in the Forbidden City), which would be surrounded by inner walls. The outer city served other administrative functions and would also include markets and rural areas outside the urban cluster but enclosed within a second outer wall. This would safeguard resources in time of war.1

With the development of gunpowder, the height and thickness of these walls increased. However, in modern times, revolutions, banditry, and the rise of terrorism have proven that walls are useless, particularly when the threat comes from within. New special police forces, such as the French Brigades du Tigre, appeared at the beginning of the 20th century to deal with these new types of aggressions. They were mobile forces that had all the technological advances of the time at their disposal to better protect the city. The police came up with methods to build virtual walls inside the city that could be created ad hoc for guaranteeing security in such events as a head of state visit.  These virtual walls consist of sealing off an area of the city, controlling passage within its perimeter. This would have been particularly useful in preventing the assassinations of the tsar Alexander II of Russia or the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, attacked in their carriage by individuals unnoticed in the crowds of people that gathered in the streets to welcome them (in the case of the Archduke, the carriage’s itinerary had been published).

Being in Shanghai this week was a good opportunity to see how modern Chinese cities enforce security measures to protect themselves from eventual attacks. Apart from the standard measures adopted by many cities in the West during important events, which includes the enclosure of critical areas forming virtual walls, blocking off cars and suspects from getting inside the secured perimeter, as well as the closure of metro stations within these areas, there were two specific developments that drew UrbaChina’s attention:

  • The local government decreed May 21st a public holiday for public schools and offices.2 Private schools and businesses were left the choice to decide whether to give holidays to employees or continue working as usual. As for schools, a good number of them, even though they are located far away from the city centre, seconded the government’s decision (see photo below of American School of Shanghai, which has a campus in a relatively tranquil area of Pudong). The main reason behind this measure was the traffic disruption that hindered commuting.

School closed

  • The number of volunteers mobilised to assist the police was more than 300,000 according to the Shanghai Daily,3; especially impressive was the scale of their operation, which included to some extent invasion of private property, and their smooth mobilisation. Residential buildings in critical areas were swarmed by police, neighbourhood committees (juweihui-居委会), and volunteers, who were posted at every floor (in a city with thousands of high-rise buildings one can understand why such a large number of volunteers is necessary to protect certain areas). At the base of every building, a checkpoint was improvised. Interestingly, neighbourhood committees supervised the deployment of volunteers at the residential compounds, which played an important part in making sure the whole operation was carried out smoothly.

All this gives a glimpse of the hypothetical state of emergency that could ensue in cities should terrorist attacks intensify: the city besieged, by security forces and a legion of volunteers.

 

  1. Victor F. S. Sit (2010) Chinese City and Urbanism, Evolution and Development, World Scientific. []
  2. shizhengfu bangongting yinfayaxin fenghui” zhaokai ri fangjia anpai de tongzhi-市政府办公厅印发“亚信峰会”召开日放假安排的通知http://www.shmec.gov.cn/html/article/201405/73172.php,last accessed on 22 May 2014 []
  3. “300,000 volunteers to assist police in maintaining order” http://www.shanghaidaily.com/metro/public-services/300000-volunteers-to-assist-police-in-maintaining-order/shdaily.shtml, last accessed on May 22, 2014 []

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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Household registration reform and peri-urban precarity in China

Smith, N. R. (2014). Living on the edge: household registration reform and peri-urban precarity in China. Journal of Urban Affairs. doi: 10.1111/juaf.12107

China’s household registration system divides the nation into urban and rural populations, conditioning life chances and producing widespread inequity. Recent reform experiments in Chongqing have met with mixed success, as many residents have declined to convert to urban registration. This article ethnographically investigates the rationales and strategies of residents in Hailong, a village in Chongqing where residents were reluctant to participate in household registration reform. For Hailong residents, the state-sponsored welfare offered through urban registration was perceived as a source of exploitation and precarity. In search of stability, Hailong residents developed informal welfare strategies, including mutual support networks and economic diversification. By forcing residents to give up their land rights and adopt urban roles, household registration reform threatened these informal strategies. The article concludes by exploring the policy implications of this analysis, including the possibility of developing formal welfare programs that complement—rather than replace—informal strategies.

Monique Abud

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

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The socio-spatial structure of the inner-city of Nanjing

Qiyan Wu, Jianquan Cheng, Guo Chen, Daniel J. Hammel, Xiaohui Wu (2014), Socio-spatial differentiation and residential segregation in the Chinese city based on the 2000 community-level census data: A case study of the inner city of Nanjing, Cities (39) 2014, Pages 109-119. 

This article reveals that the policies of the socialist era and the initial outcomes of the introduction of a free market, particularly with regard to the creation of new elite spaces within the inner city, have shaped a complex pattern of socio-spatial differentiation and residential segregation.

The paper is organized as follows. Section ‘Urban socio-spatial differentiation in the context of China’ provides a brief overview of the literature on urban residential segregation and socio-spatial differentiation in the context of China, followed by a justification of the data set and methods selected in Section ‘Methodology’. Section ‘Results’ focuses on interpreting and discussing the results from a series of statistical analyses that shed light on the characteristics of residential segregation and spatial structure in the case of inner-city Nanjing.  Finally, it is argued in Section ‘Discussion’ that the inner city area of Nanjing has experienced massive residential  segregation caused by the dualistic dynamic structure of housing differentiation resulting from a growth-led urban housing market and persistent institutional bias with regard to housing redistribution at the turn of  the 21 st century.

Full article in Cities. 

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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New book: Transforming Chinese cities

Wang, Mark Y., Kee Pookong, and Jia Gao (ed.) (2014). Transforming Chinese cities. Oxon : Routledge. XXV-271 p. (Routledge contemporary China series). ISBN : 978-0-415-63665-0.

The urbanisation of China over the last three decades has been a hugely significant development, both for China’s reform process and for the world more generally. This book presents recent research findings on China’s continuing urban transformation. Subjects covered include the decline of the rural-urban divide, the spatial restructuring of Chinese urban centres and urban infrastructure, migrant workers, new housing and new communities, and “green” responses to urban environmental problems. The book is particularly valuable in that it includes much new work by scholars based inside China.

See more at Routledge.com

Monique Abud

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

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China releases plan to incorporate farmers into cities

The government plans to move 215 millions people from rural areas to cities by the year 2025. One of the results awaited by the Chinese government by sustaining urbanisation is the creation of a consumer culture driving Chinese economy and raising standard living. But this plan will generate side effects concerning the integration of farmers moved into cities such as the lack of infrastructures (transports, houses, schools, hospitals) and the restricted access to public services for the people who are still registered as rural residents while they live since many years in the city. 

“Currently, nearly 54 percent of Chinese live in cities, but only 36 percent are registered as urban residents (…). The plan calls for integrating 100 million of these second-class citizens, so that by 2020, 60 percent of Chinese should be living in cities, with 45 percent enjoying full urban status, the plan states”.

According to urban planners, to make this plan effective, the government will have to carry out two complementaries reforms which are taxe reform, in order  to give more financial capacity to local authorities for investing into infrastructures, and farmers’ land rights reform, in order to give them the choice to keep or live their land. Two major reforms still however in the planning phase, according to Tao Ran, the acting director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy

 

For more information, read the full article: Johnson, Ian. China Releases Plan to Incorporate Farmers Into CitiesThe New York Times, March 17, 2014. [Retrieved March 19, 2014].

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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Chinese Journal of Urban and Environmental Studies (CJUES)

A new journal in urban and environmental studies, edited by Pan Jiahua, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Ni Pengfei (CAS and UrbaChina research team), is a member of the editorial board.

CJUESChinese Journal of Urban and Environmental Studies (CJUES) (ISSN 2345-7481 print /2345-752X online) is a peer-reviewed journal that seeks to publish high-quality research papers and book reviews to explore a wide range of academic and policy concerns of urban and environmental studies. CJUES publishes scholarly work with a special emphasis on the following fields:

  • theoretical and conceptual frameworks for urban and environmental studies
  • the trend of urban and environmental development in both China and international context
  • issues of urban studies, including urbanization, urban planning, urban form, urban problems, urban land use, urban transportation
  • issues of sustainability and environmental developments, including environmental protection, environmental policy, climate change
  • linkage between urban, environmental and other areas of social and economic policy
  • international comparison and developments

Table of contents (vol. 1, n° 1, December 2013)

Free access to all CJUES issues is provided until 31 March 2015
(registration online required)

 

Monique Abud

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

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Senior residents living in hostiles cities?

An old man practising calligraphy in Haikou, Goulard SébastienIn October 2013, a Hong Kong student, Qin Nan, defended a thesis entitled “Fear of crime experienced by older Chinese in urban China”1.

China has changed radically over the past 20 years, and some elderly Chinese may now feel lost in the new Chinese cities. These changes are both material and social. Many cities and neighbourhoods have been redeveloped. Senior residents may not recognise the city where they spent their entire lives. Chinese society has also evolved. People in their sixties or older have seen the end of a collective system and the adoption of individualistic values. The iron rice bowl has been broken. The eldest of these experienced the Cultural Revolution. They have suffered from hunger and other privations, and are now surrounded by commercial advertisements and live in cities where restaurants are everywhere2.

Chinese seniors also tend to live alone: their opportunities for social interaction are dwindling. Because of urban redevelopment, relocation and the end of danwei, many have lost contact with their former neighbours. Family ties, although still quite strong, are weakening/being undermined. Younger generations may have to move to other provinces for job opportunities.

Because of this evolution, seniors have lost some of their bearings. And so, they may feel vulnerable in this modern urban environment.

As noted by the thesis’ author, several studies conducted in Western countries show that seniors are more likely to feel threatened in an urban environment than younger people.

Qin Nan’s thesis explores the way this phenomenon occurs in China, based on the case of communities in Kunming.

According to her results, Chinese seniors’ fear of crime depends on several factors. Some (for example, female gender) also apply to Western countries, but others are unique to China. Thus, the author argues that perceived fear of crime is weaker in the case of seniors who adhere to Chinese traditional values of “harmony”.

As noted by the author, the Chinese population is getting older, and issues related to this ageing population will undoubtedly become apparent. In order to reduce the anxiety of senior residents, Qin Nan formulates several recommendations to China’s government. Firstly, assistance to seniors must be reinforced and social welfare policies need to be harmonised among Chinese provinces. The author points out the role of media and rumours in inflaming fear of crime and advises authorities to better communicate on crime incidence.

Another point regards education. According to the author, China’s “culture of harmony” needs to be promoted to the population in order to prevent fear of crime, and more specifically designed-for-seniors campaigns should be launched.

This thesis shows us how important it is to preserve certain cultural values that empower the weakest categories of the population.

 

  1. Qin, Nan (2013). Fear of crime experiences by older Chinese in urban China. Ph.D. thesis, University of Hong Kong. Retrieved 24 February, 2014, from http://hub.hku.hk/bitstream/10722/193150/1/FullText.pdf?accept=1 []
  2. see Lu Wenfu (陆文夫)’s excellent novel “The gourmet (mei shi jia, 美食家)” []

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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