Category Archives: Urban design

Strategic Modelling: “Building a New Socialist Countryside” in Three Chinese Counties

Anna L. Ahlers and Gunter Schubert (2013). Strategic Modelling: “Building a New Socialist Countryside” in Three Chinese Counties . The China Quarterly, 216, pp 831-849. doi:10.1017/S0305741013001045.

Models, pilots and experiments are considered distinctive features of the Chinese policy process. However, empirical studies on local modelling practices are rare. This article analyses the ways in which three rural counties in three different provinces engage in strategies of modelling and piloting to implement the central government’s “Building a New Socialist Countryside” (shehuizhuyi xinnongcun jianshe) programme. It explains how county and township governments apply these strategies and to what effect. It also highlights the scope and limitations of local models and pilots as useful mechanisms for spurring national development. The authors plead for a fresh look at local modelling practices, arguing that these can tell us much about the realities of governance in rural China today.

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Miguel Elosua

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

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The race for expansion – Cerdá Year

Captura de pantalla 2014-08-08 a las 03.08.28

Exactly 150 years ago, on the 7th of June 1859, the Plan for Reform and Development of Barcelona was approved. This was the work of Ildefonso Cerdá. The Plan is considered to be a pioneer in the development of modern urbanism. What continues to surprise today is Cerdá’s capacity to predict the protagonistic role which public transport would play in the city.

For more information on the Cerdá Year, please click here:


Miguel Elosua

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

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City scale models and their implications


This photo was taken during UrbaChina’s 4th International Conference, which was held in Chongqing from 28 to 30 May. Attendees paid a visit to the Chongqing Planning Exhibition Gallery. This giant scale model of the city of Chongqing, displays all existing and planned buildings up to 2020. After seeing the scale model and listening to the optimistic presentation, one of the attendees made a very sharp remark observing that such a scale model would be unimaginable in his country, France in this case. He was not talking about the technical difficulty of producing such a model, but to the number of legal questions that would make it virtually impossible to predict the future development of a city in such detail. This scale model not only includes new public spaces that require an expropriation procedure, but also new private developments, condominiums, office buildings, shopping malls, in locations where nowadays probably include only private properties (and collective land). In China, it means that the city agreed many years in advance to expropriate the area of land necessary to carry out this transformation. It means that the local government considers any activity related to urbanisation as able to answer the general interest. It also presupposes that the local government will manage to find the financial resources to undertake the gigantic construction work. Finally, had this been the scale model of a European city, it would also assume that nobody would oppose the urban plan, which is not unusual. Besides, the Courts sometimes decide in favour of the opponents, compelling city planners to modify the plan.


Miguel Elosua

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

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Who is the collective? (II)


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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Construction of Chongqing Industrial Museum, Dadukou district

The old industrial district of Dadukou, located in the south of Chongqing, is being revitalised after the Chongqing Iron and Steel Company Limited, Chong Gang, moved out 65km away from the inner-city in 2006. The project of urban renewal will preserve the site’s history with the construction of the Chongqing Industrial Museum, and will establish spaces for new creative industries and develop urban systems and services. The Chongqing Industrial Museum Company is in charge of the project with international architects and designers partners. For this occasion, the Statue of Chaiman Mao will be moved inside the museum.

A worker on the scaffolding prepares to move a statue of Chaiman Mao in Chongqing while two men are watching as cranes move the statue covered in red . This is the first time that the city moved a Mao Statue. The cement-made statue was built by a factory in the city in 1968 during the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976). It was abandoned when the factory moved in July 2012. The site around the statue is being rebuilt into a storage yard of a logistic company. The statue will be moved to the newly built Museum of Chongqing Industry, which showcases the city’s industrial history and achievements.[Photo/]

Chongqing moves Chairman Mao statue

Source: ChinaDaily

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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Urban resilience, an integrated approach of urban reconstruction

Lixiong Liu, Yanliu Lin, Shifu Wang (2014),  Urban design for post-earthquake reconstruction: A case study of Wenchuan County, China, Habitat international (2014) 290-299.

How to reconstruct a post-earthquake area by protecting the safety system and creating public spaces while considering the involvement of different stakeholders in the process of urban design? In the case study of Wenchuan County in China, a top-dow integrated approach contributed to promote economic growth and to enhance the quality of life within the city in the long term, but it seemed that this rapid reconstruction driven by public authorities has lead to new issues between urban resilience and the dynamics of the real estate market, and between the daily need of habitants and the new open spaces.

Urban design is a matter of collaboration between various disciplines, resulting in three-dimensional urban forms and an enhancement of the quality of urban life (Waterman & Wall, 2009). The “quality of life” associated with the built environment includes not only the physical characteristics of the place, such as the diversity of open space (Allan & Bryant, 2010), but also the social attributes of the environment, such as the sense of neighbourhood (Chapman & Larkham, 2007), increased vitality and safety, available amenities and facilities (Carmona, De Magalhaes, Edwards, Awuor, & Aminossehe, 2001). Contemporary urban design theories are concerned with shaping city and urban spaces to encourage social activities within the urban fabric, create positive social interactions, satisfy ecological needs, mitigate the negative effects of urbanization and promote economic growth (Clancy, 2011). The key principles of such theories include places for people, enriching the existing, making connections, working with the landscape, mixing uses and forms, managing the investment and designing for change (Davies, 2007). Some recent urban design literatures also focus on vision development, strategy-making and the role of key stakeholders in the production of space (Lin and De Meulder, 2012 and Salet, 2006).


Weizhou Town was severely destroyed during the earthquake. In the process of reconstruction, priority was given to “higher levels of safety and earthquake resistance” that is one of the main concerns of urban design in earthquake-prone areas (see Ciborowski, 1982). As a considerable amount of arable land was lost and the majority of industrial facilities were damaged, how to promote economic development became a key issue of the town. Considering that there were many tourism attractions in the surrounding area (such as traditional Qiang stockade villages) and the town became famous after the earthquake, the development of tourism was thus adopted as a new strategy to promote economic growth. Consequently, three visions were proposed in the Urban Design for the Reconstruction of Weizhou Town (2009). Firstly, Weizhou Town was to be the ‘Sunshine Gokseong’ of Sichuan Western Qiang areas – a safe and ecological town. In order to realize this vision, a series of actions (e.g. the creation of three large evacuation squares and the recovery of the ecosystem in the surrounding mountains) were performed. Second, Weizhou Town was to be an important node of the Xiqiang Cultural Corridor. It was not only the memorial base of the earthquake, but also a cultural and historical town with traditional Qiang stockade villages. Third, Weizhou Town was comprised of a part of the Western Sichuan tourism system. The construction of memorials and tourism facilities and the improvement of the infrastructure fulfilled the demands of both tourism development and the town’s inhabitants. The three visions of the urban design project were related to the town’s long-term vision, namely to become ‘a provincial level historical–cultural site, a tourism town, a traffic hub, a political centre and an ecological zone’ (Recovery and Reconstruction Plan of Weizhou Town (2008–2020)).

Overview of institutional arrangements in the formulation of urban design project for the reconstruction of Weizhou Town. (Source: authors’ drawing.)

Full-size image (65 K)

Full article available on Habitat International, n°36.


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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