This photo was taken near Langmu monastery (Langmusi – 浪木寺) in April 2010. This area marks the administrative dividing line between the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan. According to the Tibetan division, however, the region belongs to Amdo, the easternmost Tibetan region, which covers part of Qinghai, part of Sichuan, and a small corner in southwestern Gansu, also known as Gannan (South Gansu).
Most Amdo Tibetans are natural born nomads. Gannan is a region rich in pastures where herders have rambled since ancestral times (70% of its total area). The yak is closely associated to the Tibetan identity: it provides milk for butter, yogurt and cheese, hair for weaving into tents and rope, with the finer fabric made into clothing, and meat.1 Traditionally, nomads would move with each season, but today their lifestyle is suffering a substantial transformation, perhaps at its most threatened.
The Chinese government is determined to push on with sedentarisation policies. Land degradation is often cited as the main reason for sedentarising nomads. Numerous Chinese scholars support these sedentarisation policies.
Attempts to sedentarise nomads are intrinsic to Central and East Asian history, which has always been characterised by a fight between nomads and farmers. China and Russia have both tried several times to do away with nomadic riders. For over a thousand years horses were an advantage in warfare and nomads bred the best. Therefore, they represented a threat and, at the same time, an appealing booty. In the 1890s, Russia attempted to transform nomads in reliable taxpayers by encouraging their settlement. It did so by fostering a massive colonisation of farmers. Thus, people from different regions occupied the Central Asian pasturelands. It is estimated that between 1896 and 1916, more than one million colonist took over one-fifth of the land. By 1912, Turkestan produced 64% of Russian cotton. These policies would later be reinforced by the Soviet Union, and Central Asia became a mostly one-crop economy.2
In China, grasslands cover more than 40% of the country, which represents four times the area of its forests and three times its total arable land. In contrast to agricultural land, grassland is state-owned unless a collective title can be legally proven.3 This situation has stirred up conflict between local governments and collectives since there seems to be no legal mechanism available to prove property as pasturelands have traditionally been used according to customary tenure.4 Likewise, although the House Responsibility System was successfully implemented in agricultural lands, it brought about many changes to the nomadic lifestyle since nomads’ access to vast expanses of land was restricted as a result. This has in turn led to overgrazing in some cases due to the small size of land available for pasture for each family unit.5
Herders often are deprived of grazing lands due to land reclamation for commercial or farming use. The quest for resources and the consequent mining boom has been another common cause of expropriation in Inner Mongolia (coal production rose almost 50% in 2010). And courts are often reluctant to hear cases related to the inappropriate use of grasslands.6
Nowadays, nomads in China no longer rely on horses, but on motorcycles. Nomadic life has changed somewhat since Tibetans have been provided with houses and a living stipend under the resettlement programme, so they no longer look for pasture during the winter
Infrastructure is improving greatly. Once isolated, the region of Gannan is getting closer to Gansu and Sichuan’s capitals by the day. A modern highway well into construction will soon cross its heart. To make this possible, some mountain zones were dug up to build consecutive tunnels stretching for more than 20 kilometers. Good communication brings tourists and settlers alien to these lands once again.
The term semi-nomadic would be therefore more appropriate to define Amdo Tibetans. They usually just alternate between a winter home and a summer tent. During winter, children attend school. Education is an important part of the resettlement program. According to a report on the resettlement of Kham Tibetans written by Kieran Dodds for the South China Morning Post,7 resettlement is producing an educated but rurally ignorant generation. “Education will ruin our culture”, laments a Tibetan teacher interviewed by Dodds, when describing how compulsory education is driving the resettlement of nomads. As discussed with Norha’s Tibetan entrepreneurs, the problem is that authorities give economic allowances, build houses, but don’t provide job opportunities that may constitute an alternative to herding. Thus, sedentarisation policies often lead to alcoholism and more criminality as recipients of allowances become idle, having given up what they do best.
Bob Dylan is claimed to have said that a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do. He might well have got inspiration from the lifestyle of nomads in places such as Mongolia, Tibet, and the Central Asian steppes. It would be interesting to see whether Amdo semi-nomads still manage to be a success once urbanisation and sedentarisation policies have been fully implemented. The only clear thing is that no one is immune to the homogenisation of lifestyles taking shape in the world, not even the traditionally most resilient tribes of the northern steppes.
- The Yak. Gerald Wiener (2003) FAO. United Nations. [↩]
- Peter B. Golden (2011) Central Asia in World History. Oxford University Press. [↩]
- PRC Constitution, Article 9. [↩]
- Peter Ho (2005) Institutions in Transition: Land Ownership, Property Rights and Social Conflict in China, Oxford University Press. [↩]
- Ostrom, E.J. (1999) Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges. Science Vol. 284, Nº5412. [↩]
- South China Morning Post, Mongolians “sidelined” in mining growth, 1 juin 2011. [↩]
- Promised land. SCMP. 6 January, 2013. [↩]
- Amsellem, G. (Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine (2015). Introduction. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Bina, O. and L. Balula (ICS-ULisboa) and A. Ricci (ISIS) (2015). The “eco” and “low-carbon” cities agenda and the spacescale-efficiency nexus: experience in the EU and China. UrbaChina Wp4. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Bina, O., L. Balula (ICS-ULisboa), M. Varanda (ISEG-ULisboa) and J. Fokdal (TUBerlin) (2015). University Graduate Syllabi for Urban Studies: China, EU, World. UrbaChina Wp6. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Daniels, P. (Univ. of Birmingham) (2015). Producer services and urbanization in China: trends and challenges. UrbaChina Wp2. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Du, D. and Huang, L. (HuaDa) (2015). Prospects and paths for sustainable urbanization in China -a case study in Shanghai since 1990s. UrbaChina Wp2. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Du, D. and Huang, L. (Huada) (2015).Shanghai in 2050: its development challenges and strategy choices. UrbaChina. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Dunford, M. (Univ. of Sussex-IGSNRR) (2015). Chongqing: creating new paths and urban-rural integration in western China. UrbaChina Wp3. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Elosua, M., Goulard, S. (EHESS) and Ai Chi-han (Sun Yatsen Univ.) (2015). Sharing and informing about urbanisation in China. UrbaChina Wp6. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Feuchtwang, S. (LSE) (2015). Policy implementation and formation in Chinese cities. UrbaChina Wp5. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Li, S. (DRC) (2015). Prospects and challenges for sustainable urbanization in China. UrbaChina Wp2. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Liu, Z. (Peking Univ.-Lincoln Institute) (2015). New challenges in urban governance and finance. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Meng, J. (Tsinghua) (2015). Urban Governance and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)–What can we learn from Japanese experiences? UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Pu, Y. (Chongqing Univ.) (2015). Challenges for the future of Chongqing’s economy. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Ricci, A. (ISIS), O. Bina (ICS-ULisboa) & G. Guiffré (ISIS) (2015). Urban scenarios as policy support mechanisms. UrbaChina Wp4. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
- Yuan, Z. (Fudan) (2015). Social security reform and its impact on urbanisation: the case of Shanghai. UrbaChina final international conference, 15-17 January 2015. Paris.
As noted in a previous post, the second home phenomenon in China is quite different from the one in Western countries. Most of them are not exactly holiday homes, but are bought for other purposes. On exception may be Hainan: the southern island is presented as a major tourist destination and so the island has attracted thousands of Mainlanders who wish to spend a few weeks per year under the sun. But second home acquisitions in Hainan are also motivated by speculation. Per consequence, this phenomenon needs be carefully scrutinized by local authorities, and more actions should be taken to reduce the local dependency to the real estate sector.
In the past, in the early years of reforms, Hainan was doomed by real estate speculation and this partly caused the economic turmoil the island experienced in the late 90’s.
Since then, the island has been recovering thanks to the development of tourism. With tourism and the rising of Chinese middle-class, second homes have appeared in Hainan. According to Wang Xiaoxiaà in in 2006, 25,000 second homes could be found Haikou1.
In 2010 was launched an ambitious plan to transform Hainan into an international destination by 2020. This decision boosted the housing sector on the island, but for fear of overheating, the local government limited the number of acquisitions one may purchased in Hainan. In spite of these measures, the island experienced a strong increase of real estate prices, and Sanya, Hainan’s main resort city, has become the 5th most expensive Chinese city.
For the local authorities, real estate and construction have gradually become their main financial resources. For the first semester 2014, more than one third of the provincial GDP was produced by real estate, this figure reached nearly three-fourths in Sanya2.
This causes the whole economy of Hainan to be very dependent on real estate. And the bad news is that real estate in Hainan is very volatile and speculative. Most real estate programmes do not answer local housing demands but target wealthy Mainlanders, and since the beginning of this year, sales have started to drop.
This should drive the local government of Hainan to reconsider its strategy and diversify the island’s economic activities.
I have studied this aspect of the development of tourism in Hainan in my Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Les politiques de développement regional d’une zone périphérique chinoise, le cas de la province de Hainan (Regional development policies in a Chinese peripheral region: the case of Hainan province). This dissertation was defended on December, 18, 2014, and will soon be available online.
- WANG Xiaoxiao (2006), The second home phenomenon in Haikou, Master thesis, University of Waterloo, Canada. Retreived December 20, 2015 from http://etd.uwaterloo.ca/etd/x42wang2006.pdf [↩]
- DOI, Noriyuki (2014), ‘Chinese housing prices still sliding’, Nikkei Asian review, August, 24. Retreived September 20, 2014 from http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Economy/Chinese-housing-prices-still-sliding [↩]
The UrbaChina final conference was held in Paris on January 15-16, at the Palais de Chaillot.
During this event, UrbaChina consortium members presented their findings and final recommendations on the research project. This was the occasion for holding productive discussions among participants on topics related to sustainable urbanisation in China, such as the rural-urban integration, the hukou system, the definition (or lack of definition) of the concept of ecocity, the consequences of the tax sharing system on local development, etc.
Several presentations were dedicated to case studies on the four cities examined by the UrbaChina consortium (Shanghai, Chongqing, Kunming and Huangshan).
All the ppt presentations will be accessible soon.
Members of the stakeholder committee: Dwight Perkins, Françoise Ged (Cité de l’Architecture), Meng Jianjun (Tsinghua University), Michel Prouzet (Barreau de Paris), Yuan Zhigang (Fudan University), Bernard Yvetot (Orange) made some constructive remarks and emphasized the importance of the multidisciplinary approach to the studies of urbanization in China.
We’d like to thank Françoise Ged for having opened the doors of this institution to our guests. ((La Cite du Patrimoine et de l’Architecture, is opened to the public, and we strongly encourage you to visit this place when in Paris).
We’d like also to thank the staff of the CECMC (The research center on modern and contemporary China ) for the smooth running of this event.
Nested maps: reality representation as a first action against easement process
Marlène Leroux is preparing a Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Densifying rural territories: China, from massive growth patterns to more sustainable urban planning” under the supervision of Prof. I Devanthéry-Lamunière (EPFL) and Prof. J.C. Bolay (Unesco Chair, CODEV)
The author’s doctoral research is primarily focused on analysing the issue of rural urbanisation as a key sustainable development challenge – based on the conviction that rural areas today must be studied on their own account and no longer simply understood as the counterpart to urban areas1.
In China, vast rural areas are currently undergoing “modernisation” via the application of a generic, expansive urban model. This modernisation is evidenced in the creation of new towns and road infrastructures – a process that simultaneously homogenises the complex reality of both rural practices and regional characteristics, flying in the face of natural resource availability and significant climatic and cultural disparities2. This forced coexistence of urban models conceived ex-nihilo (top-down) and the reality of a rural area (bottom-up) generates interactions – and major tensions, too.
This post will draw on one of our case studies: the modernisation currently under way on Chengdu Plain. This area is a major agricultural production centre that functions with a mixed traditional rural system and industrial activity, supported by a dense fabric of rural villages(linban) spread across the territory. The region is currently undergoing transformation and urbanisation on a massive scale – a process that has been amplified by the need for reconstruction following the devastating earthquake of May 2008 (7.8 on the Richter scale). This is a region that has experienced major human and material losses; its modernisation and reconstruction are a response to economic, social and political challenges.
Analysis of the “nested” maps allows us to observe the reality of a region at a given time and different scales. The first sample represents a region with a diameter of 500 km around the area of study i.e. a surface area of 200,000 km2 (20 m ha). This allows us to locate our case study on the national scale (proximity to major urban hubs, industrial centres, major communication routes, etc.) and also in terms of major landscape features (coastal areas, mountain chains, major rivers, etc.). It should be noted that 250 km is the distance that can be travelled in all day’s journey; in our view the impact of elements beyond this distance is no longer related to their geographic proximity.
The 100 km sample, i.e. a radius of 50 km around the area of study, allows analysis at a more local scale, situating the study zone within its more immediate context. Yet on this scale it is the network of waterways connected with the irrigation system that comes to the fore. The Min river, which has its source at the end of the Himalayas chain, divides into channels which fan out across the whole of the plain. From the original riverbed, the river is divided to obtain a fine network of irrigation channels. Thanks to the central Chinese subtropical climate (humidity, heat) a wide variety of crops can be grown and cropping frequency is high. The soil, which has always been fertile, is constantly enriched by sediments carried in the river water. This exceptional irrigation system gives the region its distinctive identity and has defined the way the area has developed for hundreds of years.
Finally, the 2 km sample covers the micro-local context, on a scale appropriate to walking and “soft” mobility. This scale permits precise observations of relations between the built environment, farms, fields and forests, allowing us to begin the process of identifying and classifying the elements that constitute the reality of the Chinese rural condition.
The first step would be to consider these emerging areas in a more positive light and to look for ways of optimising them, ways of integrating the existing infrastructures with new development projects. This means engaging with the reality of the rural areas concerned– a reality located somewhere between [idealised] memories of a sophisticated rural idyll and megacity fantasies. Just as we inventorise our built heritage (listing, classifying and grading historic monuments) or even disused railway sites3), every element of the landscape, every rural infrastructure, every local custom should first of all be identified, catalogued and documented and then (as the second phase of the process) be given a value. These gradings would correspond to specific rules and procedures to be observed. The aim is not to depict a rural landscape that is frozen in time but to create a series of diagnostic tools and frameworks for action. Having been recorded and valued in this way, the topography, the water system, the paths, walls, the waste disposal sites greenhouses, vegetable gardens, could be preserved, reused or destroyed – but at any rate they have been taken into account. The design decisions resulting from this process are then taken in view of the facts and not as a consequence of deliberate, convenient oversight.
This process of classifying rural territories, following a methodology as sophisticated as that used for urban areas, should be carried out using appropriate representational methods. The tools for this diagnostic process have yet to be devised, yet the process of innovation is already underway4. Only once these diagnostic tools are in place will it be possible to establish strategies for developing urban scenarios that are sustainable, realistic and practicable, via the creation of new planning tools5. These planning tools would need to be able to take national aspirations and ambitions into account while at the same time optimising local resources. The futures of urban areas and rural areas are inescapably intertwined. Prospective analysis of the globalisation phenomenon from the perspective of rural areas is crucial here: these rural areas may contain within themselves the potential to shape new identities, enabling China to generate a new, integrated model of regional intervention that will be absolutely vital in the long term6.
- Woods, M. (2010), Rural, Andover, Taylor& Francis [↩]
- Friedman, J. (2005), China’s Urban Transition, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press [↩]
- Devanthéry-Lamunière, I. (2008 [↩]
- Vigano, P. (2012), Les territoires de l’urbanisame, Genève, Métispresse [↩]
- Mostafavi, M., Doherty, G. (2010), Ecological urbanism, Baden, Lars Muller Publishers [↩]
- Hassenflug, D. (2010), The urban code of China, Bâle, Birkhauser [↩]
Article written by Urban Marie « L’état de la protection sociale en Chine » Revue française d’administration publique, 2014/2 N° 150, p. 467-479. DOI : 10.3917/rfap.150.0467.
The Chinese welfare system has been gradually expanded since the early 2000s to cover the entire Chinese population. Despite extensive coverage, it is still a geographically fragmented and disparate system, which provides unequal protection depending on whether people live in urban or rural areas. People living in rural areas receive very few benefits and still depend upon family solidarity to cope with illness or old age, while migrant workers, because of their precarious status, remain largely excluded from the social welfare system. The Chinese system needs to be further reformed to guarantee greater equality in the payment of pensions and access to care, thus ensuring it is sustainable in the medium term, just as the ageing of the population is raising issues regarding its funding.
We are pleased to announce that several policy briefs are now available.
In these documents, UrbaChina partners present their findings and results related to topics on sustainable urbanisation trends in China, they also formulate several recommendations to accelerate transition toward sustainability.
Gipouloux, F., Du, D., NI, P., Daniels, P. W., LI, S., Huang, L., Elosua, M., Goulard, S., Ai, C. (Eds) (2014) Institutional foundations and policies for urbanisation policy brief, UrbaChina Project, D.2.2, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Huadong Shifan Daxue (East China Normal University) ( HUADA), Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Finance and Trade Economics, Beijing (CASS), University of Birmingham/Services and Enterprises Research Unit (SERU), Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC), Sun Yat-sen University, October 2014, Paris.
- Hussain, A., Liu, W., Gong, W., Dunford, M., Zong, H. (Eds) (2014) Policy brief on territorial expansion & accommodating a greater population, UrbaChina Project, D.3.2, Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics and Politcal Science (LSE), Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), December 2014, Paris.
- Bina, O., Ricci, A., Giuffré G. (Eds.) (2015) Policy Brief Urban Scenarios and Sustainability-& annexes, UrbaChina Project, D.4.2, Instituto de Ciencias Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa (ICS), Istituto di Studi per l’Integrazione dei Sistemi (ISIS), January 2015, Rome.
- Bina, O., Balula, L., Ricci, A., Ma, Z. and Hart, C. (Eds.) (2014) Trends, Implications and Policy Support Mechanisms, UrbaChina Policy Brief Background Document, Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS-ULisboa), Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems (ISIS) and Renmin University (RENDA), November 2014, Rome.
- Bina, O., Balula, L., Varanda, M. and Fokdal, J. (2015) University Graduate Syllabi for Urban Studies, a comparative perspective: China, EU, Rest of the World, July, 2015, URBACHINA Report, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon.
- Feuchtwang, S., Howell, J., Krieg, R., Luo, P., Morais, P., Wang, X., Zhang H. (Eds) (2014) Urban development, traditions and modern lifestyles policy brief, UrbaChina Project, D.5.2, London School of Economics (LSE), City University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Renmin Daxue (RenDa), Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden), Chinese National Museum of Ethnology, University College of London, Barlett (UCL), December 2014, Paris.
During this event which will gather every UrbaChina parter, the research programme’s results and achievements will be made public.
We invite every person interested in the issues of sustainability and China’s urbanisation to attend this meeting. However due to room capacity, we would appreciate you first register by sending a message to
This event will be co-host by the “Cité de l’Architecture” and will be held at the prestigious “Palais de Chaillot”.
The conference programme is available here.
Partners of this event include:
Cultural and Institutional Bifurcation: China and Europe Compared. Article written by Avner Greif and Guido Tabellini. American Economic Review, May 2010.
How to sustain cooperation is a key challenge for any society. Different social organizations have evolved in the course of history to cope with this challenge by relying on different combinations of external ( formal and informal) enforcement institutions and intrinsic motivation. Some societies rely more on informal enforcement and moral obligations within their constituting groups. Others rely more on formal enforcement and general moral obligations towards society at large. How do culture and institutions interact in generating different evolutionary trajectories of societal organizations? Do contemporary attitudes, institutions, and behavior reflect distinct pre-modern trajectories?
On Decemberf 19, a UrbaChina workshop was held in Paris. Dring this event, Prof. Feuchtwang pressented us hios team’s finding on the subject of “urban communities and social sustainability”.
His ppt presentation is available here: