Tag Archives: development

Cultural and Institutional Bifurcation: Clan versus City

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?

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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 burlaks of the Yangtze (qianfu – 纤夫)


Photo taken at the Three Gorges Museum (sanxia bowuguan - 三峡博物馆)in Chongqing, in November 2013.

We will be publishing a series of articles dedicated to the city of Chongqing, the venue of the next UrbaChina conference, which will be held at the end of this month.  A good reason, therefore, to pay homage to the barge haulers of the Long river (or Chang Jiang(长江) in this article. The mighty Yangtze river, the longest in China and the third longest in the world, bends around the peninsula of Chongqing where the tributary Jialing River (嘉陵江)joins it at the tip of the horn. The city, surrounded by both rivers, was originally called Jiang Zhou(江州)or city of rivers, a label that continues to be used today(hecheng - 河城).

The Yangtze has played a crucial role in the development of Chongqing as the most important inland maritime port. Throughout history, the river has represented a formidable geographic (and sometimes political) barrier dividing northern and southern China. At nearly 3,000 kilometres long, the Yangtze did not have a single bridge crossing it until 1957 when the first one was built in Wuhan. Chongqing had to wait two more years to see its first (railway) bridge, in 1959. Thus, river trade was essential to the economy due to the poor network of roads and railways. Passengers travelling by train from Beijing to Shanghai and Guangzhou in the south had to disembark to cross the river by ferry, before continuing their journey by train. The river now counts more than 60 bridges and three tunnels, the majority of which were built during the 1990s.1

Sampan (from sanban, or three planches - 三版) and junks were the predominant means of transportation in maritime trade. Many of them were powered by the muscle power of the qianfu (tow-rope worker), especially when they have to negotiate the region of the three gorges. They pulled the boats from the river banks, pushing against the stream. It was backbreaking work, done mainly by peasants. Typically they performed the job naked, as clothing would hurt their skin and also because it would make them more vulnerable to illness since they were constantly getting in and out of the water.

The word “burlak” comes from Russian, where barge haulers became a sort of popular hero before the industrial revolution and well until the beginning of the twentieth century when they disappeared (in the nineteenth century there were about 600,000 burlaks working on the Volga and Oka rivers).


Illia Efimovich Repin – Volga Boatmen (1870-1873)

Pilots passed instructions to the harnessed qianfu with the beat of a drum that was played at different rhythms. Large junks required up to 400 haulers. Judy Bonavia and Peter Neville-Hadley give a compelling picture about the Herculean job in their book “The Yangtze River”, including an account by an American passenger and his wife who spent several weeks on a Chinese cargo boat in 19222):

“If the boat happens to turn about when it is struck by a cross-current, a call from the pilot
 brings all the trackers to their knees or makes them dig their toes into the dirt. Another call makes them either claw the earth or catch their fingers over projecting stones. Then they stand perfectly still to hold the boat. When it is righted, another call makes them let up gradually and then begin again their hard pull.”

There are still some haulers who pull tourist boats through some stretches of the Shennong stream(神农溪), another tributary of the Yangtze. Otherwise, traces of these brave men remain only in rocks along the Long River, the so-called  qianfu rocks(qianfushi-纤夫石)where one might observe rope marks, as well as their footprints.3

fd039245d688d43f86886dfc7d1ed21b0ff41bd5ad6e03a6 Qianfu rock (纤夫石)


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yangtze_River_bridges_and_tunnels []
  2. The Yangzi River, Judy Bonavia, Peter Neville-Hadley, Odyssey Publications; 5th edition (July 1, 1999 []
  3. http://baike.baidu.com/view/953273.htm []

Miguel Elosua

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

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China – South Asia Expo

China South Asia Expo

The first China – South Asia Expo (an upgrade of the previous South Asian Countries Trade Fair, which was held each year during the past five years) has just taken place in Kunming. The objective of the expo is to promote cooperation and development between China and South Asian countries. The election of Kunming as the venue for the event reinforces its strategic role as the gateway not only to Southeast Asia but also to South Asia as a whole, including India.

It was not by coincidence that the focus of the expo was on India, after Premier Li Keqiang’s recent visit to the country in May, his first overseas visit since taking office in March. In his meeting with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, both leaders discussed the “Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation” also known as the BCIM trade corridor. Kunming had already been the venue of the Forum for its first meeting in 1999.

The BCIM economic corridor includes Yunnan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and states in Northeastern India, covering 1.65 million square kilometres, with a population of nearly 440 million people. Nevertheless, progress has been lacklustre since the inception of the corridor. Myanmar’s political situation, as well as the border dispute between India and China (the last standoff happened just a few days before the official visit), have hindered its development. As professor Bi Shihong from Yunnan University pointed out in a recent editorial,1 “it’s inevitable for India to open its northeast part, the border region that is politically sensitive. Cross-border trade could not only improve people’s standards of living, but also promote the construction of transportation infrastructure.”

The new China – South Asia expo could be a turning point in the implementation of the trade corridor, once political progress has taken place in Myanmar, and Sino-Indo relations enter into a new phase.

  1. Bi Shihong (2013), Trade corridor helps rejuvenate Asia. Global Times, 3 June []

Miguel Elosua

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

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Beyond eco-city development to creating eco-districts out of existing areas

Lohry, Gavin. 2012, December 3. Beyond eco-city development to creating eco-districts out of existing areas: the argument for a Beijing eco-district  http://ecocitynotes.com/2012/12/beyond-eco-city-development-to-creating-eco-districts-out-of-existing-areas-the-argumen (accessed 31 January 2013).

Eco-city development in China has been focused in new areas outside of existing cities that promise to be developed in a more sustainable way. These cities include the newest green building technologies, extensive green areas, sustainable transportation and environmentally friendly living. These eco-city developments are extremely promising and will see reduced environmental impacts compared to similar developments.

More important than the eco-cities themselves are the lessons that can be learned and technologies that can be fostered for future urban development. With hundreds of millions of people set to move to cities and increase their standard of living over the next 20 years, eco-cities will play an important role in China’s sustainability drive. The benefits gained through the experience of eco-city development will be much greater than the low footprint and improved sustainability of the cities themselves. The real benefits will come as the cities speed the innovation of construction and planning methods, which can be used in future urban development. The numerous eco-cities could be seen as the largest experiment in urban sustainability ever, with potential to produce an extensive amount of innovations in technology, lessons in urban development, and sustainable construction capacity.

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Monique Abud

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

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China Model 2

Professor Athar Hussain, a member of UrbaChina, is the Director of the Asia Research Centre.


  • Speaker(s): Dr Kent Deng, Professor Jude Howell, Professor Athar Hussain

Chair: Nick Byrne
Recorded on 8 December 2011 in Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House.
Source : the website of the London School of Economics.

Selected Publications of Professor Athar Hussain

  • Hussain, A; Wang Y (2010). Rural-Urban Migration in China: Scale, Composition, Pattern and Deprivation. In: Wu, F; Webster, S (eds.) Marginalization in Urban China: Comparative Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan.


  • The Road Forward: Vietnam’s development in the near future 17th October 2012 Organised by LSE SU Vietnam Society
  • Pakistan after Bin Laden: Free-fall or resurgence? 7th June 2012 Speaker: Mr Ali Dayan Hasan. Chair: Professor Athar Hussain
  • Challenges to Governance in Hong Kong 14th March 2012 Speaker: Professor Anthony B. L. Cheung. Chair: Professor Athar Hussain

Source : LSE Asia Research Center

Jacqueline Nivard

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

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