Martin Minost, « Harry den Hartog (ed), Shanghai new towns: searching for community and identity in a sprawling metropolis, », China Perspectives [Online], URL : http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/6497 1.
Shanghai new towns, edited by the Dutch architect Harry den Hartog, is interesting on two counts. To begin with, the 2010 book is the first – apart from individual articles – in English (it is bilingual, with Chinese text) to analytically deal with the Western-imitating architecture proliferating on the Chinese mainland since the early 2000s. Second, the book brings together articles by academics and experts all drawn from the domain of architecture and town planning.
However, the issue tackled is not that of architectural imports in China. What interests the authors is that of new towns, especially those built within Shanghai municipality. Analysing this urban object, the authors have tried to give an account of China’s current urbanisation, highlighting characteristics such as the context of state control during their construction, legacies from the past and their present influence, the working style of Chinese town planners, economic and urban planning ideologies, as well as the intricacies of the decision-making and planning processes. The book has both a theoretical aspect as well as practical and pedagogic ambition: minutely observed new towns are elevated to the rank of case studies; and the information the authors draw from the construction process should help Western architects and town planners to learn how to work with their Chinese counterparts, on what basis, using which theories and ideologies, and thus how to cooperate with them.
The book contains 11 articles, four of them written by den Hartog, grouped in four parts separated by mostly photographic dossiers including two by professional photographers. This multiplicity of contributors and forms of analysis, both written and visual, lends to the study a rich source of information, crucial for anyone interested, within the field of urban studies, in the initial process of urbanisation, projects, plans, decisions, and the start of construction. The trans-disciplinary studies thus seek to bring exhaustive knowledge of the subject, but the final product is an uneven work due to the differences between contributions.
- Martin Minost is a contractual doctoral candidate in social anthropology and ethnology at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences/EHESS, Paris, affiliated with the Research Centre for Modern and Contemporary China