Tag Archives: urba-china

The UrbaChina project (2011-2015): completion and follow-up

The UrbaChina project has come to an end. This EU funded research project started in March 2011 and was completed in February 2015. UrbaChina’s main objective was to determine China’s urbanisation trends for the next 40 years and outline possible future scenarios with reference to concepts of sustainability. To reach this goal, UrbaChina used interdisciplinary methods and proposed a multi-faceted approach to the study of sustainability.

As the coordinator of this project, I found this a very rewarding experience. Working with some 11 leading Chinese and European research institutions and cultivating a network between them was very stimulating. We hope UrbaChina was the first step toward a fruitful cooperation between European and Chinese researchers in urban studies, leading to future cooperation.

During the past four years, the UrbaChina teams conducted several fieldtrips in China, mainly in the four cities selected for the project (Shanghai, Chongqing, Kunming and Huangshan), where we interviewed dozens of urban planners, land developers, scholars and officials at both the central and local levels of government. We also took part in several conferences in China and Europe, and organised several international events; we reviewed articles and endeavoured to inform a broad audience about the latest developments in China’s urbanisation.

Our findings have been shared with the scientific community and stakeholders in China and Europe. Most of our results can be found online.

The UrbaChina blog was launched in October 2012 to disseminate our results and identify the latest news on four specific themes regarding urbanisation in China:

  • Institutional foundations of city creation;
  • Land, property and the urban/rural divide;
  • Environmental and health infrastructures and services;
  • Traditions and modern lifestyles in cities.

The UrbaChina blog team was mainly composed of information specialists (Monique Abud, Jacqueline Nivard), a language editor (Aurélia Martin), Ph.D. students (Sébastien Goulard, Chi-Han Ai (艾之涵), Miguel Elosua,) and two interns Léa Daures and Oriane Pillet.

We carried surveys monitoring on urbanisation, putting a special emphasis on open access. Most of our posts link to articles available free online. In the same spirit, we opened an open archive providing images of the four cities under study in the UrbaChina project: Shanghai, Huangshan city, Chongqing, Kunming on MediHAL and a collection of working papers on HAL. The blog became an important tool for us to share this information effectively, with its newsletter ran by Sebastian Goulard every week.

We hope that our blog has satisfied your interest in urbanisation in China. Since the UrbaChina project is now finished, this blog will no longer be updated, but all posts will remain accessible. The blog will also be kept as an archive at the French National Library.

We would like to thank all our contributors and our readers who have helped keep our blog alive for the last three years. Our gratitude also goes to Open edition, the academic blogs platform, for hosting our blog and for their help, and to the China Centre at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales for its enthusiastic support.

Although this research programme is completed, China’s urbanisation still has many issues to deal with and will still be a hot topic for the next few decades. We will continue our research in other forms.

A new blog dealing with urbanisation topics in China will be launched by the end of the month.

We hope you will still continue to follow and enjoy our content.

François Gipouloux, CNRS, UrbaChina Project Coordinator

Killing Time

Ping Pong

This photo was taken in November 2013 in Nanchuan district, Chongqing. Farmers have been relocated and concentrated in a remote area with little or no public transportation (as of the date when the photo was taken). The concentration of farmers’ homesteads usually takes place in order to optimise the use of arable land as farmers’ homes are scattered throughout the fields and this is an obstacle for the consolidation of arable land now taking place everywhere around the country. Other motivations include the preservation of the threshold of arable land set by the central government by recovering arable land, the improvement of rural infrastructures, and the search of a solution for the problem of the hollow villages (due to the massive migration of young people to the cities, many homesteads remain empty most of the time). A concentration of resources takes place, and farmers are relocated to newly built residential communities (xinxing nongcun shequ – 新型农村社区). Usually, farmers lease the new consolidated land to a cooperative, and some of them continue working the land as employees of the cooperative.

This case is very different. The local government has used the expropriated land in a more lucrative way for its budget, as it has managed to attract private investment (a real estate developer listed in the Hong Kong Stock Market), and develop a tourist town with houses dedicated to the upper-middle class of Chongqing who are in the look for a weekend retreat outside of the metropolitan area. Normally, the law interdicts urban residents to buy rural land but, through the intervention of the visible hand of the government, farmers’ land is expropriated and converted into state land. The miracle is performed. Profits are handsome for the local government, for the real estate developer and, by extension, for all the investors who put their savings into this company, and who will see the dividend payout increase as a result of the difficult-to-match-elsewhere performance of the company. The only ones who won’t make a penny are the original owners of the land.

As a result, the collective economic system is completely wiped out. Farmers will not recuperate their land, except if they buy it at the market price (unattainable after the development of the area). They have a sense of having been cheated. There have been barred from entering the new town, except for the few lucky ones who will be hired by the developer for gardening work. The construction of their new town miles away from the tourist area limits the possibility for entrepreneurism. Youngsters leave their ancestral land to look for a job in the city, and the old ones remain in the new town, which becomes a retirement town. Most of them do not have enough savings for paying the utilities’ bill and need to improvise outdoor kitchens. They live off the remittances from their offspring.

During the Third Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress held in Beijing in November 2013, the government announced plans to implement reforms regarding farmers’ construction land-use rights. The Chinese leadership finally agreed on the need to equate rural construction land use rights with urban construction land rights under the “same land same rights” principle (tongdi tongquan – 同地同权).1 Would farmers agree to sell their homesteads and be grouped in new residential communities given the choice to transfer their land use rights to whomever they wish?


  1. Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party to strengthen the important problems posed by the reform (zhonggong zhongyang guanyu quanmian shenhua gaige ruogan zhongda wenti de jueding– 中共中央关于全面深化改革若干重大问题的决定). http://www.hmdjw.gov.cn/article/show-4104.html. Last retrieved December 10, 2013. []

Miguel Elosua

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

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The pride of the family

These photos were taken in December 2013 in Anshun city, Guizhou province. They show two school diplomas granted to the two daughters of a family who finished first and second in their class. The two unframed photos hanged on the bare walls of the living room.



Miguel Elosua

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

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Asia and Europe in a Global Context

The Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” welcomes applications for up to four doctoral scholarships. Applicants should submit their papers until March 15, 2015.

The Graduate Programme offers a monthly scholarship of 1200 Euro. Future scholarship holders will be supported in framing their research through advanced courses, individual supervision, and mentoring. Half of the scholarships are reserved for young scholars from Asia.

The Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies is the structured doctoral programme of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at Heidelberg University. In line with the Cluster’s research profile, the programme focuses on the dynamics of cultural exchange processes between and within Asia and Europe.

Applicants must hold an M.A. or equivalent in a discipline of the humanities or social sciences with an above-average grade, and must propose a research project with a strong affiliation to the research framework of the Cluster. Applications are accepted until March 15, 2015, exclusively via our Online Application System.

For further information on the scholarships, visit the website of the Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies, or send an e-mail to application-gpts@asia-europe.uni-heidelberg.de.

Jacqueline Nivard

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

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Will urbanisation do away with nomads?

Tibetan couple

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.


  1. The Yak. Gerald Wiener (2003) FAO. United Nations. []
  2. Peter B. Golden (2011) Central Asia in World History. Oxford University Press. []
  3. PRC Constitution, Article 9. []
  4. Peter Ho (2005) Institutions in Transition: Land Ownership, Property Rights and Social Conflict in China, Oxford University Press. []
  5. Ostrom, E.J. (1999) Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges. Science Vol. 284, Nº5412. []
  6. South China Morning Post, Mongolians “sidelined” in mining growth, 1 juin 2011. []
  7. Promised land. SCMP. 6 January, 2013. []

Miguel Elosua

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

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UrbaChina final conference: presentations now online

UrbaChina final conferencePresentations held at UrbaChina final conference are now available online.









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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UrbaChina final conference, Paris: research findings

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.

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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A kindergarten surrounded by rubble at a demolition site in Xi’an


A kindergarten at a demolition site in the city of Xi’an, Shaanxi province. The photo was taken by China Stringer Network and published by Reuters on 8 December 2014.

According to the local government, the kindergarten has been running without a license and will be forced to shut down. The owner of the school signed the 20-year lease agreement three months before the demolition work started. On 8 December, the mother of a 2 and a half year old toddler went to the school to ask for a fee reimbursement. Apparently, she had not payed attention to the surrounding area when registering her infant and actually quite liked the environment.


Miguel Elosua

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

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城市规划原理 (Principles of urban planning)

4th edition of the volume edited by a team of professors from the Tongji University, with Li Dehua (李德华) as chief editor. Published by Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe (中国建筑工业出版社) in 2010.



Miguel Elosua

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

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Arrival city: how the largest migration in history is reshaping our world

Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World. Book written by Doug Saunders, and published by Knopf Canada (September 21, 2010).

Arrival city

What will be remembered about our century, more than anything except perhaps changes to the climate, is the final shift of human populations from agricultural life to cities, the effects of which are being felt around the world. Arrival City gives us an on-the-ground view of this phenomenon—from Maryland to Shenzhen, from thefavelas of Rio to the shanty towns of Mumbai, from Los Angeles to Nairobi.

Doug Saunders introduces us to the migrants themselves, and with the aid of their stories elucidates their essential part in the economic fabric. He makes clear that the cities and nations that provide citizenship and opportunity to migrants stand to benefit as the migrant class evolves into a middle class, and he explains why those that ignore these people will see increased social unrest, poverty, and religious fundamentalism.




Miguel Elosua

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

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A boy being photographed by his family, and a boy being abandoned by his family


The first photo was taken on 21 November 2014 in Pudong New District, Shanghai. The second was taken in Guangzhou, and was featured in an articled written by Alex Millson, and published by the South China Morning Post on 2 April 2014. They reflect two consequences of the CCP’s policies. The first one might be a result of the One-Child Policy, the second of the absence of a comprehensive social security system. According to the article, the city closed the doors of a “baby hatch” just after two months of its opening due to the overwhelming number of children who were abandoned, all of them ill or disabled.

Captura de pantalla 2014-11-21 a las 10.40.43

Miguel Elosua

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

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Ambiguous Rights: Land Reform and the Problem of Minor Property Rights Housing

« Ambiguous Rights: Land Reform and the Problem of Minor Property Rights Housing », paper written by Karita Kan (2012). China Perspectives, 2012/3.

Minor property rights housing (xiao chanquan fang 小产权房) is an unofficial term referring to illegal residential structures built on rural, collectively-owned land that is sold or rented to non-local urbanites. Its controversial legal status stems from the dual ownership structure in China’s land regime. According to Article 8 of the Land Administration Law, the state claims ownership of urban land, while land in rural and suburban areas is owned, unless otherwise stipulated, collectively by rural residents represented by peasant collectives. Rural collective land is theoretically reserved for the exclusive use of villagers, and should be not sold, transferred, or leased to non-rural residents. The real estate boom and successive hikes in property prices have nevertheless provided strong incentives for rural landowners to capture the monetary benefits of urban development through selling and leasing land and houses to urbanites looking for affordable accommodation.

Please, click here to read the full text: http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/5970

Miguel Elosua

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

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Reversed urbanization phenomenon in some regions in China.

The State Council of the People’s Republic of China recently issued a report on the estimated progress of Hukou system reform (关于进一步推进户籍制度改革的意见). In this report, it is estimated that the 100 million farmers with rural status who work in the city will obtain rural Hukou in 2020. However, articles of Economic Information Daily (经考济参报) pointed that the uncertain benefits of changing Hukou status from rural to urban make rural farmers maintain their original Hukou, and that some citizens even want to change their urban Hukou “backwards” into rural ones in order to obtain the benefits, as the benefits of rural Hukou is more certain and substantial than those of the urban ones. This phenomenon, dubbed Reversed Urbanization, can be seen in some regions in Zhejiang, Henan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Jiangxi.

Ruan Wen-Guang, a government official in charge of the hukou system in Zhejiang Provincial Public Security Department, said that with the rapid economic development, the booming of urban and rural construction, and the ongoing readjustment of social benefits, the interest chain behind rural hukou becomes longer and appealing compared with that behind urban hukou. The willingness to transfer into urban hukou and settle in cities will be further decreasing.

Full article in Chinese: http://www.rmzxb.com.cn/zszq/gc/2014/11/04/402324.shtml




Chi-Han Ai

Ph.D. candidate of EHESS ( École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris) focusing on regional economic development in China and Taiwan.

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Working paper UrbaChina no.4 now online

The UrbaChina team is pleased to announce the publication of the 4th UrbaChina working paper entitled “Central-local authority relationships and the institutional process of city creation“, edited by Ai Chi-han (Nanfang College, Sun Yat-sen University), Miguel Elosua (EHESS) and prof. Li Shantong (DRC).

As one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, China is experiencing the largest scale of urbanisation in human history. More and more land is required to support this massive urbanisation. However, rural land acquisition and compensation to the changes in farmers’ household registration (hukou) are complex issues in the process of urbanisation under the dual land tenure between city and rural areas in China. Furthermore, local government has been under increasing financial pressure after the tax sharing system was implemented in 1994. To raise funds and develop urban construction, various cities have undertaken different strategies of land development during their on-going urbanisation, which is also discussed in this study. Urbanisation is a process of expanding urban space with a view to develop the land efficiently. Therefore, the objective of this study is to introduce the dual land system in China, the evolution of farmers’ collective land ownership, and the process of governmental land acquisition. Subsequently, we will examine the case of the case of Shanghai Pudong New Area, which develops land with an insufficient financial support and its corresponding solutions. Finally, the authors highlight problems in the process of land acquisition and land development.

The UrbaChina working paper no.4 is now available on open access at the hal-FP7 UrbaChina paper collection.

Recommended citation: Ai, C., Elosua, M., & Li, Shantong. (2014). Central-local authority relationships and the institutional process of city creation (UrbaChina Working Paper no.4 October 2014). Paris: CNRS. Retrieved from https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01076092v1

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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New pilot plan to liberalise the rural land market


The government is about to approve a new pilot plan, aimed at liberalising rural construction land-use rights, by granting farmers the right to transfer and use rural land-use rights as collateral. The follow-up document, nongdi rushi shidian fang’an (农地入市试点方案), aims at developing the policies issued from the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CCP held in November 2013.

According to the plan, all collective construction land that meets the requirements of the urban plan could be transferred, leased, or mortgaged. The collective economic system will operate a transformation into a shareholding system, through land contributions. The period of tenure will be identical to urban construction land-use rights.

The plan introduces a system, well known in Western legal systems, by which society as a whole have a right to participate in the economic benefits brought by urbanisation. Thus, the government might levy taxes on the increase in land value that accrues when it is transferred. In Spain, this principle is incorporated in Article 47 of the constitution, which declares that “the community shall have a share in the benefits accruing from the town-planning policies of public bodies”, which is a specific reference to the increase in the value of land accrued as a consequence of the modification of its use from rural to urban. It might turn out to be an excellent tool to increase the local government’s revenue, putting an end to the expropriation game, and hopefully improving the lives of millions of farmers.

For more information on the draft plan, please click here (source in Chinese): http://www.eeo.com.cn/2014/1017/267452.shtml.

Miguel Elosua

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

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