AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 759

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Session 759: Planning and Power: Shaping China’s Urbanizing Localities

Organizer: Nick R. Smith, Yale-NUS College, Singapore

Chair: Vivienne Shue, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Discussant: Vivienne Shue, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

The scale of social and spatial change accompanying China’s rapid economic and urban growth in the past three decades has been dramatic and unprecedented. This urbanization, whether in terms of city-centered expansion or rural-urban transformation, has been driven by national visions, ideologies, and policies. Yet, it is at the micro-scale of China’s localities where these visions are implemented and where their impacts on individuals and communities become legible. In neighborhoods, villages, and residential developments, decisions about and contestations over local growth reveal inter-scalar contradictions between policy and reality as local leaders, planners, and residents negotiate the pressures of macro-economic transformation. Moreover, it is at the scale of these localities that the contingency and diversity of Chinese planning and its results can be fully discerned. This panel explores the power dynamics inherent in the planning and shaping of China’s urbanizing localities, as different actors seek to implement competing visions of development. Each of the papers in the panel starts from the particularities of one or more specific localities in order to address the questions facing Chinese planning more broadly. In doing so, the papers engage in a dialogue about territory, spatial practices, and development politics as they relate to the practice of planning in China. Each paper brings a diverse set of disciplinary, regional, and contextual (e.g. along a spectrum of urbanization) perspectives. Each paper will be presented for 15 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of comments from the discussant and 45 minutes of discussion among all attendees.

Urbanization of the State
You-tien Hsing, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Students of Chinese cities often label Chinese urban processes ‘state-led urbanization.’ The ‘state-led urbanization’ argument correctly points to the centrality of the state, especially the local state, in the transformation of Chinese cities. Yet, the argument assumes a passive role on the part of the city, whose dynamism is ‘led’ by the state. I propose that instead of being “led,” urban processes actively shape the dynamics of local state building, which, in turn, shapes the territorial logic of the state, and has produced a new territorial order in post-Deng China. Local accumulation is largely conditioned by land sales and development, while the local state apparatus expands along with urban sprawl. City marketing and property value boosting are performed at both the ideological and political levels. High-profile urban projects and property values are viewed as indicators of modernization, which in turn measures the political achievement of local state leaders. The local state builds its territorial authority and finds its political identity in urban modernity. To the extent that the local state fails in urban accumulation and legitimation, as with the many development-related scandals and the abandonment of development projects, it also fails in state-building. The local state is built, and can be un-built by urban projects on physical, economic, political, and ideological fronts.

The Politics of Spatial Stagnation in Harbin, 1978-Present
Meg E. Rithmire, Harvard Business School, USA

Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, in many ways typifies the post-industrial malaise of a “rust-belt” city. The urban landscape consists of defunct factories and polluting smokestacks, informal markets where laid-off workers make do by selling small goods, decaying socialist-era housing compounds, as well as flashy new centers of consumption, such as shopping malls and residential condominium developments. Harbin’s landscape, and therefore the municipal government’s control over physical space, is variegated, uneven, and suggestive of multiple sources of power and influence within the city. This paper investigates the relationship between planning approaches and local conditions in Harbin during the reform period. The paper proceeds at two levels; first, drawing on written materials and interviews with urban planners, I track the different approaches that urban planners and municipal authorities took toward the organization of urban space from the 1980s to the present, arguing that the city adopted a redistributive policy toward urban space in the 1980s, a predatory approach in the 1990s, and returned to a redistributive approach in the past ten years. The second part of the paper discusses the trajectories of three different urban neighborhoods: an older, working class neighborhood that has consistently evaded destruction and relocation; a wealthier neighborhood that underwent fundamental renovation in the 1990s; and the somewhat vexed construction of a new neighborhood in the 2000s. Ultimately, the Harbin case illustrates under what conditions local political interests – at the neighborhood and municipal levels – are incorporated or excluded in the process of remaking urban landscapes.

Planning, Territory, and Social Contestation in Urbanizing Villages
Nick R. Smith, Yale-NUS College, Singapore

As two of the regions that have developed most intensively since the advent of China’s economic liberalization in 1978, both the Changjiang and Pearl River deltas have seen the rapid urbanization of numerous villages in the past two decades. Though enabled by a common set of economic and planning policies instituted by the central government, the paths followed and results achieved have varied considerably from village to village. Of particular interest in this paper are the varied effects of urban transformation on the lives of those who inhabit these villages. The paper ethnographically investigates two urbanizing villages from the Changjiang and Pearl River deltas: Longmei, in the periphery of Guangzhou, and Panyang, in the periphery of Suzhou. Both villages have undergone rapid development and urbanization in the past 15 years, including industrialization, in-migration, and construction. The approaches taken in catalyzing and managing this transformation, however, have differed considerably – in Longmei (as in much of the Pearl River Delta) development has been managed autonomously by the village collective, while in Panyang (as in much of the Changjiang Delta) development has been planned by a higher jurisdictional authority. These two approaches have led to distinctly different results, with profound implications for the social and spatial dynamics of the communities that inhabit them. In particular, contestations between different spatial constituents (including both preexisting villagers and sojourning migrants) over the reterritorialization of the urbanizing space of the villages have manifested in remarkably different ways.

In Situ Urbanization and Planning for Urban-Rural Integration
Yu Zhu, Independent Scholar, China

China’s new Urban-Rural Planning Law (2007), combined with the government policy of Urban-Rural Integration (chengxiang yitihua), expresses official desires to address problems of the urbanization of rural land and communities. Conventional planning at the regional scale does not meet such needs, as it took too little account of the degree of developmental initiatives originated from and autonomy enjoyed by many localities across the administrative hierarchy, especially townships and villages. In extreme cases, such as that in southern Fujian, widespread local development initiative has led to in situ urbanization, which is poorly covered by standard planning. At the scale of local communities standard planning models are equally inadequate, as they presuppose radical re-parcelization of land and transfer of development control to government-brokered developers without adequate consideration of the interests of local entrepreneurs and residents. The new Urban-Rural Planning Law takes some of these problems into account, but further reform is needed. One of the key issues not resolved by the new law is that although it extends its coverage to rural areas, it remains vague and inadequate in addressing planning issues caused by the blurred rural-urban distinction, the resultant increasing importance of rural localities and intensified rural-urban interaction, and the corresponding changing locational behavior of enterprises and residents. This paper examines both legal reform and the policy of urban-rural integration to assess how well they address in situ urbanization and, to the extent they do not, analyzes their inadequacies and what entrenched interests and power relationships may still be creating obstacles.

In Situ Urbanization and Planning for Urban-Rural Integration
Dan Abramson, University of Washington, USA

Co-Presenter with ZHU Yu: In Situ Urbanization and Planning for Urban-Rural Integration