University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term > Where is China’s Urbanisation Heading?

Where is China’s Urbanisation Heading?

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The rapid pace of China’s urbanization since the 1980s has totally changed the appearance, unban urban infrastructure and social structure of almost all the cities in China. Now, after 30 years, what are these new, modern cities like to live in? China’s urban redevelopment outwardly appears to be extremely successful—endless numbers of high-rise buildings have been constructed, completely transforming the skyline of China’s her cities. However, what has really happened to these cities? How, for example, has the social structure in these cities been changed on account of sudden large-scale urbanization? This seminar attempts to answer these questions by exploring the following three points:

1. Bulldozing the past to build the future: Looking at China’s Main Cities China’s main cities today, including Shanghai, Tianjin, Wuhan and Canton, developed on the foundations of the former trading ports constructed by Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The urban infrastructure and facilities in these trading ports played important roles in the economic activities and lives of the cities’ inhabitants of these cities from 1945 to the 1990s. Unfortunately, most of these historic urban structures and buildings have been razed to the ground in the past 30 years, and in many cases Chinese architectural historians have not had the opportunity to evaluate or record what was there in these historic trading ports or their architecture.

2. Tourism and Environmental destruction: Historic Towns Due to the booming tourist industry of recent years, thousands of tourists have been rushing flooding into China’s famous historic towns every dayyear. In order to attract more tourists, the local authorities have renewed and repainted the most iconic buildings, sometimes in a tasteless and gaudy style, while little attention has been paid to town houses or the natural environment. In some riverside towns, for example, the infrastructure is so poor that there are not even any adequate garbage disposal facilities, or not to mention legal regulations governing them, and both tourists and shop owners are forced to throw their garbage into the rivers, which in fact has a detrimental effect on tourism. As a result, the natural environment in these traditional towns is in decline, while the tourist industry is developing on such a large scale that it is out of control by the authorities; the existing authorities do not have the skills they need to maintain the natural and historic environment of these towns.

3. Transformation of in the Social Structure: The Gap between the Rich and the Poor In order to acquire land for new development projects in city centers, a special eviction policy has been implemented in every all Chinese cities, which forces millions of residents to move from the city to countryside. At the same time, many new, fashionable mansions have been built in the city centers for investment the purposes of investment. Only the very wealthy can afford to buy these expensive mansions, and they are the ones who now live in the cities, instead of the former citizens, who are too poor. In this way, China’s eviction policy has changed the social structure of the cities. Recently, many citizens have resisted the government’s eviction this policy. Moreover, developers are increasingly unable to pay the expensive compensation requested by the citizens; thus, behind the main commercial or residential areas, many old and poor houses still remain, and the situation cannot be easily resolved. When one compares the modern mansions of the rich to the dilapidated old houses of the poor, one can easily sense the tension between the rich and the poor.

Yunlian Chen is a researcher from the University of Nagoya, Japan. She came to Wolfson as a visiting scholar under the JSPS oversea visiting program for young researchers of 2012-13. Her PhD thesis Research on Urban Growth Process of the Shanghai Foreigner Settlement: From the View of Urban Development Conducted by Britain and Japan (March 2010, Kyoto Prefecture University) focused on the process by which the Shanghai foreign settlement was formed from the beginning of 19th century to the early 20th century.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term series.

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