11.S945 | Fall 2013 | Graduate
Urbanizing China: A Reflective Dialogue

Lecture Notes

Selected lecture notes from the course are provided below.


Multiple Interpretations: Urbanization out of Sync

Presented by: Prof. Jinhua Zhao

China urbanized 350 million people in the past thirty years and is poised to do it again in the next three decades. China’s urbanization is immense and rapid but largely “out of sync.” This talk presents seven different interpretations of China’s urbanization, and reckons that China is progressing at significantly different paces along these dimensions. It is the dis-synchronization that results in tensions and discontinuities between people and land, between economy and environment, between urban financing and urban form, and between locals and migrants.

Lecture 1 Slides (PDF - 2.3MB)

Is China an Outlier? China’s Urbanization in the Historical and International Contexts

Presented by: Liyan Xu

China has been experiencing an urbanization process that is unprecedented in terms of speed, scale, and scope. This session begins with a review of fundamental urbanization theories, followed by a presentation showing the basic facts of China’s urbanization in the past sixty years, especially in the recent three decades. Putting China in the historical and international contexts, the analysis evaluates China’s urban transition from the perspectives of population, land use, and economic performance. The session concludes with a remark of the uniqueness of China’s urbanization, and poses questions on the future of urbanization that serve as food for thought for the remaining sessions.

Lecture 2 Slides (PDF - 5.0MB)

(Courtesy of Liyan Xu. Used with permission.)


Fundamentals: Hukou and Migration

Presented by: Prof. Jinhua Zhao

Notwithstanding China’s long urban history, the country remained largely an agrarian society until very recently. But urban superiority has taken hold since the turn of the twentieth century. Despite efforts to reduce the distinction between city and countryside after the Communist Party took power in 1949, an urban-rural divide forms the basis of the broadest kind of social inequality. Rural areas continue to have the poorest of the poor and lag behind in health status, nutrition, education, life expectancy, and overall living standards. Under market transition and globalizing forces, however, population mobility has grown drastically. Close to 200 million migrants have left the Chinese countryside for cities since 1983. This recent migratory flow is perhaps the largest tide of migration in human history. It has become a prominent feature of China’s economic transition and is changing the face of the country. This session outlines how the persistent urban-rural divide has formed historically and then has been reinforced by a set of socialist institutions. Particularly critical is the household registration system (hukou). This session also shows how a confluence of rising agricultural productivity and globalizing forces in urban manufactures opened the flood gate of migration in the early 1980s. Since then, migrant workers and entrepreneurs have provided substantial human impetus for the rapid modernization of cities. But most of them continue to face barriers to settle there permanently, and exhibit a temporary or circular pattern of mobility.

Lecture 3 Slides (PDF - 2.6MB)
Land Market, Public Finance, Real Estate Development

Land-use and Public Finance Institutions in China: An Overview

Presented by: Liyan Xu

This session introduces China’s basic land use and public finance institutions, which serve as basic knowledge background for the remaining sessions. Details include: the constitutional and other legal bases of China’s land use system; the urban-rural dichotomy of land property rights; the current bid invitation, auction and listing system in urban land transfer; China’s public finance framework after the 1994 financial reform; the “land finance system” and its variations; and the Shenzhen and Chongqing cases of local land use and public finance reform.

Lecture 4 Slides (PDF - 1.8MB)

(Courtesy of Liyan Xu. Used with permission.)


Land Quota Market in Chongqing and Chengdu: De-spatialize Land Transfer

Presented by: Yuan Xiao

China’s meteoric economic growth has been taking place with a set of property rights institutions that distinguish and disconnect urban and rural worlds. Local governments acquire land cheaply from peasants and leverage it to attract businesses and investment. This “land grab” has been an important source of revenues for local governments since the late 1990s. However, it has become increasingly unsustainable because of the huge inequality, intense social conflicts, and economic inefficiency it has created. The central government of China has issued strict policy measures to curb land conversion by local governments. In response, a new institution has emerged: the land quota market. These markets are developed by local governments to trade “land development quotas,” in contrast to markets that trade actual land parcels. Quotas are created by tearing down low-density farmhouses, and packing peasants into high-rise apartments. The development rights of the old parcels are then sold in a market. This new quota market has changed the calculus of land values: instead of location advantage, land value is now more dependent on the spatial density of existing farmhouses so that even land in the hinterlands is affected by urbanization. Xiao’s dissertation asks how this mode of land commodification is different from the previous mode from spatial and political economy perspectives, and why it works to solve the dilemma of development versus social equality faced by local governments. This research takes the approach of comparative case studies backed by qualitative and quantitative data collected from six Chinese cites.

Lecture 5 Slides (PDF - 2.0MB)

(Courtesy of Yuan Xiao. Used with permission.)


Brownfields in Beijing Chemical Plant: How Cities Recycle Industrial Land

Presented by: Prof. Xin Li

Following the stories of a land redevelopment project over an eight-year period, Prof. Li demonstrates a shift in China’s environmental governance from a top-down, command-and-control regulatory regime to a multi-level system that facilitates consensus building and public participation in environmental policymaking. In addition, Li argues that the shift with respect to brownfields occurred not simply because of improvements within the environmental apparatus, but because of recent land market reforms.

Lecture 6 Slides (PDF - 2.2MB)

(Courtesy of Xin Li. Used with permission.)


Integrating the Proposed Property Tax with the Public Leasehold System

Presented by: Dr. Yu-Hung Hong

The Chinese government has been experimenting with the idea of taxing both land and buildings to raise public funds for financing local expenditures. The primary goal is to lower the heavy reliance of municipalities on land leasing revenues that has created both fiscal and spatial concerns in China. This session explores why the proposed property tax reform may be able to alleviate these concerns and how political and institutional constraints such as property relations and government transparency might have blocked the reform. Dr. Hong also proposes some conceptual ideas to soften these institutional constraints.

Lecture 7 Slides (PDF)

(Courtesy of Yu-Hung Hong. Used with permission.)

8–9 Module Summary; Student Presentations for Phase 1: Ideas

Lecture 8 Slides (PDF - 1.4MB)

Transportation, Economy, Energy, Environment and Technology

Dispersion of Urban Agglomeration through High Speed Rail

Presented by: Dr. Wanli Fang

Dr. Fang’s research estimates transport infrastructure’s influence on the productivity, scale and distribution of urban economic activities through changing intercity accessibility, using China’s high-speed rail (HSR) as a specific case. The GIS-based spatial analyses of the network accessibility measured by three alternative indicators consistently illustrate that the extensive transport investments during 2001–2010 have reduced the disparities in accessibility among cities in China, with the coefficient of variation dropping by nearly 50%. Differently, estimations from the panel data models shed light on the complexity in the relationship between accessibility and economic activities, which consists of both generative and redistributive components and simultaneously leads to convergent and divergent economic outcomes among regions and across cities of different sizes. Yet, empirical evidence denies the saturation effects of accessibility. Extended estimations using different instrument variables (IV) partially relieve the concerns on endogeneity issues. The findings lead to important policy implications for decision-makers. First, China has not exhausted the agglomeration benefits dispersing through transport infrastructure given the remarkable regional disparities. Second, for the appraisal of major transport projects including HSR, it is reasonable to extend the standard cost-benefit analysis to include the generative benefits; to evaluate the impacts on regional disparities based on redistributive effects; and to avoid overbuilding through identification of saturation effects.

Lecture 10 Slides (PDF - 2.1MB)

(Courtesy of Wanli Fang. Used with permission.)


Managing Car Ownership in Chinese Mega Cities

Presented by: Prof. Jinhua Zhao

The astronomical growth in private cars in China, which surpassed that of the U.S. to become the largest automobile market in 2009, has led to very visible environmental crises and congestion. But the nationwide increase conceals crucial policy differences between cities that influence effectiveness, revenue, efficiency, equity and public acceptance. While Shanghai and Beijing each had about two million motor vehicles in 2004, by 2010 Beijing had 4.8 million whereas Shanghai had only 3.1 million. Beijing’s growth rate was 15% annually, twice that of Shanghai. Extraordinary growth calls for extraordinary measures. Chinese cities offer many such examples in managing their automobiles that range from restricting half of Beijing’s vehicles from being used during the Olympics to charging over 10,000 USD to register a Shanghai car license through bidding. Boldness in both infrastructure development and policy design seems commonplace in China’s urban transportation arena. This session, however, presents some of the subtleties in these bold designs using Shanghai’s license auction policy and Beijing’s license lottery policy as cases. Subtleties exist in public attitude towards government policies, in policy details including pricing mechanism and purposeful policy leakage, and in the contrasting equity and efficiency orientations (superficial fairness in Beijing’s lottery versus the orientation towrad efficiency in Shanghai’s auction). Governments, at least in some cities, are more skillful in synergizing planning and market mechanisms and they do gauge the public and become more amenable though still sensitive. Policymaking and public response are increasingly two-way interactive.

Lecture 11 Slides (PDF - 2.7MB)

Costs of Air Pollution: Focusing on its Human Health Damage

Presented by: Dr. Kyung-Min Nam

One of the consequences of China’s rapid economic growth is increased urban air pollution, which is strongly associated with rising fossil energy use. Costs of air pollution in China are estimated to be substantial. For example, the World Bank estimated in 2003 that excess particulate matter concentrations alone caused an economic cost of $55 billion USD (or around 4% of China’s gross domestic product) to China’s economy. Accordingly, China’s government has recognized urban air pollution as a serious constraint in its pursuit of sustainable development, gradually strengthening air quality regulations. In light of increasing attention to the topic, this session aims to provide a review of urban air pollution issues in China together with a brief introduction to methodological progress in the field.

Lecture 12 Slides (PDF - 3.6MB)

(Courtesy of Kyung-Min Nam. Used with permission.)


Advancing Low-Carbon Cities: Pathways through CERC

Presented by: Shin-pei Tsay

14 Module Summary; Student Presentations for Phase 2: Proposals  

Progress in Energy Efficiency: Technology, Policy and Market in China’s Automobile Sectors

Presented by: Yang Yu

The recent growth of China’s automobile industry has been tremendous. From 2005 to 2011, the sales number of passenger vehicle increased over 300%. However, in the same period, the motor gasoline consumption only increased about 55%. Possible explanations for the differences between these two numbers include the car models in China’s market become more energy efficiency and consumers’ preference switch towards more energy efficiency cars. In this session, Yu introduces their work on teasing out the technological progress of energy efficiency in China’s automobile sector and the innovation of Chinese consumers’ preference about cars. Yu summarizes the policies related with fuel efficiency in China during the last decades and discusses the relation between policymaking and the development of the market. Main conclusions include:

  • Before 2007, average fuel efficiency in China was degrading; after 2007, there was improvement in fuel efficiency.
  • Until 2007, patterns of technological change varied across different sources; from 2008, technologies from all sources display a similar trend.
  • Chinese domestic technologies and foreign technologies differed in their fuel efficiency trends. Aggregately, nearly all foreign technologies were a slight but statistically significant better than Chinese domestic technology. However, no foreign technologies improved faster than domestic technology.

Lecture 15 Slides (PDF - 1.3MB)

(Courtesy of Yang Yu. Used with permission.)


Financing Urban Access: Transportation, Form and Land Grabbing

Presented by: Dr. David Block-Schachter

The need to finance urban access to meet the mobility needs of the developed and developing world in a sustainable fashion is undeniable. But that collection in turn is sure to impact travel and location behavior. Financing is pricing, and pricing influences behavior. This session focuses on the impacts of the financing collection mechanism on accessibility as a means to bridge the gap between land-based financing and mobility-based financing. After examining the theoretical effects of pricing on accessibility, we focus on two Chinese cases. The first case emphasizes the emerging diversity of vehicle ownership policies in Chinese cities that indirectly influence location choice and urban form via car ownership and travel behavior, and is based on first-hand data and empirical behavior. The second case focuses on land sales that have a direct influence from finance to urban form in terms of the pace and location of the development, and speculates on the influence on accessibility. Of importance is the data we bring to bear to examine the impacts of these policies on the distribution of accessibility between migrants and residents, rich and poor, and car owners and non-car owners. China’s extraordinary growth provides an ample canvas upon which to study the effect of financial mechanisms on accessibility.

Lecture 16 Slides (PDF)

(Courtesy of David Block-Schachter. Used with permission.)


Understanding and Untangling Complex Urban Issues through Emerging Big Data

Presented by: Shang Jiang and Yi Zhu

As the proliferation of urban sensing, social media, and location-based devices in Chinese cities generate roaring streams of spatio-temporal registered information and attitudinal data, time has come to discover how these big datasets can enrich our understanding of complex urban issues, as well as the interactions among policy makers and citizens. This session touches on the current states of urban sensing technologies, crowd-sourcing and crowd-sensing applications, and social media applications. Examples including the bicycle-sharing program, Weibo usage, air-quality applications, and taxi records are intended to stimulate discussions on the causalities behind the data, and the effects of the emerging information and social network on the decision making and planning processes in Chinese cities.

Lecture 17 Slides (PDF)

(Courtesy of Shan Jiang and Yi Zhu. Used with permission.)

18-19 Module Summary; Student Presentations for Phase 3: Literature

Lecture 18 Slides (PDF- 1.8MB)

Lecture 19 Slides (PDF - 2.6MB)

Social, Cultural and Political

Drifting and Getting Stuck: Migrants in Chinese Cities

Presented by: Prof. Weiping Wu

Residential mobility patterns are an important indicator of the future socioeconomic standing of rural-urban migrants in the urban society. In Chinese cities there are significant barriers for migrants to settle permanently. Given this context and housing choices available to migrants, what types of housing careers do they follow once in the city? Drawing from survey data from three large cities, Prof. Wu’s analyzes migrant intra-urban residential mobility through three lenses—temporal patterns, spatial trajectories and tenure shifts. The majority of migrants includes renters, and remains so despite a lengthy residence in the cities. They experience a high level of mobility over time, but the trajectories of their moves are spatially confined and involve few tenure shifts.

Lecture 20 Slides (PDF)

(Courtesy of Weiping Wu. Used with permission.)


Urbanization vs. Citizenization: Self-employed Migrants in Wangjingxi Market

Presented by: Prof. Yulin Chen

Over the last decade, there were 10 million Chinese people moving from countryside to city every year. Thanks to the Hukou system, a large portion of this population include temporary rural-urban migrants, also referred to as rural migrant workers. This session first reviews the Hukou system and its profound implications in China, followed by a discussion of the characteristics of migrant settlements in China as well as some unique features of China’s urbanization patterns compared to those of Western countries. Third, the session introduces Prof. Chen’s ongoing study on a group of self-employed migrants working in a vegetable market in Beijing. The market has recently been torn down to give space for a modern housing development project. The study focuses on the impact of this event on various aspects of the lifestyle changes and challenges to those self-employed migrants (e.g., working, living, income, family, etc.), so as to reveal the micro-level mechanism of the spatial “urbanization” affecting the “citizenization” of migrants in China. Based on this analysis, this session closes with suggestions to the government for managing urbanization with a better approach.

Lecture 21 Slides (PDF - 1.4MB)

(Courtesy of Yulin Chen. Used with permission.)


Spatial Justice in Affordable Housing Design in Ningbo

Presented by: Dr. Yi Dong

This session is based on selected works from the affordable housing design practice of DC-Alliance in Ningbo, including the resettlement of farmers and the social security housing for talents. It will focus on the idea of “spatial justice,” which projects the concept of “social justice” onto space. These projects demonstrate what architects can do within the limits of their competence and ability for the affordable housing development in the course of China’s rapid urbanization, and how to balance the relationship between space resource, aesthetic conception and lifestyle in a “fair” way. The talk addresses how public housing projects feed back to the city from the aspects of space and function. It concludes with Dr. Dong’s reflection on the strategy of development and public policy support for these projects, which indicates the attitude from the governments.


Preserving Beijing’s Spatial Tradition in Rapid Urban Development

Presented by: Prof. Hui Wang

Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China, is the national center of politics and culture as well as a well-known city with a long history in the world. Now as a fast-urbanizing city, Beijing is confronted with challenges and opportunities as well as many problems. There exist various types of conflicts between the old city and newly-built areas. Inside the old city, there are visible conflicts where historical and cultural areas are constantly eroded. Outside the old city, there are invisible conflicts where the new development areas spread disorderly.

In order to help students achieve a comprehensive understanding of the conflict between protection and high-density development from a long-term developmental perspective, this session begins with an introduction of an investigation of the spatial situation in Beijing central city. Based on in-depth investigation and analysis, the key issues of high density and high-density development in Beijing, especially the conflict between the old city and the new development areas, are summarized and discussed.

Additionally, the issues raised in the following questions are posed and discussed: In the future, how can we highlight the cultural characteristics and make full use of historical and cultural value of the old city? And how can we solve the contradictions between the old and the new and promote historical and cultural environment protection?


Aging Society: Offering Care to the Elderly in the Confucius Society

Presented by: Prof. Joan Retsinas

Every society must decide: how to care for dependent elderly? In traditional societies, like China, the family has filled that role. Indeed, Confucius cautioned that children should not live far from their parents. Today’s China no longer fits that traditional model. The one-child family, the migration to new burgeoning cities, the capitalist goal of profits—all have eroded the family-as-bulwark. China today must figure out how to care for 185 million people, a number projected to soar to 487 million by 2053.

This session includes discussionon the options for China, drawing upon parallels with the United States’ experience in providing for its aged population. The feasibility, as well as the pros and cons, of such Western solutions as pensions, subsidized elderly housing, assisted living, and nursing homes are discussed, along with possible roles for the government, for the private sector, and for nonprofits. The session asks students to engage in role-playing, and concludes with their speculation on the likely evolution of China’s approaches.


Forging Greater Xi’an: New Regional Strategies and their Urban Outcomes

Presented by: Kyle Jaros

Over the past decade, efforts to build integrated urban regions around large cities have been taking shape across much of China. These central- and provincial-level “metropolitan circle,” “city cluster,” and “economic region” policies aim to address regional governance issues and enhance regional competitiveness through coordination of neighboring cities’ planning, policy-making, and project implementation. Some scholars have hailed these new efforts to think regionally. Others have questioned the efficacy of such plans, pointing to implementation difficulties. Other experts have argued that such policies are really “banners” for attracting state support and extending the reach of higher-level bureaucrats. What has remained less clear amid debates about the new wave of urban-regional initiatives is how such policies have been reshaping urban areas, urban life, and urban governance in practice.

Through a case study of the Xi’an-Xianyang integration initiative, we will try to get a better sense of why Chinese policymakers have turned toward new modes of urban and regional policy-making, and how this is remaking urban landscapes. Far from being empty slogans, national and provincial policies for building a bigger, more integrated, and more competitive “Xi’an International Metropolis” appear to have had major consequences in practice–for approaches to urban planning and new town development, for the building of public infrastructure, and for urban service provision and living environments. It is more debatable, however, whether policies in Xi’an are achieving their stated aim of building a more rational system of urban governance and laying a more sustainable foundation for urban growth.


Social Housing in China: Explorations, Practices, and Dilemmas

Presented by: Prof. Yifan Yu

Since the implementation of housing reform in the 1990s, China’s urban commodity housing market has been gradually established and is now relatively well developed. Meanwhile, urban social housing in the country has also continuously undertaken explorations and practices, formulating its own system of policies and building techniques, albeit at a comparatively slower pace and has yet to fulfill the enormous needs of the citizens in reality. However, with strong interventions and directives set by the central government in recent years, there has been a surge in the quantitative production of social housing, resulting in the emergence of new and unexpected dilemmas. Through interpretations of China’s social housing policies and a presentation of various social housing case studies, this session seeks to provide a systematic summary and analysis of the contemporary urban social housing system in China and its developments.


Course Summary; Student Presentations for Phase 4: Team Project

Multiple, often highly contrasting, stories can be told about China’s urbanization. As we draw this course to a close, we present alternative narratives of China’s urbanization, and collectively re-package the dialogues, lectures, and idea notes in different frames of reference following these narratives.

Course Info
As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
group_work Projects
notes Lecture Notes
assignment Presentation Assignments
assignment Written Assignments