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


Course Meeting Times

Class Sessions: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


No prerequisites

Course Description

China urbanized 350 million people in the past 30 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 subject poses three questions:

  1. To what extent are multiple interpretations of urbanization desynchronized in China—causing tensions and discontinuities between people and land, between economy and environment, between urban financing and urban form, and between locals and migrants?
  2. What might differentiate the next 30 years from the past, both in terms of the evolving nature of the challenges and the variegated responses in urban governance, both formal (e.g. planning and policies) and informal, across China’s 600+ cities?
  3. What differentiates China from other countries in their equivalent urbanizing historical periods? And what may China’s experience offer for the rest of the world?

The subject treats China’s urbanization as the joint result of natural socioeconomic processes and conscious actions by governments, markets and the public. One overarching theme is the intricate interaction between state and market in China’s context, yielding a variety of state-market “cocktails” devised and experimented in different cities in response to local problems, each involving a multi-layered projection onto urban space.

Instead of covering the various topics individually (land, housing, transportation, energy, environment, migration, finance, urban inequality,…), this course is structured to three clusters that examine the connections between these multiple functional domains. The subject will evolve continually to keep pace with the dynamics of Chinese cities, engaging students and guest speakers to provide critical inputs.

A Reflective Dialogue

Classes will be organized as a semi-structured dialogue in the form of NPR’s On Point. Programming of each class session is as follows:

  • Professor opens the topic (5 min)
  • Guest lecturer presents the case (15 min)
  • Dialogue (40 min):
    • Professor interviews the guests (15min)
    • Students join the debates with question and answers (25 min)
  • Guest lecturer reflects on the discussion (10 min)
  • Professor concludes (5 min)
  • Students write in-class idea notes (5 min, details below)


Students take this course for different reasons, and so there are correspondingly different levels of commitments by students. As such, there are three options for fulfilling course requirements.

12 credit 6 credit listener
Class participation

  1. In-class idea notes: 27%
  2. Discussion: 13%

40 Yes Yes Yes
Literature synthesis 20 Yes Yes No

Team project

  1. Idea: Not graded
  2. Proposal: 10%
  3. Draft report: 10%
  4. Final report: 20%

40 Yes No No

Students are expected to deliver multiple presentations: on literature synthesis, on the team project idea, proposal and draft report. Presentations are not graded.

Listeners are welcome on the condition of attending at least 70% of the classes and submitting in-class idea notes.

Class Participation

Active class participation is the essential part of this course. Students are asked to complete the readings before each class, and to be a part of the dialogue during class. It is the hope that some part of each class will trigger the students to think, and that students will make the effort to capture this moment. Post-discussion, students are asked to do so through the submission of in-class idea notes.

While texts relevant to each of the class sessions are provided in the Readings section, below is a list of recommended books for this course:

Wu, Weiping, and Piper Gaubatz. The Chinese City. Routledge, 2012. ISBN: 9780415575751. [Preview with Google Books]

Wu, Fulong, Jiang Xu, and Anthony Gar-On Yeh. Urban Development in Post-Reform China: State, Market, and Space. Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 9780415393591. [Preview with Google Books]

Campanella, Thomas. The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World. Reprint ed. Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. ISBN: 9781568989686. [Preview with Google Books]

Logan, John R., ed. Urban China in Transition. Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. ISBN: 9781405161466. [Preview with Google Books]

Friedmann, John. China’s Urban Transition. University of Minnesota Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780816646159. [Preview with Google Books]

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