As China modernizes, its population becomes more urban. In fact, planners and demographers estimate that by 2030 about 60% of the then 1.5 billion Chinese will live in cities (as of the end of 2007, the ratio is around 47%). Thus Chinese cities undergo huge structural and functional changes these days. As urban planning (guihua 规划) is closely related to central planning (jihua 计划), with very little wealth being generated in the non-competitive rural areas, China experiences internal migration towards urban centers of an unprecedented scale.
For the sake of argument, one could divide the evolution of the Chinese city into the following (very broad) categories:
1. Traditional, walled cities ("Yao/Shun era" to the 1930s); very few remaining, such as Xian; negative example: Beijing.
2. The socialist city (1950s to mid-1980s); boosting the percentage of blue-collar workers, affordable housing, urban communes, work-unit (danwei 单位) type, discreet enclosures, broad, central avenues and large squares, Soviet style exhibition halls.
3. The hybrid city (1860s to today); western design principles meshed with Chinese traditional street grids and architecture; Shanghai, Tianjin are good examples. Many of these were the first to develop a modern infrastructure.
4. The global city (mid-90 to today) - complete with CBD inhabitated by sufficient number of TNCs, large-scale commercial and industrial zoning regulations, international airport, a multiplicity of urban cores, internationally linked informal network hubs, etc. Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai come to mind.
The images provided here depict the ongoing urban transformation of Chinese cities since 1981 (the first time I visited China). Please also check out the Tianjin and Fuzhou related galleries for similar images.
Thomas H. Hahn
Ithaca & Beijing
© Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images