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Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Photo courtesy of Nicolas Marino

One advantage of China’s top-down approach to urban development is the lack of organized resistance to new projects. Aside from the occasional story of a  lone-ranger hold out protesting imminent demolition of property, China is a nation almost completely devoid of NIMBYs (not in my backyard). This is due largely in part to the collectivist nature of China’s ethnic majority.

That majority is of course the Han people, who comprise more than 90% of China’s overall population. There is a very strong self-identification among the Han, which begets an unspoken but omnipresent social unification. This spirit has been one of the driving forces behind China’s rapid and successful urban development.

Yet as momentum shifts  westward, the outlook for peaceful development looks more uncertain. Whereas the east coast of China consists mainly of Han people, the interior areas are more mixed ethnically. The far west autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang are majority-minority populations. View full post »

Scenes from Chengdu and Shanghai – Two Popular Cities with Expats

Since China reopened its doors 30 years ago, the country has attracted a growing expatriate population. Foreigners (known as laowai in Chinese) choose to call China home for a variety of reasons. Many come for business opportunities while others arrive out of a desire to learn about the language and culture. Whatever the reason, the allure that has intrigued people from outside the Middle Kingdom’s borders for centuries is alive today.

American writer Sascha Matuszak, who has lived in China off and on for ten years, reflects on his own experience as a laowai in a piece for Chengdu Living. He recently moved from Chengdu to Shanghai to take a new job. Relocating from one city to another for opportunity is not uncommon, both for native Chinese and foreigners living in China. View full post »

  • Sascha - yer right, the city does a lot to influence the person and the person stays in the city that influence him to his liking … 😉 nice blog here my manReplyCancel

  • Adam Nathaniel Mayer - Sascha – thanks for being the first commenter on my new blog! I really enjoyed your descriptions of the different types of laowai across China. I’m no doubt a Beijing laowai at heart even though I have spent more time in Chengdu at this point. That being said, after learning how to avoid chomping into the explosive little hua jiao, the Dirty ‘Du has started rubbing off on me. I could get used to it out here. Sorry to see you go man but look forward to hearing more about your new adventure in Shanghai.ReplyCancel

  • Sascha - i’ll be back the food here sucks (cept for the western fare, which is probs the best in the countryReplyCancel

Many economic analysts are convinced that China is now in the midst of a  colossal housing bubble. Wendell Cox thinks otherwise. In a recent NewGeography piece titled China’s Sliver of a Housing Bubble, Cox digs through the various studies surrounding the talk of a housing bubble and focuses in on one particular study conducted by Dr. Wang Xialou for Credit Suisse.

Dr. Wang’s study differs from the others in that it takes into account the ‘grey income’ that is prevalent in China. Grey income is income not reported in official data. Anyone familiar with the earning and spending habits in China knows that under-the-table dealings are standard practice. This makes it difficult to assess real income versus housing prices and decisively conclude whether there really is a housing bubble. View full post »

Foreign Policy magazine confirmed western China’s  growing prominence with an article and photo essay in their September/October 2010 issue on Chongqing. Chongqing is, as the FP subtitle says, “the biggest city you’ve never heard of.” This is probably true, especially for those who are only familiar with the famous cities of Beijing and Shanghai.

Like Beijing and Shanghai, Chongqing is one of China’s four direct-controlled ‘municipalities’ (Tianjin is the fourth one). The four municipalities do not belong to any Province but are under direct control of the central government. In 1997, Chongqing separated from Sichuan Province and became its own municipality. Today, the municipality is huge, with over 30 million people and growing.

Chongqing is a city on the move. As domestic and foreign investment moves west in China, Chongqing’s reputation and global status is going nowhere but up.

Foreign Policy: Chicago on the Yangtze

Foreign Policy: China’s New Tomorrowland

It’s fitting that the inaugural post for the China Urban Development Blog takes place just a week after it was announced that China passed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. What China has been able to do in such a relatively short time period is a testament to the organizational structure of the top-down political regime. Even during a global recession, China steadily kept its factories humming and cities under construction.

Events like the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and this year’s World Exposition in Shanghai showed the world that China is serious about joining the global community. The country is wide open to foreign enterprises and investment, and expatriates from all over now live within its borders.

Yet behind the bombastic coming out parties and stunning economic growth are the ambitions of 1.3 billion Chinese citizens. Since China first implemented ‘reform and opening’ in the late 1970’s, hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrant workers have made the move from countryside village into urban areas to work in factories and help build cities.

China’s rapid urbanization would not be possible without its unique combination of command and control economy and large pool of workers looking to improve their life. Urbanization has achieved the dual goal of rising China’s overall GDP as well as improving the standard of living for millions of its people.

Despite these accomplishments, the country has a long way to go. Per capita income sits at about $3,600 USD – very low by developed world standards. Furthermore, problems still abound in many parts of China particularly the interior areas. Ethnic tensions run high in the western autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. Poor rural areas are prone to natural disasters. Just two weeks ago, Zhoqu County in Gansu Province experienced a devastating landslide, killing over 1,000 people.

China has already shown the world that it can get things done. The next step will be it to continue the momentum by developing the interior urban areas and further improving the life of its people. Leading the way towards this goal are China’s cities – where opportunities abound for those seeking a better life.