Small City China: China’s Urban Transformation Viewed through Former Danwei Communities in Changsha

Authors: Yuyi Wang*, University of Washington-Seattle
Topics: Qualitative Research, Asia, China
Keywords: Asian urbanism, Spatial transformation, Community development, Informal politics, Participation, Inside-out perspective
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Governor's Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Whither China? This has been a huge question for scholars, politicians, and journalists ever since the reforms led by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. While it was first thought to be transforming from communism to capitalism, the views have become complicated; these include socialism and capitalism with Chinese characteristics, employing these ambiguously to mean a negotiation between state-control and the market-oriented at different times. While all social changes were studied to fit nicely within these large perspectives, whatever the categories cannot explain are viewed as half-baked or corrupt. Nihal Perera and Wing-Shing Tang (2016) have argued that these mainstream intellectual approaches and tools employed to understand Asia’s cities have turned urban phenomena into a data within Western theoretical perspectives, making much of the locally generated transformations illegible. The study intends to build inside-out work from local communities in China and understand these large transformations as they are experienced, resisted, negotiated, and produced at ordinary people’s level, from a grassroots perspective, paying special attention to the contributions of local participants and informal politics.

I will examine a market transformation of a former danwei community in Changsha, a city of seven million people in Hunan Province. The project is built upon archival research, participant observations, ethnographic studies, interviews, immersive learning projects, and small interventions.While seeing planning as a broader activity not limited to professional planning and state-led projects, the study will demonstrate how communities were renewed from within and affect China’s transformation.

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