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Beautifying the Street: The Demise of Street Vegetable Markets in Tianjin, China

Authors: Jonathan Bratt*, Arizona State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, China
Keywords: street, market, aesthetics, china
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


On a visit to Tianjin in summer 2019, I was surprised to find that the street vegetable markets near my residence had all disappeared since my last visit a year earlier. A new indoor market had opened near one former street market, and a second one was under construction. Over the past year, Tianjin’s Hebei District government had implemented what it called a “beautiful character, beautiful appearance” (lizhimeiyan) campaign to revamp the district’s numerous vegetable markets. One government publication referred to the old street markets as “dirty, disordered, and lacking” (zangluancha) and declared that the new indoor markets would be “attractive and [of good] quality" (youyanzhiyouqizhi). This enforced retreat threatens the thousand-year-old institution of street markets in China under the aegis not only of economic and social development but also of the aesthetic transformation of the street, at a time when street life in Tianjin and other cities is increasingly moving into sanitized indoor shopping and entertainment centers. This paper critically evaluates the legitimation discourse surrounding the campaign and discusses the implications for socioaesthetic life in Tianjin.

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