Turning steel into sunshine: planning for postindustrial health in a southwestern Chinese city

Authors: Travis Klingberg*, NYU Shanghai
Topics: China, Environment, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: ecological placemaking, health tourism, postindustrial society, China, governance
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 4:50 AM / 6:05 AM
Room: Virtual 16
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the past few years, the industrial city of Panzhihua has taken incremental steps to propel itself out of a history of resource extraction and environmental degradation, and into a future of clean air, green plants, and therapeutic sunshine. Like cities and towns across China, Panzhihua has been identifying and developing local cultural, historical, and environmental resources to serve an expanding service sector economy. However, unlike most cities – and remarkably for the site of one of China’s most well-known steel plants, where manufacturing still accounts for over half of local GDP – Panzhihua is positioning itself as an “international sunshine health tourism destination.” This paper reviews the resources, plans, and landscapes identified for building a new health tourism and health care economy in Panzhihua. Despite the incongruity of imagining an environmentally-degraded steel town transformed into a health and wellness destination, this reflects a strategy recognizable elsewhere in China, what I call “ecological placemaking,” where the biophysical world provides the infrastructure and the aesthetic for creating environmentally friendly, economically productive, and more expediently governable places.

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