Turning China’s cities with invisible walls into cities of dreams

Chinese migrant workers queue up to buy tickets at a long-distance bus station before going back home for the Spring Festival or the Chinese New Year in Dongguan, Guangdong province, on 15 January 2012. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Kam Wing Chan, University of Washington

During a widely publicised tour of Shenzhen, China, the new head of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, called for the realisation of the ‘Chinese dream’ — a great national revival.

Shortly after that, the Chinese character meng (dream) was voted ‘character of the year’ in an online poll of 50,000 people. Read more…

Can China’s urbanisation save the world?

A Chinese labourer eats lunch at a Beijing construction site. Cheap labour in China, especially migrants who live and work in the cities but retain their rural hukuo status, has helped drive a phenomenal boom in China over the last 30 years. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Kam Wing Chan, University of Washington

Last year, for the first time in Chinese history more people lived in cities and towns than in the countryside. Some 690 million urban dwellers now account for 51.3 per cent of China’s total population.

Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz has said this urban transition will be one of the two main forces shaping the world in the 21st century. Read more…

The limp in China’s great leap

(Photo: author's own)

Author: Kam Wing Chan, University of Washington

With the US economy in the doldrums and Europe’s ongoing debt crisis continuing its downward spiral, analysts are left to wonder if China might be the saviour of the global economy or, rather, whether the country is simply a multitrillion bubble about to burst.

China’s great leap forward in public infrastructure and urban construction had, until quite recently, attracted the breathless admiration — and even envy — of the world, but now its latest frenzy of debt-driven investment and sagging urban housing prices have observers guessing again. Read more…

The myth of China’s urbanisation

behind China’s sparkly modern, urban facade there is one crucial foundation of its prosperity that is unique in modern times and continues to be largely ignored by the business literature: China remains an institutionalised two-tier, rural–urban divided society

Author: Kam Wing Chan, University of Washington

In the popular media and the business world, urbanisation is often cited as the fundamental driver of global economic growth, especially for the next few decades.

The assumption is that a rural–urban shift will transform poor farmers into industrial and office workers, raising their incomes and creating a massive consumer class. Read more…

Making real hukou reform in China

Migrant workers eating and resting sitting on their helmets, on the fence of their constuction site and temporary home (Photo: Flickr user '! ! JJJJJJJ')

Author: Kam Wing Chan, University of Washington

Yes it’s true – hukou (household registration) reform is again back in vogue in China’s ‘post-crisis’ conversations. Premier Wen Jiabao has been talking about it and, unusually the catch phrase has also been placed in the first ‘Central Document’ of 2010. Following the lead of these two sources, hundreds of newspaper articles and commentaries have opined on it in the last few weeks. On March 1, 13 big-city newspapers from 11 provinces in China also made a rare joint appeal for accelerating reform of the hukou system in a co-signed editorial. In sum, the issue is firmly in the spotlight, and hopes have been raised for some real hukou reform.

The hukou system is a big deal in the People’s Republic.  For the past 52 years, the system has served to segregate the rural and the urban populations, initially in geographical terms, but more fundamentally, in social, economic and political terms. Read more…