Urbanizing China

China urbanized 350 million people in the past 30 years and is poised to do it again in the next three decades. China’s urbanization is immense and rapid but largely “out of sync”. This subject poses three questions: 1) To what extent are multiple interpretations of urbanization desynchronized in China—causing tensions and discontinuities between people and land, between economy and environment, between urban financing and urban form, and between locals and migrants? 2) What might differentiate the next 30 years from the past, both in terms of the evolving nature of the challenges and the variegated responses in urban governance, both formal (e.g. planning and policies) and informal, across China’s 600+ cities? 3) What differentiates China from other countries in their equivalent urbanizing historical periods? And what may China’s experience offer for the rest of the world? The subject treats China’s urbanization as the joint result of natural socioeconomic processes and conscious actions by governments, markets and the public. One overarching theme is the intricate interaction between state and market in China’s context, yielding a variety of state-market “cocktails” devised and experimented in different cities in response to local problems, each involving a multi-layered projection onto urban space.

Instead of covering the various topics individually (land, housing, transportation, energy, environment, migration, finance, urban inequality, …), this course is structured to three clusters that examine the connections between these multiple functional domains. The subject will evolve continually to keep pace with the dynamics of Chinese cities, engaging students and guest speakers to provide critical inputs. 

A Reflective Dialogue: Classes will be organized as a semi-structured dialogue in the similar form of NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook. Programming of each class includes:

  • Jinhua opens the topic (10 min)
  • Guests present the case (15 min)
  • Dialogue (30 min): Jinhua challenges the guests; students participate in the debates
  • Guests reflect on the discussion (10 min)
  • Jinhua concludes (5 min)
  • Students write in-class idea notes (10 min, details below)

So far confirmed are 15 guest speakers from MIT, Tufts, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Tongji and Tsinghua. Jinhua will be the critical commentator and aim provide 3~4 generic logics that bind the dialogues into a coherent story. 


Can be taken for 6 or 12 units, please see syllabus