Making Rural China Urban

China researcher Mi Shih offers her insight on the new approach to rural development launched by the new regime in 2012, called chengzhenhua, or literally “city- and town-ification”. From The China Story:

Chinese urban planners and policy makers approach chengzhenhua by considering towns and villages as potential sites of transformation. To understand the process by which a rural entity becomes an urban one, we need to consider the institutional reforms that have facilitated this process of transformation. In the discussion below, the Chinese term chengzhenhua will be used to refer to the new policy as the English translation ‘urbanisation’ is misleading for two reasons. First, ‘urbanisation’ is already being used to translate dushihua 都市化, from which the new policy is intended to mark a departure. Secondly, ‘urbanisation’ evokes the image of an expansion of existing urban cores. As such, it forecloses possibilities of imagining the rural as a potentially urban site.

[…] The use of chengzhenhua, rather than dushihua, to describe urbanisation indicates that the new policy is focused on towns (zhen 鎮). Administratively, towns fall under the rural government system in China and are therefore subjected to rural institutions such as collective land, rural household registration and village governance. However, towns can be populous and prosperous. There are over 20,000 towns in China, and the average population of the largest 1,000 of these is over 70,000. In coastal provinces, populations of well-developed and powerful towns (qiangzhen 強鎮) can exceed 500,000 people, as is true of Humen town 虎门镇 in Guangdong province. In interviews and explanations given by officials,[2] a major objective of chengzhenhua is to encourage and accelerate urbanisation in large towns like Humen. Similarly, twenty-seven large towns in Zhejiang province have been selected as experimental sites (shidian 试点). Planners in each of these towns are currently considering which urbanisation path best suits their situation. [Source]

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