“China and the City”:
Chinese Students and Scholars discussion at Boston University
As part of its yearly theme “Asia and the City”, Boston University Center for the Study of Asia co-hosted with the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association a public event on “China and the City” on November 23, 2013. This workshop discussed the challenges and opportunities of urbanism in China, and gathered around forty BU faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and BUCSA visiting scholars.
After introductions in the morning by Haisu Yuan, President of the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association, and workshop coordinator Taiyi Sun (Ph.D. candidate in the BU Department of Political Science), Professors Eugenio Menegon (Director of Boston University Center for the Study of Asia) and Enrique Silva (Urban Affairs and City Planning, BU Metropolitan College) commented on a thought-provoking presentation by Professor Jinhua Zhao (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT).
In his presentation, entitled “China’s Urbanization: Immense, Rapid, but Out of Sync – Is China an Outlier?” Zhao pointed out that China’s urbanization is similar to that in developed countries in terms of its level, its rate of change, its relationship with the economy, and its growth trajectory, following the historical trends of OECD countries. But China is indeed unique in comparison with other developing countries, in its scale and density, in its internal complexity and in its peculiar institutions, specifically the “hukou” (residence system) and land systems.
In order to make the event both intellectually stimulating and accessible to the general public, the program included a story telling section in addition to the academic panel. Story telling exists ubiquitously among almost all cultures and is one of the best ways to examine cities through a private, micro lens. The workshop, therefore, merged the public and private narratives and provided a fuller, experiential picture of cities in transition in China.
Six Chinese BU students and guests shared their stories on urbanization and their hometowns: Taiyi Sun (Hangzhou); Chen Cheng (Beijing), Xiaopei Luo (Chongqing), Juntao Zhang (Shenzhen), Jianying Zhu (Shanghai) and Yuxi Chang (Shenyang). Every participant was thrilled about the rapid developments in his or her hometown, but was also sad that a few special places and features of their cities, as recalled in their childhood memories, had vanished.
In his closing remark, Professor Menegon emphasized that local governments in China should protect the individuality of cities during urbanization, avoiding a homogenization of the urban landscape and a loss of cultural, architectural and social diversity.
The online Chinese TV channel Sinovision filmed parts of the event and broadcasted a Chinese-language service on the workshop (波大学生会与亚洲研究中心办论坛 探讨中国城市化进程), available at this link.