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Posts Tagged ‘China’

In a compelling essay on China’s urbanization project, Hyun Bang Shin argues, in part, that

China’s speculative urbanisation is both an ideological and a political project that disrupts and destroys the lives of the masses, while it is the few that benefits from it (Strategising Discontents, para. 1).

I don’t disagree with the notion that this project is both ideological and political. I also buy without reservation “disrupts.” But I wonder if the word “destroy” does justice to the ideological and political in the sense that it forgets the constructive moment of this project.

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Hebei Domicide

 

One of the things that may make the claiming of the city from below difficult is the impact of urbanization as a pedagogical project on those being disrupted. As I’ve discussed in previous posts (briefly) and in my recently completed dissertation (at length), they, like the city’s neighborhoods themselves, are not only being destroyed. They are also being built into something entirely new. Of course I have now gone a step too far with “entirely.” Is there something in the remains of the city and the old socialist man — some resource of critique and/or solidarity — to be drawn upon such that the right to the city might be won? If I’m not mistaken, this question lies at the centre of Shin’s essay. I suggest you have a look yourself if interested in the answer.

Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents.

via Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents.

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The recommendations here are pretty mundane*: give peasants rights over land to encourage consolidation and innovation; reform hukou to give people equal social rights; make services more efficient. Points two and three are hard to argue with as principles. Point one, of course, is seriously debatable.

Maybe it’s this early Saturday morning talking, but I found this piece somewhat underwhelming. Thoughts:

First: Is this really all World Bankers have to offer? Reform a policy that divides your entire population into two classes (yes, more complicated than that) and consigns one to relative disadvantage? Why didn’t I think of that! Improve your public services? Hm?! Get the mayor of Beijing on the horn! It seems there is poor service at the motor vehicles office!

Second: the Chinese government has been all over these problems and solutions for years. There is nothing here that they don’t already know and apparently ascribe to. Of course planning and doing are two different things.

Anyway, have a look for yourself if you’re interested in pat solutions to deeply entrenched problems.

http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/bert-hofman-highlights-the-institutional-reforms-needed-to-keep-migration-on-track-and-inequality-in-check

* In defense of mundane solutons, I offer them quite regularly myself!

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My recently completed dissertation offers my own take on the process of land conversion, and I plan to pen a series of posts on the process of urbanization more generally. What interests me, of course, is not only the conversion of rural to urban land, but also the conversion of “rural lands in the city” to properly urban neighbourhoods, not to mention (and here this sentence is really getting out of hand because this my actual primary concern) the conversion of “ruralites” of both kinds into urbanites.

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I’ve commented a bit on these processes in a couple previous posts (this one and that one), but haven’t yet pursued the topic at length in this venue. For some perspective on the activities of peasants opposed to the process of conversion as currently conceived, have a look at this piece on a pitchfork rebellion in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. I do have a book chapter coming out sometime this year, and I’ll be sure to talk more about that when it is released.

For now, have a look at the Wall Street Journal (Land Sales: The Ever-More Lucrative Habit China’s Officials Just Can’t Kick – China Real Time Report – WSJ.) for some bare stats on land conversion and the addictions of local officials to the money to be earned in the process.

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A recent post on a blog I read is mostly intended for a crowd of academics, but I think the message is one that a general audience might also find thought provoking. There is a trend (or perhaps habit), more obvious in certain academic disciplines/fields than others, to see the fact of multiple perspectives (social, cultural, or theoretical in origin) as stripping us of our license to make moral claims about the behaviors or conditions we see in the world. Ponder for a moment the absurdity of looking at the picture linked here and and concluding, “Who am I to pass judgement on this situation? Perhaps this fellow is deeply attached to living on the streets.

This is something I struggle with not only in my work on China, but in my life in China and within a Chinese family. As a non-Chinese (i.e, culturally and in terms if citizenship), it is both the hardest and easiest thing of all to pass judgement on those things I find objectionable or even disgusting. It can be very difficult to avoid either a reflexive unreasonableness grounded in bigotry or ignorance or a total lapse into cultural/moral relativism.

The writer of this post insists that social scientists make themselves irrelevant if they refuse to take on the “messiness” they encounter by at least proposing that such messes are bad in some way or another and ought not to be allowed to persist. I would suggest that it is not just academics who face this problem. Don’t we all have an obligation to say no to (and do something about) those things we find repugnant? Of course the positions we take up will be disputable and will themselves be vigorously opposed in some quarters. But isn’t the initial step of proposing something opposable the most human and humanizing thing we can do?

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I’m not sure how I feel about this development. If you’ve ever been to China, you’ll know that there are always more than enough police, security guards, and military personnel around that one never feels entirely unsafe. That sense of security is, of course, in many ways illusory, although it is a cliche to say that this is because the police themselves are the more worrisome threat. Indeed, police indifference seems to be the more serious problem, as was the case one day about ten years ago when I saw a man with a massive head injury ignored as he staggered down the road in front of the public security bureau (not their job!) and subsequently honked off of the road by a police cruiser.

No doubt this move has little significance for those already intent on thumbing their noses at the powers that be. These people are only too aware of the semi-concealed power and potential violence of state security forces. But if Chinese police are to become more armed, how will this change the way they are viewed by everyday folk? In my experience and that of most under most circumstances, Chinese police are not threatening at all, though they may be profoundly annoying in certain capacities.

I do realize that this is not the experience of every foreign resident and local. I don’t have dark skin. I don’t tend to wander the streets at night in a drunken state. And I haven’t been doing anything (intentionally) illegal or (obviously) politically threatening. Still, that police don’t carry weapons makes them seem less threatening than your average officer in any given Canadian city. If you’ve noticed as I have the increasingly robust, armoured look of police uniforms (not to mention weapons array and the physique and demeanour of officers themselves) in recent decades, you’ll know what I mean. A City of Edmonton police officer for good or bad just looks and often acts like someone not to be messed with. This isn’t to say that you’re more likely to run afoul of police in Edmonton than the average Chinese city. Of course that depends largely upon a combination of who you are*, what you’re doing**, and what officer you happen to cross paths with that day***. Still, I would much rather run afoul of an officer with no gun (and maybe a notepad) than one with a pistol, taser, club, bullet proof vest, and cruiser with 400 (?) horsepower under the hood.

All of which begs the question: is Edmonton really that much more dangerous than Shijiazhuang?

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*     race, class, gender, age, homeless vs. not, etc.
**   protesting, stealing, j-walking, loitering outside the public library wearing dirty clothes, collecting bottles with a stolen shopping cart, stealing investors’ money
*** for example, if you are an average Edmonton semi-homeless person riding a bottle-collecting bicycle and your are trying to use a crosswalk blocked by a right turning police cruiser, you should not make the mistake of mentioning to the wrong officer on the wrong day that he is committing a traffic violation. Said officer might turn on his lights, drive down the wrong side of the road in order to apprehend you for…something or other. Like I said, wrong officer, wrong day.

China’s Police Will Carry Guns Unlike Any Others – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

via China’s Police Will Carry Guns Unlike Any Others – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

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If so, please don’t move it to Shijiazhuang, a city that tops the list of most polluted cities in China, if not the world. Don’t be deceived by rankings that show the city anywhere but at the top. Usually cities near or above it on the list are either part of its hinterland or downwind.

The air isn’t always bad in Shijiazhuang, but you’ll be lucky to find a day when it’s not…unless you’re my uncle and aunt, who found three miraculously clear days on their visit. Fortunately the terrible air is balanced by the welcoming and generous attitude of the great people of this city.

See this story for a discussion of the problem of pollution, a proposed solution, and some obvious objections to the idea (here is another)

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Top polluted cities in China at the moment I captured this image. Shijiazhuang is 4th, but most of the other cities on the list are either part of the SJZ’s hinterland or “downwind.”

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A rare blue sky day allowed us to capture this shot at sunset. Yes, those are apartment buildings right in the shadow of those cooling towers. If we could pan to the left we would see apartment blocks in even closer proximity to plants like this one.

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Have a look at this piece by an old hockey friend in Beijing. The object of his attention is not “education” in the common sense of the term, but taken as a pedagogy of everyday life or diffuse education in Bourdieu & Passeron’s sense, a number of interesting points are made.

Gervais has lived in China for a good long time, as becomes clear from the article itself, and has a “foreign” perspective — based on diverse experiences and roles — second to none. To be frank, Gervais is not a great hockey player, but his writing on China seems as effortless as his on-ice work is not.

If you don’t read french, Google Translate does a pretty good job of things.

Chine: objet de désir : article – Revue Argument.

via Chine: objet de désir : article – Revue Argument.

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