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François Gipouloux (ed.), China’s Urban Century: Governance, Environment and Socio-Economic Imperatives,

Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015, 287 pp.
Nicolas Douay
p. 91

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1François Gipouloux, director of research emeritus at CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research), has carried out numerous studies on geography and territorial development in Asia, especially in China. This work, which he coordinated, builds on a collective study financed by the European Union entitled “UrbaChina: Sustainable Urbanisation in China – Megatrends towards 2050” (Urba China 7e PCRD), which brought together European and Chinese scholars from 11 research institutions for four years. The multidisciplinary research programme considered China’s sustainable urban development, especially focusing on four agglomerations: Shanghai, Chongqing, Kunming, and Huangshan. Its main objective was to analyse the major currents capable of structuring urbanisation in China over the ensuing decades and to create the scenarios around conceptions of sustainable urbanisation.

2The book under review considers the processes of Chinese urbanisation, the states and challenges in order to examine the advent of a Chinese society that will be mostly urban from now on. Urbanisation has constituted a visible manifestation of the accelerated economic development unleashed since 1978 through economic reforms and opening. Given its strong effects on the environment, resources, and public health, this urbanisation has posed and will continue to pose serious problems when it comes to sustainable development.

3The urban stakes and challenges dealt with in this book are diverse. They concern the institutional foundations of urbanisation, the environmental and social contexts of urban spaces, heritage conservation, and conflict between tradition and modernity in urban lifestyles, as well as the regional and international competitiveness of Chinese metropolises. The analyses rely on national and local statistical data, as well as on interviews carried out during field studies in Shanghai, Chongqing, Kunming, and Huangshan.

4Dwight H. Perkins’s preface recalls the context as well as the stakes of Chinese urbanisation following the country’s opening. While urban dwellers represented a mere 17.9% of the population in 1978, they now make up the majority (53.7% in 2013), with the proportion expected to rise, according to World Bank forecasts, to 70% by 2030.

5Gipouloux’s first and introductory chapter describes how the urbanisation process has come about, before pointing to different stakes and challenges of actual changes and at the same time introducing the various contributions in the book. He concludes by examining the specificity of China’s urbanisation movement by placing it in the international context.

6The book is then organised in four parts made up of different chapters. The first considers the evolution of institutional foundations of the urbanisation process. In Chapter 2, Gipouloux and Li Shantong present the manner in which cities have been formed as well as the consequences of the extension of urban areas. In Chapter 3, Pu Yongjian and Xiong Ailun examine the relations between local and central authorities, looking at the case of Chongqing, which has grown very rapidly over the past two decades. In Chapter 4, Athar Hussain and Gong Wei consider the role of public actors in land regulation and the different modes of property ownership in the urbanisation process. In Chapter 5, Kam Wing Chan looks first at the origins of the hukou system, whose objective was to control internal migration in order to slow down urbanisation and thus constrain expenditure on infrastructure, and then considers the more contemporary effects on social stratification as well as reforms introduced since 2012. Finally, in Chapter 6, Chi-Han Ai, Miguel Elosua, and Sébastien Goulard present the difficulties faced by migrant workers in finding housing, illustrated by the multiplication of “villages” within the urban milieu, and the need to develop social housing.

7Part II of the book analyses the social and environmental stakes. In Chapter 7, Luis Balula and Olivia Bina examine the promise of “eco” and “low carbon” while local leaders are mainly judged by their capacity to attain the objectives of economic growth. In Chapter 8, Chen Hongfeng and Wang Jingya evaluate the dilemma between development and environmental conservation through the case of Huangshan City in the throes of intense development of its tourist activities. In Chapter 9, Yuan Zhigang and Tan Jing analyse social security reform and its impact on urbanisation. Finally, in Chapter 10, Miguel Elosua and Ni Pengfei observe the implementation of new housing programmes in Shanghai and Chongqing. They explain, among other things, how the functioning of these programmes reflects the structures and economic dynamics of the two agglomerations.

8Part III is concerned with heritage conservation and the confrontation between tradition and modernity in Chinese cities. In Chapter 11, Françoise Ged and Shao Yong consider Shanghai’s historic heritage and the challenges of recognition, innovation, and appropriation in a context of accelerated socio-economic change. In Chapter 12, Chi-Han Ai and Orianne Pillet observe the challenges linked to reconversion of industrial wasteland through the case of Dadukou District in Chongqing. They highlight the mechanisms of cooperation between local authorities, state enterprises, and foreign companies. Finally, in Chapter 13, Stephan Fauchtwang, Zhang Hui, and Paula Morais present the logic of community organisation of popular classes.

9The last section, Part IV, deals with the challenges of regional and international competitiveness for Chinese megacities. In Chapter 14, Hu Ying presents the challenges faced in financing urbanisation through the case of Kunming. He specially focuses on the complexity of relations between local and central authorities and the fiscal constraints they pose for urban development. Finally, in Chapter 15, Du Debin, Huang Li, and Xu Wei analyse the evolution of Shanghai at different local and global levels in the context of its advent as a global city.

10This book will be useful for scholars and students interested in China who wish to understand the stakes and challenges of its urbanisation process. Focusing on four metropolises representing the major transformation of China, the Chinese and European contributors to the book offer a vast panorama of issues in the field of urban research in China.

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Bibliographical reference

Nicolas Douay, « François Gipouloux (ed.), China’s Urban Century: Governance, Environment and Socio-Economic Imperatives, », China Perspectives, 2016/4 | 2016, 91.

Electronic reference

Nicolas Douay, « François Gipouloux (ed.), China’s Urban Century: Governance, Environment and Socio-Economic Imperatives, », China Perspectives [Online], 2016/4 | 2016, Online since 01 December 2016, connection on 26 February 2020. URL :

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About the author

Nicolas Douay

Nicolas Douay is associate professor of urbanism at the Université Paris Diderot and is currently on assignment with the CNRS at the French Centre for Contemporary China (CEFC) (

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