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A city of future past: urban planning and urban construction in northeast China after the Communist Revolution

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This paper examines how industrial enterprises and ordinary people participated in construction of cities in the early years of the People’s Republic of China (1949 to present), especially between 1952 and 1957. Much of the past scholarly literature on urban planning in the early PRC focused on the state bureaucracy. By contrast, I explore how urban-planning policies were implemented at the ground level, by focusing on the case of Anshan – a major steel industrial city in Manchuria (northeast China) that had previously been constructed as a Japanese colonial city prior to 1945. To examine the construction and reconstruction of this city, I draw upon a wide range of newly available sources, including interviews, local newspapers, official municipal histories, and confidential government reports. My paper begins with a brief overview of the establishment of the PRC city-planning bureaucracy, which is followed by a discussion of the process and outcomes of urban construction. I then discuss the population movement to Anshan from the countryside, and how this contributed to issues of housing shortages in the city. Altogether, this re-examination of the Chinese urban political economy demonstrates that local-level negotiations among various actors, including lower-level officials, enterprise managers, and even migrant workers, lay at the heart of urban construction in Mao-era China.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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