Understanding China's Urbanization

Understanding China's Urbanization

The Great Demographic, Spatial, Economic, and Social Transformation

Li Zhang, Richard LeGates and Min Zhao

China’s urbanization is one of the great earth-changing phenomena of recent times. The way in which China continues to urbanize will have a critical impact on the world economy, global climate change, international relations and a host of other critical issues. Understanding and responding to China’s urbanization is of paramount importance to everyone. This book represents a unique exploration of the demographic, spatial, economic and social aspects of China’s urban transformation.

Chapter 8: Towns and rural urbanization

Li Zhang, Richard LeGates and Min Zhao

Subjects: asian studies, asian development, asian geography, asian urban and regional studies, development studies, asian development, migration, economics and finance, urban economics, geography, asian geography, cities and urban geography, human geography, politics and public policy, migration, urban and regional studies, migration, urban economics, urban studies, planning


City and countryside in China are not antagonistic but organically blended, containing an integral network of towns (Zhèn) between cities and countries. Towns are neither cities nor counties but a unique settlement type halfway between a city and a county. The noted Chinese sociologist Xiaotong Fei, whose PhD supervisor was anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, considered rural towns a distinct social entity, at a higher level than a rural community—a community mainly composed of a working population not engaged in pure agricultural work (Fei, [1984]2004). Fei considered towns different from rural communities in terms of geography, population, economics, and the environment, but intimately related to the surrounding countryside. Other Chinese scholars agree with Fei that Chinese society is neither urban nor rural, but best conceived as a structure made up of cities, towns, and villages (Gong, 2005).

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