While urban public space has been systematically conceptualized and theorized in Western scholarship, the ways in which it has acted as a system of ideologies, values, practices and meanings in modern Chinese cities remain poorly understood and theorized. This chapter attempts to develop a tentative conceptualization of urban publicness in modern China, by tracing its meaning-loaded, yet contested trajectory of evolution from the late Qing period until the post-socialist present. It does so by working out a comprehensive, but critical and reflexive, synthesis of academic work on public space in modern Chinese cities in both Chinese and English languages. It argues that for the notion of public space to be more relevant to cities beyond the West, its conceptualization needs to extend beyond the normative underpinnings of civic and political ideals.
Junxi Qian and Shenjing He
This chapter first reviews the proliferating literature on the thesis of the right to the city and sketches out its theoretical contour. It then moves to a brief review of studies which use the notion of the right to the city for understanding grassroots urban activisms in a global context. Finally, this chapter applies the framework of the right to the city to evaluate the recent status and progress of grassroots activism of rural migrants. We argue that, because migrant organizations are seriously co-opted by state authority, they are still far removed from the ideal of struggling for the right to the city. Nevertheless, drawing from a migrant NGO in Beijing, we suggest that grassroots activism contributes to a nascent struggle for the right to the city, characterized by the collective identity of a new working class, and consciousness of the subsumption of lived experiences by the logic of capital.