The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Governmentality and urbanism: Reflections on five decades of change in China

07 March 2023, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm

Chinese urbanism

A Bartlett dialogue between Prof. Le-Yin Zhang (DPU) and Prof. Fulong Wu (Bartlett School of Planning), chaired by Prof. Julio D. Dávila (DPU)

Event Information

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Prof Julio Davila


Roberts Building LT 106
Torrington Place

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This dialogue is hosted by DPU’s ‘State and Market’ Research Cluster. Please note that the event will be followed by a reception in the South Cloisters, Wilkins Building, to which all participants are invited.

It is a well-known fact that, over the past five decades, China has been transformed. Much of the change can be traced back to Deng Xiaoping’s far-reaching market economy reforms of 1979 and subsequent years. These reforms unleashed perhaps the largest migration in world history when hundreds of millions of rural residents moved to cities in search of jobs in newly created export-oriented factories and earned China the title of ‘the world’s factory’.

In less than two decades, small fishing villages and remote towns turned into enormous mega cities. Roads, schools, hospitals, residential buildings, shopping centres, factories and government buildings were built at high speed to accommodate, feed, tax, transport, heat and heal the newcomers. The demand for energy and raw materials far exceeded anything the world had ever seen before. Towns and villages changed beyond recognition. Today’s young generation of urban dwellers have little memory of what these places looked like before 1979. By mid-2000s, heavy pollution and the country’s vast carbon footprint became central problems for government officials and eventually led to a programme of decarbonisation.

In this stimulating dialogue, two distinguished China scholars based in UCL’s Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment will draw on their personal memories and considerable scholarship, including two recently published books, to reflect on the massive changes in urban China over the past five decades.

Le-Yin Zhang is Professor of Urban Economic Development at UCL’s Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU). While her main professional interests lie with urban economies and urban economic development strategies in developing countries, she is a keen observer and long-standing researcher of post-Mao socio-economic transformations in China and the arts of government that underpin these transformations. Her most recent book, Conducting and Financing Low-carbon Transitions in China (Edward Elgar, 2021), investigates China’s performance in making the low-carbon transition since the mid-2000s, and how changing Chinese governmentality in general, and concerns with carbon in particular, have bolstered this performance. Le-Yin’s other publications include Managing the City Economy: Challenges and Strategies in Developing Countries (Routledge, 2015) and Finance for City Leaders (co-edited, UN-Habitat, 2016).

Fulong Wu is Bartlett Professor of Planning and a joint coordinator of the China Planning Research Group at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning. His research interests include urban development in China and its social and sustainable challenges. His book Planning for Growth: Urban and Regional Planning in China (Routledge, 2015) provides a new interpretation of state-centred urban development and governance in post-reform China. He received the Outstanding International Impact Prize from UK ESRC in 2013. His 2022 book, Creating Chinese Urbanism: Urban Revolution and Governance Change (freely downloadable from UCL Press) reveals the profound impacts of marketization on Chinese society and the consequential governance changes at the grassroots level.