The Bartlett School of Planning


Yang Zhao

Research subject

Transformation of Legitimacy in Chinese Urban Development: Discourse Change and the Role of the Party-state System in Shanghai Residential Community Redevelopment

Primary supervisor: Dr Jung Won Sonn
Secondary supervisor: Dr Fangzhu Zhang
Starting date: January 2022
Projected completion date: January 2026

There have been many efforts to explain China urban development from political economy perspectives. This body of literature has been successful in enlightening the local government’s active pursuit of land profits as the major driving force of rapid urban redevelopment. However, this literature has been silent about the fact that, like any other state, Chinese government needs certain level of support from the populus when deciding the development policies and national strategies. This thesis fills that gap by studying how Chinese government uses urban planning projects to enhance its legitimacy in urban development. In recent years, the national government emphasizes inclusive participation, justice-oriented planning, the equal distribution of urban resources and social wealth under the slogan of common wealth. These changes aim to respond to current questions with new discourses in urban area. This thesis investigates the role of discourse in shaping urban development policies and practices in China, with a case study of Shanghai’s residential community redevelopment. Based on discourse analysis on data collected from fieldwork and other data sources, this thesis proposes that urban discourses play a big part interacting with power and diverse interests. Acting as a tool to legitimize large-scale urban transformation, current urban discourses highlight demands to improve living standards and achieve common prosperity, which diverts popular attention from capital accumulation-based urban scenarios and problems arising from them. To achieve this shift, resources of the political party, administrative bodies, and society are mobilized and allocated national into redevelopment practices. More importantly, urban redevelopment is treated as an important task that tightly aligns with other development strategies for a better society. Therefore, the scenarios of urban practices are shaped.


Yang is a PhD student at the Bartlett School of Planning. Before joining BSP, she graduated from Peking University with her master’s degree in China Studies and she completed her bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Tongji University. Her research interests encompass urban political economy and urban governance in the context of new technology, particularly focusing on the Global South.

Please feel free to contact Yang if you are interested in her topic!