Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Extent of in Situ Urbanisation in China's County Areas: The Case of Fujian Province

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Extent of in Situ Urbanisation in China's County Areas: The Case of Fujian Province

Article excerpt

The emergence and development of in situ urbanisation has been one of the major characteristics of China's urbanisation process since the 1980s.(1)As opposed to the conventional city-based urbanisation dominated by rural-urban migration, in situ urbanisation is a phenomenon where rural settlements and their populations transform themselves into urban or quasi-urban settlements without much geographical relocation of the residents. It started as early as in the 1970s in the form of commune and brigade enterprises,® and has brought tremendous structural and phys- ical changes to vast rural areas in the following decades, leading to increas- ingly blurred distinctions between urban and rural settlements in China, especially in the densely populated coastal areas. It has also greatly pro- moted the development of some 20,000 small towns in China, containing more than 100 million people engaged in rural non-agricultural activities and their family members.(3) Such a pattern of urbanisation has been widely identified in China, especially in the coastal area of Fujian Province, the Pearl River Delta region, and the Yangtze River Delta region, although alternative terms to "in situ urbanisation," such as "rural urbanisation" and "urbanisation from below," have also been used to conceptualise it from different per- spectives. (4) Clearly, a complete understanding of China's urbanisation process will not be achieved if in situ urbanisation is not incorporated into the overall picture.

However, the widespread phenomenon of in situ urbanisation in China's overall urbanisation has not been well recognised, and this has much to do with the inadequacy of the dichotomous approach, which is still dominant in conceptualising urbanisation and in compiling urban statistics both in China and internationally.(5)Under such an approach, settlements and their populations are classified into two categories, namely either urban or rural, and it is assumed that the distinction between the two categories is clear- cut. Only those settlements and their populations strictly meeting the of- ficial urban criteria can be recognised as urban and thus included in official urban statistics; however, differences and changes within each of the two categories, including those resulting from in situ transformation of rural set- tlements and their populations, will not be reflected in the official statistics. Such an approach is still used by the National Bureau of Statistics of China in its recent stipulations concerning urban and rural definitions in statis- tics.(6) According to the stipulations, China's territory is divided into urban and rural areas. The urban areas refer to the neighbourhood committees and other areas within or connected to the built-up areas of the seats of city district governments (in the case of cities divided into sub-districts), the city governments (in the case of cities not divided into sub-district), the county governments, and the town governments; and the isolated special areas of industrial and mining districts, development zones, research insti- tutions, higher education institutions, and the seats of farms and tree farms, which are not within or connected to the built-up areas of any government seats but each of which has a permanent population of more than 3,000. All other areas are referred to as rural areas. Statistics produced according to the above stipulations cannot fully reflect the enormous changes of China's rural areas in terms of population densities, employment structure, and physical environment caused by in situurbanisation, leading to a serious under-estimation of the true extent of rural-urban transformation in China. Examined in an international context, in situ urbanisation is not a phe- nomenon unique to China. As early as in the late 1980s, Terry McGee and his colleagues identified the in situ transformation of quasi-urban settle- ments and the increasingly important role of local non-agricultural activities in rural-urban transformation in what they termed desakotaregions in the areas adjacent to some Asian mega-cities. …

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