Yuanshuang Zhang

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State-led Gentrification or Marginal Reform: "Chaiqian" in a Post Work-unit City, Chongqing

Relocation in Chinese cities has received attention from researchers of urban studies over recent years due to its specificity. While as a discipline originated from studies of western cities, researchers tend to use terms and paradigms that in some cases, create misconceptions. Gentrification for example, is a term based on a post-industrial city context, with an urbanization-suburbanization background, which is not always the case in Chinese cities.

The objective of this research is to put gentrification of Chinese cities, namely “Chaiqian”, into a proper historical and social framework, and identify human shifts in the process. Despite some similarities, “Chaiqian” means relocation after replacement, focusing on the “gentrifiee”, while gentrification on the contrary. This study will address the role of “Chaiqian” in a transformation context, particularly with regard to local-government-led gentrification, which is usually misunderstood as state-led gentrification, as a marginal reform (Coase, Wang:2012) in the post work-unit era. Focusing on the impact of disruption of work unit cities, it will ask specifically what happened to the work unit gentrifiee after relocation, and if the units did not face demolition, whether they have become the new gentrifier?

This research is based on a case study of Chongqing. As a typical industrial city, the collapse of enterprise-based social security that accompanied the reform of state-owned enterprises has a huge impact on its transformation. The disintegration of residential welfare combined with the increased mobility of the rural population, created a complex demographic composition in the geography of relocation. In such processes, housing vested interests and victims emerge simultaneously, and identifying such human shifts is key to the study of gentrification in China.

Zhang Yuanshuang is a doctoral student at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. She is currently working on the gentrification of China, which is an intersection of urban studies and regional studies, with the aim of integrating regional studies and area studies.

Zhang has recently published work in Language, Area and Culture Studies(Jan,2020), and Japan Association for Asian Studies(Oct,2020). In particular, Zhang studied the historical framework for the study of gentrification in China, a case study of Chongqing municipality, with a theoretical framework of the middle class. The middle class in China is in a more disadvantaged position in society compared to countries such as the United States. Whereas in studies of gentrification in European and American cities, the middle class shapes the city as the subject of gentrifier, the situation is more complex in China, where the middle class plays both roles.

More importantly, the new middle class, as a class in the making, is a reshaping of the class of the planned economy, with both inherited and transformed aspects. This is an important point of entry for the study of gentrification in China.


Tokyo University of Foreign Studies