Recent Issue – Vol 84, No 3 – September 2011

Special Issue

Becoming Urban: Periurban Dynamics in Vietnam and China


Becoming Urban: Periurban Dynamics in Vietnam and China – Introduction

By John Friedmann, University of Vancouver, Canada

Keywords: urbanization; urban-rural relations, periurban dynamics, state interventions

The new urbanization in Vietnam and China, a result of the opening of their economies to the world, the consequent relaxation of central planning, and the sweeping reforms that have had a transforming effect on these countries, has focused attention on the encounters of an ever-expanding urban with the densely populated rural zones—the periurban—that surround large cities in the region. The effects of horizontal expansion on property rights, land use, occupations, social interaction, and the physical environment have been ongoing for between 20 and 30 years and have been profound. Some of them are the object of the four case studies that provide the empirical substance of this special issue.

The research reported here was not part of a larger project. It brings together four studies that happened to address interesting aspects of the encounter between urban and rural in two neighbouring countries with socialist regimes that are on the same development trajectory. We do not claim to make vast generalizations, but note the specificities of each case as worthwhile in their own right.

In her case study of a village on the outskirts of Hanoi, Labbé provides a micro-history that focuses on resistance/negotiations as villagers defend their territory against the encroaching city. Harms, an anthropologist, looks at how city and countryside are discussed in everyday speech by the inhabitants of a village on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, where urban and rural are understood symbolically as “inside” and “outside” and are conceived as standing in a dialectical relationship. Shieh’s study of a suburban village of Nanjing concerns the new forms of governance that are experienced as the village becomes progressively integrated with the city. Finally, Abramson and Qi report on the reconstruction of ethnic villages on the far periphery of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, that were devastated by the 2008 earthquake, and are now being rebuilt as potential tourist destinations for Chengdu residents. A concluding chapter by Leaf comments on all four case studies, drawing wider comparisons to the urbanization experience in East And Southeast Asia.

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Urban Destruction and Land Disputes in Periurban Hanoi during the Late-Socialist Period

By Danielle Labbé, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Keywords: Periurban, land politics, popular resistance, Hanoi, Vietnam

This paper discusses the recent rise in land disputes in the rapidly urbanizing outskirts of Hanoi. It presents emerging social conflicts as resulting from a clash between the rules and practices of urbanization as devised and regulated locally by periurban people and the territorialisation project that municipal authority and land developers try to impose on them. At the heart of these conflicts is the compulsory acquisition of large tracts of periurban land by state-backed developers and reforms of local institutions that facilitate this process. Using the case of a village recently annexed to the city, this paper examines how local people resort to contentious politics to resist this urban encroachment. The paper finds that groups of elderly assumed a leading role in crafting and deploying acts and discourses of resistance, relying on state-promoted values to support their claim. It further suggests that, while periurban villagers acknowledge the necessity of integrating their locality into Hanoi’s urban fabric and governance system, they rise up when this process threatens moral relationships inherited from the prerevolutionary and collectivization periods.

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Material Symbolism on Saigon’s Edge: The Political-Economic and Symbolic Transformation of Hồ Chí Minh City’s Periurban Zones

By Erik Harms, Yale University, USA

Keywords: Vietnam, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Space, Periurban

Cites and their fringes are both symbolic and material, imbued with subjective meanings as well as objective physical attributes. In this paper, I show how the physical and social transformation of periurban space in Hồ Chí Minh City emerges from and also contributes to a dynamic interaction between symbolic understandings of space as well as material, political economic forces that transform space in concrete ways. On the symbolic level, I show how conceptions of “inside” versus “outside” as well as rural versus urban play into Vietnamese meaning systems that lend a sense of conceptual order and coherence to the larger organization of urban space. In rapidly urbanizing contexts like Hồ Chí Minh City, the periurban fringe is dynamic and ever-changing, and the political-economic forces of real-estate speculation, city planning, and infrastructure development interact with Vietnamese notions of what an ideal city might look like. This paper shows how periurban spaces in different parts of Hồ Chí Minh City can best be understood as spaces of “material symbolism,” places where the material attributes of space, the political-economy of development, and the symbolic meaning attributed to space all restructure each other in dialectical fashion. Just as symbolic meanings frame how residents perceive these emergent spaces, these same spaces also transform the symbolic meaning of Vietnamese cities.

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Becoming Urban: Rural-Urban Integration in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province

Leslie Shieh University of British Columbia, Canada

Keywords: urbanization; suburban village; rural-urban relations; China


1958 poster “The people’s communes are good”

By investigating the transformation of Nanjing’s suburban countryside, this paper examines the relationship between the city and its immediate periphery and the political underpinnings of rural-urban integration. It traces the changing status of a suburban village over the last half-century from a vegetable-producing collective to a remnant rural settlement in a predominantly urban landscape. Its evolution brings to light the condition of a protracted, incremental, and still incomplete urbanization. “Becoming urban” is more complex than the measurable shifts to nonagricultural activities and the urban household registration. This paper discusses how the transition has been shaped by changing national policies on rural-urban relations and local development pressures and demands on rural resources.

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“Urban-rural integration” in the Earthquake Zone: Sichuan’s Post-Disaster Reconstruction and the Expansion of the Chengdu Metropole

By Daniel Benjamin Abramson, University of Washington, USA and

Yu Qi, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China

Keywords: Disaster Recovery; Wenchuan Earthquake; Village Urbanization; China

One of the more recent movements in China’s policy for periurban planning and development is the pursuit of “town and country integration (cheng xiang yi ti hua)”. The officially re-framed approach to planning suggests possibilities for the official reconsideration of developmental practice, but entrenched conditions of governance; land, environmental and developmental policy; and the planning profession itself constrain these possibilities. Perhaps no other context in China illustrates these constraints more dramatically than the reconstruction effort underway in Sichuan following the earthquake of May 12, 2008. Cultural, environmental and economic differences among settlements in the earthquake zone vary widely, and local and national leaders frequently mention the opportunity the recovery presents for innovative and sustainable development, but the “cataclysmic” nature of reconstruction investment, and the extremely rapid and construction-dominated approach to recovery has prevented planners from considering local conditions or alternative approaches. If the official earthquake response has served to propel urbanization along pre-existing trajectories, local geographical, historical and cultural conditions nevertheless assert themselves, even if informally. The uniquely dense, dispersed, and agriculturally productive Chengdu plain has already shaped a national discourse on urban-rural relations. The expansion of Chengdu’s urban region into the narrow valleys and minority ethnic settlements across the Longmen Mountains presents new and unpredictable challenges for considering how city and country are related.

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Periurban Asia: A Commentary on “Becoming Urban”

By Michael Leaf, University of British Columia, Canada

Keywords: Periurban, periurbanization, Asian urban transitions, comparative analysis

This commentary on the papers collected in this special issue identifies certain recurring themes from the papers and examines these in light of the urban transitions now being experienced by Vietnam and China, as elsewhere in Asia. These include: tensions in state-society relations as expressed in processes of periurbanization; the effects of the expansion of market relations in land and urban development; the persistence of the discursive categories traditional and modern in the analysis of periurbanization; and a consideration of what the periurban might imply vis-à-vis conventional notions of urban and rural, now and into the future. This discussion of recurring themes from the papers is prefaced by some reflections on how our choices of terminology may influence our theoretical understanding of a situation, event or condition. The specific question here is what is the difference between periurbanization and suburbanization, and it is argued that the distinction between the two may derive more from who is using the terms and the contexts within which they are situated than from specific denotative meanings of the words.

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Books Reviewed In This Issue

Asia General

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS IN ASIA: Balancing Without Alliances. By Vidya Nadkarni. Reviewed by Mel Gurtov

FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS IN THE ASIA PACIFIC. Edited by Christopher Findlay and Shujiro Urata. Reviewed by Rahul Sen

PATHS TO DEVELOPMENT IN ASIA: South Korea, Vietnam, China and Indonesia. By Tuong Vu. Reviewed by Mark Beeson

CHINA AND INDIA IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION. By Shalendra D. Sharma. Reviewed by Stuart Corbridge

CHINA IN OCEANIA: Reshaping the Pacific? Edited by Terence Wesley-Smith and Edgar A. Porter. Reviewed by Philippa Brant

GETTING THE TRIANGLE STRAIGHT: Managing China-Japan-US Relations. Edited by Gerald Curtis Ryosei Kokubun and Wang Jisi. Reviewed by Scott Snyder

SOUTHEAST ASIA AND THE RISE OF CHINESE AND INDIAN NAVAL POWER: Between Rising Naval Powers. Edited by Sam Bateman and Joshua Ho. Reviewed by Harsh V. Pant

BANDUNG 1955: Little Histories. Edited by Antonia Finnane and Derek McDougall. Reviewed by Christopher J. Lee


China and Inner Asia

CHINA IN THE 21ST CENTURY: What Everyone Needs to Know. By Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom. Reviewed by Stephanie Donald

COMPETING CHINESE POLITICAL VISIONS: Hong Kong vs. Beijing on Democracy. By Sonny Shiu-Hing Lo Reviewed by Jing Sun

ALLIES OF THE STATE: China’s Private Entrepreneurs and Democratic Change. By Jie Chen and Bruce J. Dickenson. Reviewed by Yongnian Zheng

CHINA’S NEW SOCIAL POLICY: Initiatives for a Harmonious Society. Edited by Zhao Litao and Lim Tin Seng.Reviewed by Sophia Woodman

CHINA’S RISE IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE. Edited by Brantly Womack. Reviewed by Dong Wang

AS CHINA GOES, SO GOES THE WORLD: How Chinese Consumers Are Transforming Everything. By Karl Gerth. Reviewed by Li Zhang

ART IN TURMOIL: The Chinese Cultural Revolution, 1966-76. Edited by Richard King with Ralph Croizier, Shengtian Zheng and Scott Watson. Reviewed by Bonnie S. McDougall

MAINSTREAM CULTURE REFOCUSED: Television Drama, Society, and the Production of Meaning in Reform-Era China. By Zhong Xueping. Reviewed by Ruoyun Bai

SHANGHAI’S DANCING WORLD: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919-1954. By Andrew David Field. Reviewed by Roman Cybriwsky

Northeast Asia

JAPAN IN WORLD HISTORY. By James L. Huffman. Robert Eskildsen 564 AN INTRODUCTION TO JAPANESE SOCIETY. By Yoshio Sugimoto. Reviewed by Bernard Bernier

IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP IN JAPAN. By Erin Aeran Chung. Reviewed by Richard Sidldle

EXPORTING JAPAN: Politics of Emigration to Latin America. By Toake Endoh. Reviewed by Zelideth Rivas

MINORITIES AND EDUCATION IN MULTICULTURAL JAPAN: An Interactive Perspective. Edited by Ryoko Tsuneyoshi, Kaori H. Okano and Sarane Boocock. Reviewed by Yoko Yamamoto

POSTWAR HISTORY EDUCATION IN JAPAN AND THE GERMANYS: Guilty Lessons. By Julian Dierkes. Margaret Dorothea Mehl Reviewed by Margaret Dorothea Mehl

NATURE’S EMBRACE: Japan’s Aging Urbanites and New Death Rites. By Satsuki Kawano. Reviewed by Leng Leng Thang

MANUFACTURING MODERN JAPANESE LITERATURE: Publishing, Prizes and the Ascription of Literary Value. By Edward Mack Reviewed by Hosea Hirata
TERASAKI HIDENARI, PEARL HARBOR, AND OCCUPIED JAPAN: A Bridge to Reality. By Roger B. Jeans Reviewed by Bill Sewell

JAPANESE WOMEN, CLASS AND THE TEA CEREMONY: The Voices of Tea Practitioners in Northern Japan. By Kaeko Chiba Reviewed by Kristin Surak

THE KOREAN ECONOMY IN TRANSITION: An Institutional Perspective. By O Yul Kwon Reviewed by Paul W. Kuznets

SOUTH KOREA SINCE 1980. By Uk Heo, Terence Roehrig. Reviewed by Daniel C. Kane

ADOPTED TERRITORY: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging. By Eleana J. Kim Reviewed by Tobias Hübinette

CONSUMING KOREAN TRADITION IN EARLY AND LATE MODERNITY: Commodification, Tourism, and Performance. Edited by Laurel Kendall Reviewed by Don Baker

DELIVERANCE AND SUBMISSION: Evangelical Women and the Negotiation of Patriarchy in South Korea. By Kelly H. Chong Reviewed by Sean (Chong Bum) Kim

ENGAGEMENT WITH NORTH KOREA: A Viable Alternative. Edited by Sung Chull Kim, David C. Kang. Reviewed by Peter M. Beck


South Asia

RISE OF THE PLEBEIANS?: The Changing Face of Indian Legislative Assemblies. Edited by Christophe Jaffrelot and Sanjay Kumar. Reviewed by Tariq Thachil

MINORITY GOVERNMENTS IN INDIA: The Puzzle of Elusive Majorities. By Csaba Nikolenyi. Reviewed by Sanjay Ruparelia

HUMAN RIGHTS AND PEACE: Ideas, Laws, Institutions and Movements. Edited by Ujjwal Kumar Singh. Reviewed by Mohammad Sajjad Hassan

POWER AND INFLUENCE IN INDIA: Bosses, Lords and Captains. Editors: Pamela Price, Arild Engelsen Ruud. Reviewed by Pahi Saikia


Southeast Asia

CULTURES AT WAR: The Cold War and Cultural Expression in Southeast Asia. Edited by Tony Day and Maya H.T. Liem. Reviewed by Hyung-Gu Lynn
INVENTING VIETNAM: The United States and State Building, 1954-1968. By James M. Carter. Reviewed by Robert R. Tomes

IN BUDDHA’S COMPANY: Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War. By Richard A. Ruth. Reviewed by Michael Jerryson

COMMUNION: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam. By Kim Fay. Reviewed by Delores B. Phillips

CONSTRUCTING SINGAPORE: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project. By Michael D. Barr and Zlatko Skrbi. Reviewed by You Yenn Teo
SURVIVING AGAINST THE ODDS: Village Industry in Indonesia. By S. Ann Dunham; edited and with a preface by Alice G. Dewey and Nancy I. Cooper. Reviewed by Ward Keeler

REFRACTED VISIONS: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java. By Karen Strassler. Reviewed by Maurizio Peleggi

Australasia and the Pacific Region

BEING ROTUMAN IN AUSTRALIA: Cultural Maintenance in Migration. By Agnes Hannan. Reviewed by Donald H. Rubinstein

A BIRD THAT FLIES WITH TWO WINGS: The Kastom and State Justice Systems in Vanuatu. By Miranda Forsyth. Reviewed by Benedicta Rousseau

LOOKING THROUGH ANCESTORS’ EYE-HOLES: Epistemic Body-Mind-Spirit and Discourse Formations Among the Lau’m of West Sepik, Papua New Guinea. By Paschal Yolwo Ebiwe Tumai Ounau Wia Waisi. Reviewed by Roger Ivar Lohmann

MY GOD, MY LAND: Interwoven Paths of Christianity and Tradition in Fiji. By Jacqueline Ryle. Reviewed by Lynda Newland

MIGRATING GENDERS: Westernisation, Migration, and Samoan Fa’ afafine. By Johanna Schmidt. Reviewed by Susan J. Wurtzburg

HAWAI’I AT THE CROSSROADS OF THE U.S. AND JAPAN BEFORE THE PACIFIC WAR. Edited by Jon Thanes Davidann. Reviewed by Glenn Petersen

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