The Hegemony of Urbanisation: Questioning the Production of Space by the State in Beijing’s Green Belts

Author: 

Yimin Zhao

PhD defended at: 

London School of Economics and Political Science

Summary: 

This thesis aims to investigate the state question in the context of China’s urban change, with Beijing’s green belts as the study site. Formerly places where the socialist-modernist vision would be realised, the green belts have been made central to the state-led and land-based urban accumulation strategies during the last two decades of urban metamorphosis. By interrogating the power dynamics associated with the green belts under change, this thesis illustrates the agency and agents of the urban metamorphosis and uncovers the territorial logic of the state as it adopts various governmental techniques to accumulate capital and sustain legitimacy in and by urban space. Drawing on a series of ethnographic data and archival records collected from fieldwork between 2014 and 2015, this thesis presents four main arguments. First, there is a gap between the form and the content of the green belts, with the former crystallising the Chinese national ethos of modernity in an ideologically driven way, while the latter is shaped by dynamic politico-economic conditions. Second, the green belts have since the 1990s been rendered an exceptional space for state-led urban accumulation, through a mechanism which I label “landed ecology,” whereby land-oriented manoeuvres combat the ecological concern. Third, the agency of the state lies in social and spatial processes where an urban-oriented territorial logic prompts the state’s actions; this logic is compelling, for it constitutes some prime territory-based governmental techniques that internalise vigorous social relations and processes. Fourth, the local villagers are also involved, but in a de-politicised way; they are turned into hegemonic subjects by the state with new governmental techniques, and this reshaping undermines their political potential to seek the right to difference. Building on these arguments, this thesis concludes that the state’s land businesses are not a purely economic project but rather a total project: these actions are indeed inscribed in the Party-state's consistent concern to work miracles and sustain its legitimacy, which requires a hegemony of urbanisation to be established with ideological resources, ecological masks and the social fabric as a whole.

Defended: 

2017

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