From the Cold War Front Line to the Global City: Everyday Politics in Urbanization of Boat People's Settlement, Xiamen

From the Cold War Front Line to the Global City: Everyday Politics in Urbanization of Boat People's Settlement, Xiamen
Yongming CHEN


Thesis Report by Professor David Dernie, Chair of the Thesis Assessment Committee

This excellent thesis brings together a rich social and political history to the development of Xiamen that transforms from the Cold War front line to the global city. It represents a unique and highly informative knowledge and analysis, a significant contribution to the field. It is an in-depth original piece of scholarship.

The work explores social, cultural, economic and political themes as complex drivers of architectural and urban change. It is well researched and exceptionally well analyzed. The approach to cross-disciplinary thinking and the subsequent structure of the work represents a significant endeavor. The focus on 'the everyday' is a fresh perspective on China's urbanization research.

The methodology is multi-disciplinary (spatial analysis, anthropology, sociology, socio-cultural history, semi-structured interviews, on-site observations, archival work, around newspapers, periodicals of the early Republic of China, archives of fisherman during the Cold War). Additionally, official documents, statistics, demographic data, and typo-morphological transformations inform the 'invisible metamorphosis of the visible city' - the human and political agency of urban change.

The consequence of this thesis is an illumination of the many layers of influence in Chinese urbanization. Taking Xiamen harbor as the significant save study, it argues that urbanization is a 'mass utopian movement'. In doing so, the thesis ultimately helps us rethink/reconceptualize urban space and urban change in China.

The Chapters are all thoroughly researched, presented and referenced. Illustrations are well selected and presented within the text for easy reference. This is good practice. Excellent reconstruction drawing and analytical photographs.

In the first chapter, the movement of the boat people onto the land and the evolution of Ruan family dwellings is particularly informative. As is the overlapping of the formal and informal processes. The narrative continues in the second chapter - that explores cross-border migration and the evolution of fishing temples in the early days of socialist China. the subsequent demolition of the temples as a consequence of a new economic framework is also illuminating.

Chapter 3 focuses on the Cold War years. The detailed study (especially the shipyards identified by US Military satellite) is highly informative, as is the description of the Front Line Urban-Rural Dual Track System, the military importance of the fishing boats, the militia, and economic competition in the Taiwan Strait. Here the spatial consequences are at a geographical scale.

Chapter 4 shifts scale and describes the development of the village as a tourist destination and the 'building a beautiful China'.

Finally, Chapter 5 on the fishing temples and religious development (in particular two temples in the Xiamen harbor) is intriguing in its exploration of the relationship between politics, spiritual entrepreneurship and local identity in the context of urban change.

As a whole, the thesis could have been judiciously edited but is nevertheless a tour de force in its entirety.


Yongming CHEN

Defended in


PhD defended at

The Chinese University of Hong Kong






Urban / Rural
War / Peace