Housing privatisation and the return of the state: changing governance in China

I am honoured to give keynotes at recent conferences on urban China and China urban development. Please download the full paper (Pdf) and presentation (PPT).

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Lectures given by David Harvey in Nanjing University, May 2018

I am very pleased to hear Professor David Harvey is going to give a series of lectures again in Nanjing University, where I studied my undergraduate and master in the 1980s. I don’t have the luck to listen now. My own research has been inspired by his works. Here are three pieces of my homework – they are not very readable and ridiculously simplistic and empirical, but just trying to make sense of Chinese “urban processes”.

Fulong Wu. 1995. “The changing urban process in the face of China’s transition to a socialist market economy” Environment and Planning C 13: 159-177. [Pdf]

Fulong Wu. 1997. “Urban restructuring in China’s emerging market economy: towards a framework for analysis” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 21: 640-663. [Pdf]

Fulong Wu. 1999. “The game of landed-property production and capital circulation in China’s transitional economy” Environment and Planning A 31: 1757-1771. [Pdf]


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new paper in Urban Geography

Fulong Wu (2018): Housing privatization and the return of the state: changing governance in China, Urban Geography, DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2018.1440126


Housing privatization seems to suggest a process of state retreat. However, this is not always the case in China. This paper examines an estate that is mixed with work-unit housing and municipal public housing to understand its changing governance. It is intri- guing to observe that the state has had to return to this neighbor- hood to strengthen its administration following housing privatization, because the attempt to transfer responsibility to commercial property management failed. The neighborhood gov- ernance, however, has transformed from one based on work-units to a government-funded administrative agency. The return of the state has been achieved through professional social workers, and it is struggling to operate, leading to the alienation and disempo- werment of former state work-unit residents. The side effect of this approach to governance is that, through encouraging market provision and commercial operation which is not fully working, reciprocal activities are restrained. Since housing privatization, the neighborhood has deteriorated from a brand-new estate into an ‘old and dilapidated neighborhood’ in less than 25 years.

download the full text at:


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new paper in Antipode

Chung, C. K. L., Zhang, F. and Wu, F. (2018), Negotiating Green Space with Landed Interests: The Urban Political Ecology of Greenway in the Pearl River Delta, China. Antipode. doi:10.1111/anti.12384



Land-centred urbanisation has precipitated shortage of green space in Chinese cities. However, in the Pearl River Delta, an ambitious greenway system has recently managed to flourish. It is intriguing to ask how this has become possible. Informed by the perspective of urban political ecology, this paper finds that the greenway project in the Pearl River Delta represents a set of politically realistic endeavours to alleviate urban green space shortage by adapting to, rather than challenging, powerful landed interests. Three interlocking dimensions about land—municipal land quota, rural land use claims, and real estate development—have influenced why, where and how greenways have been created. Based on these findings, we argue that research on China’s politics of urban sustainability necessarily needs to understand the country’s land politics.

以土地为中心的城市化导致了中国城市绿地的短缺。然而, 一个宏大的绿道系统最近在珠江三角洲蓬勃发展。这个绿道系统如何能够发展起来, 成为一个引人注目的问题。借助城市政治生态学的研究视角, 本文发现珠江三角洲的绿道项目应被视作一系列务实的政治尝试, 它通过适应而非挑战强大的土地利益来缓解城市绿地短缺。为了理解绿道项目的起因、位置和建设方式,我们将焦点放在城市土地配额、农村土地使用权和房地产开发这三个相互关联的土地维度上。基于这些研究结果, 我们认为要研究中国城市可持续发展的政治, 首先需要认识中国的土地政治。

Full paper is accessible from: 


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Regenerating informal housing in cities


By Fulong Wu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-12 07:24
People watch a house being demolished in Wenling cityk, Zhejiang province, after its owner reached an agreement with the local government. [Photo provided to China Daily]











Urban “demolition” is perhaps a formulation of fast growing cities. Some informal residential buildings have been demolished after the recent fire in Beijing. But instead of demolishing such housing better precaution can be taken against fire risks by making urban management more scientific and reasonable.

Demolition is a temporary fix, not a viable solution. The policy of demolishing housing to control population growth in any region lacks scientific evidence. Rather than help, it actually harms the vitality of a city, exerts detrimental impact on the livelihood of low-income families, and brings inconvenience to its residents.

A city is an incredibly complex and organic structure-more so if it is the capital of a country. A dynamic and prosperous metropolis requires diverse jobs and a lively urbanism.

Large-scale manufacturing is resource-demanding and does not need to be located inside central areas. Social services, however, are essential for the daily operation of a capital. Indeed, nowadays global cities see the symbiosis of financial managers and catering staff.

Chinese cities have been economically competitive, partly owing to the availability of affordable services. Compared with other places, urbanization was confronted with less resistance in China because it was regarded as wealth creation, from which existing land occupants received a share and migrants found jobs. As seen in other developing countries, restricting low-skilled migrant workers from informal and formal sectors has a negative implication for business.

Demolition may appear to be a swift solution. But in reality, it does not solve the root cause of informal development, because there is a need for low-end services and consequently a demand for affordable housing.

Instead of wholesale demolition, a more sustainable approach would be incremental urban regeneration. Informal settlements such as urban villages are developed spontaneously by the market, which indicates the constructions are economically viable and even profitable.

The problem is that unregulated developments may create a substandard and unsafe living environment. More guidance and assistance from city planners are therefore needed for such construction. These places could be upgraded with the resources of their landlords to make sure the residential areas meet safety and liveable standards.

In comparison with large-scale renewal through demolition, which in many cases ends up in real estate development, incremental regeneration does not require a large sum of capital. Consequently, incremental and in situ upgrade leads to affordable housing of liveable standards rather than an asset for investment.

The upgrading can take place in stages by removing only buildings that are blocking major road networks or jeopardizing health and safety requirements. The improvement of the environment and basic public facilities would lead to incremental upgrading of properties by landlords. The municipal government only needs to impose city-planning standards on the refurbishment and improvement of buildings. It could provide further assistance through planning specialists, while village collectives could take responsibility for housing maintenance and management.

As shown in the upgrading of urban villages in South China’s Guangdong province, which now offers a rather decent standard of rental housing, community-based redevelopment has the capacity to carry out construction without the involvement of large real estate developers. This model of incremental regeneration will change the current approach of using real estate projects to develop housing. These current projects only lead to expensive “commodity housing”, real estate speculation, local government debt and the potential financial risk of property bubbles. Large-scale demolition and renewal creates a gap in affordable rental housing, which is eventually filled up by informal development.

In other words, managing a liveable low-cost housing environment in the capital will require progressive and good governance.

The author is Bartlett Professor of Planning, University College London.

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Research Associate

The Bartlett School of Planning seeks to appoint a Research Associate with a background in Planning, Geography or an appropriate relevant discipline. The appointed researcher will be required to work closely with the project PI (Prof. Fulong Wu) and CIs (Prof. Nick Gallent and Dr. Fangzhu Zhang) to examine the financialisation of urban development (housing, land and infrastructure) in China and assess the associated financial risks to China. The research aims to provide a deeper understanding of the financialisation process, financing Chinese economic growth and urban development and its current transformation at multiple scales. It also examines household behaviour in financing housing consumption; financing for housing and land development projects; and infrastructure financing alongside the macroeconomic implications of financialisation more generally. Appointment at Grade 7 is dependent upon having been awarded a PhD (Salary, inclusive of London allowance, £34,635 – £41,864 per annum) (or having the equivalent experience). If this is not the case, the initial appointment will be at Grade 6B (£30,316 – £31,967 per annum) with payment at Grade 7 being backdated to the date of final submission of PhD thesis. The post will be for 18 months starting 1st January 2018 until 30th June 2019.


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neighbourly relation between migrants and locals, Open Access in Urban Geography

Affective neighbourly relations between migrant and local residents in Shanghai, is in an issue of Urban Geography, Issue 8 and is Open Access.

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