Zouping and Chinese Urbanization

by Andrew B. Kipnis

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

From Village to City Cover

“Zhang Shiping (the founder of a large employer in Zouping, China) is our saviour. Along with Deng Xiaoping, he is one of the two “pings” who have brought our family happiness and prosperity.”

“Zouping is a miserable place, all anyone here cares about is money.”

How has Chinese urbanization affected the lives of its formerly rural citizens? In From Village to City, I examine the lives of people who live in a place that has grown from a small town to a mid-sized city over the past twenty five years. As the two quotes suggest, experiences of this social transformation vary greatly. Though the people who now live there now almost uniformly came from villages, their lives and feelings differ depending on whether they used to live in a village that was incorporated into the city as it expanded spatially, a village that is near to (but not inside) the expanding city, or a village that is distant from the city. Their experiences also depend on whether they came to Zouping for blue or white or pink collar jobs (or to start their own business), and on whether they came as unmarried youth or families with children.

In the book, I present the diversity of these experiences while theorizing the patterns of social transformation that Chinese urbanization has entailed. Mindful of criticisms of classic theories of “modernization” and “development,” I nonetheless insist on focusing on the problem of social transformation, that is, the set of interlinked social changes that have occurred during the process of urbanization. Addressing classic problems like alienation, class formation, changes in familial dynamics and the formation of new communities, I theorize these processes as “recombinant”, as always taking from the past as they incorporate the new.

Andrew B. Kipnis is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Culture, History and Language of the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University. From Village to City: Social Transformation in a Chinese County Seat is available for pre-order now.

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