China's Urban History


Spring 2017
Thomas Hahn
3335 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
MW 8:30-10
Class Number: 

This course introduces students to China's urban history from its origins down to the present day. For much of human history, down to ca. 1850, China was undoubtedly the most highly urbanized society in the world. For example, the Roman empire's urban population never exceeded twelve percent of the total population, while as much as twenty-seven percent of the registered population lived in cities and towns in the Han empire (roughly the same time). In post-Mao China, there has been rapid migration from the countryside to major urban centers, with 56% of China's population now living in urban settings, a dramatic upsurge from the 1990s, with 26%. And the CCP ultimately aims to integrate about 70% of China's population, about 900 million people, into cities by 2025. This course poses a series of fundamental questions, among them: What are the main theoretical approaches to urban life and urban development? What spatial and social organizations are distinctive to urban settings? In what ways does urban life represent special challenges and possibilities to residents and authorities? How does "urban development" relate to economic development and social policies? Are there distinctive modes of urban living in China, in the past or in the present, and if so, what are they? What urban forms are particular to China and to Chinese-speaking communities? How do such urban forms and urban institutions structure everyday life? What explains the rapid rise in urbanization migration patterns in the post-Mao era, and how do today's local governments deal with the influx of so many new and disparate groups?

The course lectures and readings will focus on three main topics in succession: the methodologies typically deployed when studying urban history (which are not restricted to the China field), case studies of two major capitals in the pre-modern period, Chang'an and old Beijing; and several case studies of contemporary cities. In short class assignments, students will be encouraged to move beyond the examples presented by the course's two teachers (Michael Nylan, a historian, and Thomas Hahn, a cultural geographer and consultant) to explore topics of their own devising.