International Development Planning Review

An introduction to planning China's communities: between people and place

International Development Planning Review (2019), 41, (3), 247–267.


This introductory essay to the special issue on community development and planning in contemporary China outlines the contours of a 'community turn' in the nation's urban planning and policy. We trace the historical roots and contemporary debates of community development and planning in China with reference to three problematics that run through the articles in this special issue – community, people and place. We explore how community is defined, how people are interpellated and engaged in planning and development processes, and how the specificity of place is dealt with in China's predominantly top-down system of governance. The increasing socio-spatial unevenness of China's urban and rural communities has demanded a diversification of community-level planning modes, approaches and participants, exposing the limitations of the party-state's continuing scientistic paternalism.

Access Token


Abu-Lughod, J. (1998) ‘Civil/uncivil society: confusing form with content’, in M. Douglass and J. Friedmann (eds) Cities for citizens:planning and the rise of civil society in a global age, Chichester, Wiley, 227–238. Google Scholar

Brain, D. (2005) ‘From good neighborhoods to sustainable cities: social science and the social agenda of the new urbanism’, International Regional Science Review, 28(2), 217–38. Google Scholar

Bray, D. (2005) Social space and governance in urban China: the Danwei system from origins to reform, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press. Google Scholar

Bray, D. (2006) ‘Building “community”: new strategies of governance in urban China’, Economy and Society, 35(4), 530–49. Google Scholar

Castells, M. (1983) The city and the grassroots: a cross-cultural theory of urban social movements, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press. Google Scholar

Chamberlain, H. B. (1993) ‘On the search for civil society in China’, Modern China, 19(2),199–215. Google Scholar

Chang, Y., Lau, M. and Calogero (2019) ‘Participatory governance in China: analysing state-society relations in participatory initiatives in Suzhou’, International Development Planning Review, 41(3), 329–52. Google Scholar

Chen, A. (2014) The transformation of governance in rural China, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Chen, D. (2002) ‘Yi ren wei ben de chengshi guihua yu shequ fazhan’ [Urban planning and community development by taking people as the root], Guihua shi [Planners], 8, 20–22. Google Scholar

Cho, M. Y. (2013) The specter of ‘the people’: urban poverty in northeast China, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press. Google Scholar

Davidoff, P. (1965) ‘Advocacy and pluralism in planning’, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 31(4), 331–38. Google Scholar

Du, Y (2014) ‘Cunzhuang jianshe jinfang “qian cun yimian”’ [Village construction needs to beware of ‘all villages looking the same’], Nongcun, nongye, nongmin [Villages, Agriculture, Peasants], 6, 6. Google Scholar

Epstein, E.J. (1994) ‘Law and legitimation in post-Mao China’, in P. B. Potter (ed), Domestic law reform in post-Mao China, Armonk, NY, M. E. Sharpe, 19–55. Google Scholar

Fan, W. and Zeng, Z. (2002) ‘Lun yi ren wei ben de chengzhen tixi guihua’ [A discussion of urban system planning by taking people as the root], Chengshi guihua [City Planning Review], 6, 46–50. Google Scholar

Fei, X. (1992[1967]) From the soil, the foundations of Chinese society: a translation of Fei Xiaotong’s Xiangtu Zhongguo, G. G. Hamilton and Z. Wang (trans.), Berkeley, CA, University of California Press. Google Scholar

Fei, X. (1999) Fei Xiaotong wen ji [Collected Essays of Fei Xiaotong] (Vol. 12), Beijing, Qun yan chu ban she [Qunyan Publishing House]. Google Scholar

Ferguson, J. (1990) The anti-politics machine: ‘development’, depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Fishman, R. (1977) Urban utopias in the twentieth century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier, New York, Basic Books. Google Scholar

Flyvbjerg, B. (1998) Rationality and power: democracy in practice, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar

Forrest, R. and Yip, N.-M. (2007) ‘Neighbourhood and neighbouring in contemporary Guangzhou’, Journal of Contemporary China, 16(50), 47–64. Google Scholar

Friedmann, J. (2005) China’s urban transition, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press. Google Scholar

Fu, Q. and Lin, N. (2014) ‘The weaknesses of civic territorial organizations: civic engagement and homeowners associations in urban China’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(6), 2309–27. Google Scholar

Gans, H.J. (1959) ‘The human implications of current redevelopment and relocation planning’, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 25(1), 15–26. Google Scholar

General Office of the State Council [Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Guowuyuan Bangong Ting] (2011) Guojiayuan bangongting guanyu yinfa shequ fuwu tixi jianshe guihua (2011–2015 nian) de tongzhi [Notification from the State Council Secretariat regarding the distribution of the community service system construction plan (2011–2015)], (accessed 1 May 2018). Google Scholar

Gold, T. B. (1990) ‘The resurgence of civil society in China’, Journal of Democracy, 1(1), 18–31. Google Scholar

Goodpaster, G. S. (1968) An introduction to the community development corporation’, Journal of Urban Law, 46, 603–66. Google Scholar

Han, K. (2013) ‘Yin di zhi yi jinxing nongcun shequ jianshe’ [Constructing new rural communities by suiting measures to local conditions], Henan gongcheng xueyuan xuebao [Journal of Henan Institute of Engineering], 1, 19–21. Google Scholar

Harvey, D. (2005) A brief history of neoliberalism, New York, Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Hazelzet, A. and Wissink, B. (2012) ‘Neighborhoods, social networks, and trust in post-reform China: the case of Guangzhou’, Urban Geography, 33(2), 204–20. Google Scholar

Heng, C. K. (1999) Cities of aristocrats and bureaucrats: the development of medieval Chinese cityscapes, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press. Google Scholar

Hillier, J. (2000) ‘Going round the back? Complex networks and informal action in local planning processes’, Environment and Planning A, 32(1), 33–54. Google Scholar

Hu, W. (2001) ‘Chengshi guihua yu shequ guihua zhi bianxi’ [Differentiating between urban planning and community planning], Chengshi guihua huikan [Urban Planning Forum], 1, 60–63, 80. Google Scholar

Huang, L. and Xu, J. (2013) ‘Chengshi shequ guihuashi zhidu de jiazhi jichu he juese jiangou yanjiu’ [Research on the foundational values and role creation of community planner systems], Guihua shi [Planners], 9, 11–16. Google Scholar

Huang, P. C. C. (1993) ‘“Public sphere”/“civil society” in China? The third realm between state and society’, Modern China, 19(2), 216–40. Google Scholar

Jacobs, J. (1961) The death and life of great American cities, New York, Vintage Books. Google Scholar

Kallus, R. and Law-Yone, H. (2000) ‘What is a neighbourhood? The structure and function of an idea’, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 27(6), 815–26. Google Scholar

Kang, Y. and Zhang, J. (2006) ‘Renben zhuyi chengshi guihua fansi’ [Rethinking humanist urban planning], Chengshi guihua xuekan [Urban Planning Forum], 1, 56–59. Google Scholar

Karl, R. E. (2010) ‘The flight to rights: 1990s China and beyond’, Telos, 151, 87–104. Google Scholar

Kennedy, J. J. (2002) ‘The face of “grassroots democracy” in rural China: real versus cosmetic elections’, Asian Survey, 42(3), 456–82. Google Scholar

Kostof, S. (1994) ‘His majesty the pick: the aesthetics of demolition’, in Z. Çelik, D. Favro and R. Ingersoll (eds) Streets: critical perspectives on public space, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 9–22. Google Scholar

Leadbeater, C. (1997) Civic spirit: the big idea for a new political era, London, Demos. Google Scholar

Leitner, H. and Sheppard, E. (2016) ‘Provincializing critical urban theory: extending the ecosystem of possibilities’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 40(1), 228–35. Google Scholar

Li, C., Day, J. and Wang, M. (2019) ‘More than opportunistic victims: the multiple profiles of Chinese urban nail households’, International Development Planning Review, 41(3), 353–73. Google Scholar

Li, X. and Liu, R. (2019) ‘Urban villages as incubators of creative clusters: the case of Guangzhou’, International Development Planning Review, 41(3), 375–98. Google Scholar

Lin, N. (1995) ‘Local market socialism: local corporation in action in rural China’, Theory and Society, 24(3), 301–54. Google Scholar

Liu, J. (1997) ‘Zhuanbian renshi guannian, cujin renju huanjing de kechixu fazhan’ [Change knowledge and concepts, promote the sustainable development of residential environments], Chengshi guihua [City Planning Review], 5, 26–28. Google Scholar

Lu, D. (2006) Remaking Chinese urban form: modernity, scarcity and space, 1949–2005, London, Routledge. Google Scholar

Ma, W. (2005) ‘Chengshi guihua benzhi de huigui’ [A reconsideration of the essence of urban planning], Chengshi guihua xuekan [Urban Planning Forum], 1, 16–20. Google Scholar

McKnight, J. (1995) The careless society: community and its counterfeits, New York, Basic Books. Google Scholar

Ministry of Civil Affairs [Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Minzheng Bu] (2016) Chengxiang shequ fuwu tixi jianshe guihua (2016–2020 nian) [Urban-rural community service system construction plan (2016–2020)], (accessed 1 May 2018). Google Scholar

O’Brien, K. J. and Li, L. (2000) ‘Accommodating “democracy” in a one-party state: introducing village elections in China’, The China Quarterly, 162, 465–89. Google Scholar

Oi, J. C. and Rozelle, S. (2000) ‘Elections and power: the locus of decision-making in Chinese villages’, The China Quarterly, 162, 513–39. Google Scholar

Park, R. E., Burgess, E. W. and McKenzie, R. D. (1925) The city, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar

Perry, E. J. (1994) ‘Trends in the study of Chinese politics: state-society relations’, The China Quarterly, 139, 704–13. Google Scholar

Pieke, F. N. (2004) ‘Contours of an anthropology of the Chinese state: political structure, agency and economic development in rural China’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 10(3), 517–38. Google Scholar

Pow, C.-P. (2012) ‘China exceptionalism? Unbounding narratives on urban China’, in T. Edensor and M. Jayne (eds) Urban theory beyond the west: a world of cities, New York, Routledge, 47–64. Google Scholar

Qian, Z. and Niu, H. (2007) ‘Shequ guihua – lilun, shijian ji qi zai woguo de tuiguang jianyi’ [Community planning – theory, practice and recommendations regarding its popularization in China], Chengshi guihua xuekan [Urban Planning Forum], 4, 74–78. Google Scholar

Read, B. L. (2003) ‘Democratizing the neighbourhood? New private housing and home-owner self-organization in urban China’, The China Journal, 49, 31–59. Google Scholar

Read, B. L. (2008) ‘Assessing variation in civil society organizations: China’s homeowner associations in comparative perspective’, Comparative Political Studies, 41(9), 1240–65. Google Scholar

Robinson, J. (2014) ‘New geographies of theorizing the urban: putting comparison to work for global urban studies’, in S. Parnell and S. Oldfield (eds) The Routledge handbook on cities of the global South, New York, Routledge, 57–70. Google Scholar

Rowe, P. G., Forsyth, A. and Kan, H. Y. (2016) China’s urban communities: concepts, contexts, and well-being, Boston, MA, Birkhäuser. Google Scholar

Roy, A. (2009) ‘The 21st-century metropolis: new geographies of theory’, Regional Studies, 43(6), 819–30. Google Scholar

Schubert, D. (2018) ‘Opposition, participation, and community-driven planning histories’, in C. Hein (ed.) The Routledge handbook of planning history, New York, Routledge. Google Scholar

Shi, N. (2005) ‘Yi ren wei ben’ [Taking people as the root], Chengshi guihua [City Planning Review], 2, 1. Google Scholar

Shieh, L. L. (2011) ‘Shequ construction: policy implementation, community building, and urban governance in China’ (PhD dissertation), Vancouver, BC, University of British Columbia. Google Scholar

Shieh, L. and Friedmann, J. (2008) ‘Restructuring urban governance’, City, 12(2), 183–95. Google Scholar

Shih, M. (2019) ‘Land and people: governing social conflicts in China’s state-led urbanisation’, International Development Planning Review, 41(3), 293–310. Google Scholar

Skinner, G. W. (1971) ‘Chinese peasants and the closed community: an open and shut case’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 13(3), 270–81. Google Scholar

Smith, N. R. (2019) ‘Community self-organisation in contemporary China: efficiency, equity and affect in the process of institutional transformation’, International Development Planning Review, 41(3), 399–418. Google Scholar

Solinger, D. J. (1993) China’s transition from socialism: statist legacies and market reforms, 1980-1990, Armonk, NY, M. E. Sharpe. Google Scholar

Song, W. (2001) ‘Shequ jianshe zhong de jige wenti’ [Several problems regarding community building], Jiangsu Zhengxie [Jiangsu Government Relations], 5, 32. Google Scholar

Spires, A. J. (2011) ‘Contingent symbiosis and civil society in an authoritarian state: understanding the survival of China’s grassroots NGOs’, American Journal of Sociology, 117(1), 1–45. Google Scholar

Strand, D. (1995) ‘Conclusion: historical perspectives’, in D. S. Davis, R. Kraus, B. Naughton and E. J. Perry (eds) Urban spaces in contemporary China: the potential for autonomy and community in post-Mao China, Cambridge, Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Cambridge University Press, 394–426. Google Scholar

Suttles, G. D. (1972) The social construction of communities, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar

Tang, S. Y. and Zhan, X. (2008) ‘Civic environmental NGOs, civil society, and democratisation in China’, The Journal of Development Studies, 44(3), 425–48. Google Scholar

The 16th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party [Zhongguo Gongchandang di Shiliu Jie Zhongyang Weiyuanhui] (2003) Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu wanshan shehui zhuyi shichang jingji tizhi ruogan wenti de jueding [Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party on several issues concerning the improvement of the socialist market economic system], (accessed 23 May 2019). Google Scholar

Tomba, L. (2014) The government next door: neighborhood politics in urban China, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press. Google Scholar

Tönnies, F. (1957) Community and society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft), C. P. Loomis (ed. and trans.), East Lansing, MI, Michigan State University Press. Google Scholar

Tu, W. (1989) Centrality and commonality: an essay on Confucian religiousness, Albany, SUNY Press. Google Scholar

Wakeman, F. (1993) ‘The civil society and public sphere debate: Western reflections on Chinese political culture’, Modern China, 19(2), 108–38. Google Scholar

Walder, A. G. (2011) ‘Transition from state socialism: a property rights perspective’, in M. Granovetter and R. Swedberg (eds) The sociology of economic life, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 503–26. Google Scholar

Wang, Q. (1984) ‘Modao sangyu wan – ji wu wenzao jiaoshou’ [It is never too late even in old age – remembering Professor Wu Wenzao], Du Shu, 6, 41. Google Scholar

Wang, X. (2003) Mutual empowerment of state and peasantry: village self-government in rural China, New York, Nova Science Publishers. Google Scholar

Webber, M. M. (1963) ‘Order in diversity: community without propinquity’, in L. Wingo (ed) Cities and space: the future use of urban land, Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins Press, 23–56. Google Scholar

White, G. (1993) Riding the tiger: the politics of economic reform in post-Mao China, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press. Google Scholar

Wu, F. (2005) ‘Rediscovering the “gate” under market transition: from work-unit compounds to commodity housing enclaves’, Housing Studies, 20(2), 235–54. Google Scholar

Wu, F. (2012) ‘Neighborhood attachment, social participation, and willingness to stay in China’s low-income communities’, Urban Affairs Review, 48(4), 547–70. Google Scholar

Wu, L. (1982) ‘Cong shiji chufa, yin di zhi yi niding diqu de chengshi fazhan guihua (xu)’ [Urban development plans that start from reality and define areas by suiting measures to local conditions (continued)], Chengshi Guihua [City Planning Review], 2, 32–38. Google Scholar

Wu, W., Zhang, M., Qing, Y. and Li, Y. (2019) ‘Village resettlement and social relations in transition: the case of Suzhou, China’, International Development Planning Review, 41(3), 269–91. Google Scholar

Xu, F. (2008) ‘Gated communities and migrant enclaves: the conundrum for building “harmonious community/shequ”’, Journal of Contemporary China, 17(57), 633–51. Google Scholar

Xu, J. (2004) ‘Women chengshi guihua mianlin zhe zhiye daode de wenti’ [Questions of professional ethics faced by urban planning], Chengshi guihua, 1, 22–24. Google Scholar

Yan, M. C. and Gao, J. G. (2005) ‘Social engineering of community building: examination of policy process and characteristics of community construction in China’, Community Development Journal, 42(2), 222–36. Google Scholar

Yang, M. M. (1994) Gifts, favors, and banquets: the art of social relationships in China, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press. Google Scholar

Ye, C., Ma, X., Chen, R. and Cai, Y. (2019) ‘Marginalised countryside in a globalised city: production of rural space of Wujing Township in Shanghai, China’, International Development Planning Review, 41(3), 311–28. Google Scholar

Yu, S. (1997) ‘Shanghai chengshi huanjing gaizao he lvhua buju de shexiang yu cuoshi’ [Ideas and techniques regarding the transformation and greening of Shanghai’s urban environment], Shanghai Chengshi Guihua [Shanghai Urban Planning], 1, 28–30. Google Scholar

Yuan, Y. (1996) ‘Juzhu yu huanjing’ [Home and environment], Beijing Guihua Jianshe [Beijing Planning and Construction], 6, 46–49. Google Scholar

Zhang, J. (2009) ‘Yi subei wei lie tan yin di zhi yi de nongcun minju jianzhu sheji’ [Discussion of suiting measures to local conditions in the design of rural dwellings using the example of northern Jiangsu], Shanxi jianzhu [Shanxi Architecture], 36, 43–44. Google Scholar

Zhang, L. (2012) In search of paradise: middle-class living in a Chinese metropolis, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press. Google Scholar

Zhang, T. (2008) ‘Chengshi guihua de jiben yuanli shi changshi’ [The fundamental principles of urban planning are common sense], Chengshi guihua xuekan [Urban Planning Forum], 5, 1–6. Google Scholar

Zhao, C. (2004) ‘From shikumen to new-style: a rereading of lilong housing in modern Shanghai’, The Journal of Architecture, 9(1), 49–76. Google Scholar

Zhao, M. (2013) ‘“Shequ yingzao” yu chengshi guihua de “shequ zhixiang” yanjiu’ [Research on ‘community building’ and the ‘community direction’ of urban planning], Guihua shi [Planners], 9, 5–10. Google Scholar

Zhao, W. and Gu, J. (1999) ‘Shanghai shi shequ guihua jianshe yanjiu’ [Research on the development of community planning in Shanghai Municipality], Chengshi guihua huikan [Urban Planning Forum], (06), 1–13, 79. Google Scholar

Zhao, Y. (1996) ‘Yi ren wei ben kaifa jianshe gao pinzhi de zhuzhai xiaoqu’ [Development and construction of high quality residential areas by taking people as the root], Chengshi Kaifa [Urban Development], 9, 15–16. Google Scholar

Zhao, Y. (1993) Wu yue chun qiu qian yi [An interpretation of the spring and autumn annals of Wu and Yue], J. Zhang (ed.), Guiyang, Guizhou renmin chubanshe [Guizhou People’s Press]. Google Scholar

Zhou, M. (2014) ‘Debating the state in private housing neighborhoods: the governance of homeowners’ associations in urban Shanghai’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(5), 1849–66. Google Scholar

Zhou, X. (2014) ‘“Yi ren wei ben” de guihua linian shi ruhe bei jiakong de’ [How can the planning approach of ‘taking people as the root’ be imagined?], Chengshi guihua [City Planning Review], 12, 59–64. Google Scholar

Zhu, X. (1997) ‘Juzhu yuanqu goucheng shuo’ [The composition of residential parks], Chengshi guihua huikan [Urban Planning Forum], 2, 1–8. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here