Contesting Imaginaries: New Urban Spaces of Xi'an

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 12:45 PM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Yujie ZHU , Cluster of Asia and Europe in Global Context, Cluster of Asia and Europe in Global Context, Heidelberg, Germany
The development of heritage tourism in historical cities of China is regarded as a vital ingredient of urban regeneration by state and local governments. In Xi'an, the imperial capital of thirteen dynasties of Chinese history, the construction of a modern landscape catapulted the city from an isolated entity to the globalized world system. Guided by a fifty-year governmental city plan, the densely populated inner city of Xi'an is currently being transformed into a functioning replica of the Tang-era Imperial City to reconstruct the glorious past of Chinese civilization. Guided by the project plan, a large number of buildings of Xi’an were demolished and local residents were relocated to other districts of the city. Meanwhile, historic monuments were transformed to cultural theme parks. Antique markets and high-end residential houses were built to attract middle-class immigrants from other cities of China.

This study will examine the multiplicity of imaginaries that are produced and negotiated by actors involved in urbanization, and the way these imaginaries shape new urban spaces of Xi'an. I will analyze the role of the main actors in this dynamic process: how the municipal government implements urban regeneration policies with their own entrepreneurial agendas; how real estate investors, empowered by local administrations, utilize cultural resources and real estate property for commercialization and consumption; how immigrants inhabit newly created urban spaces to search for leisure lifestyles and cosmopolitan identities; and how the traditional residents negotiate, resist and manifest their identity through daily practices. The complex associations of these actors co-construct new urban spaces through contestation and meaning-making. 

Moving beyond the macro-perspectives of political economy and economic geography, the research will engage with Xi’an as an important ground for testing urban transition of social and spatial landscape, and examining social inequality in the rapid development of modern China.