The Social and Physical Effects of Socialist Regime on China

The past few classes, we have discussed how the socialist regime dictated how cities are developed in eastern European countries, and how they have changed in post-socialist times. It was interesting to me that influences of economics and politics have a profound affect on cities. In another class that I am in, I am researching on the Peoples Republic of China and its societal and urban restraints of the Hukou System. The Hukou System is a household registration system that dictates largely where and how people live between rural and urban areas within China. Broadly, the system was designed to not only provide population statistics and identify personal status but to also regulate population distribution. A rural migrant seeking work in an urban area would lose access to services such as health care, employer –provided housing and would not qualify for grain rations (Pines, 344). The Hukou system can be traced back to 1317 (Young, 30), but the modern origins began in the 1950s when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began to follow a Soviet-style development that promoted heavy industrialization. Urban planning during 1950-1960 in communist China was focused on selecting locations for factories and industrial plants, service facilities as well as design the layout of industrial towns and residential districts. (Tang, 347). Similar to communist Russia, China’s plans included formulistic street patterns, grand building designs and monuments, and large public squares as a way to demonstrate the power of the communist era (Tang, 350). During the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, the planning of the socialist city under the People’s Republic of China placed peoples livelihoods second to the socialist principles, resulting in large-scale urban development and little progress of residential facilities and amenities. The Great Leap Forward demanded a large amount of labour and so a great internal migration between rural to urban areas occurred. To fund the rapid industrialization that the PRC sought, the PRC turned to the countryside to extract its agricultural resources. Rural workers moved to the cities to seek work due to a rising famine after the extraction, placing a strain on the infrastructure of the cities. As a result, rural workers lost their social welfare benefits as dictated by the Hukou system. A social order also emerged due to the Hukou system as urban governments looked after urban residents while rural citizens would essentially be left to fend for themselves (Wallace, 81). Socialist policies greatly affected not only China’s urban development, but also rural development as well. Although the PRC sought to match western industrialization growth, the divide between rural and urban citizens grew quite large which affected the country not only socially, but economically.

This is a quick summary of the PRC and the Hukou system, but it is apparent that the socialist ideology has affected many areas, resulting in not only a physical change in China’s city, but a social change as well.


Pines, David. Topics in Public Economics: Theoretical and Applied Analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.


Tang, W.-S. “Chinese Urban Planning at Fifty: An Assessment of the Planning Theory Literature.” Journal of Planning Literature 14.3 (2000): 347-66. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.


Wallace, Jeremy L. “China’s Loophole to the Faustian Bargain of Urban Bias.” Cities and Stability: Urbanization, Redistribution, & Regime Survival in China. Oxford UP, 2014. 73-80. Print.


Young, Jason. China’s Hukou System Markets, Migrants and Institutional Change. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.


A Thought on Government Ideologies and South Africa

In recent classes, we covered how the ideologies of certain regimes influenced the landscape of urban spaces. I found it interesting how the physical city is affected due to governments in power, and how this also impacts the people living within it. In December of 2013, I visited Cape Town, South Africa and explored what is a beautiful city and the surrounding areas. The city was impacted significantly by the rule of the apartheid regime. The ideology of apartheid was focused on the desire of the ruling party for racial segregation, to protect the privilege of the white minority and subordinate less-advantaged groups. (Turok, 244). As a result, many cities in South Africa, including Cape Town, developed unequally, and were divided socially and economically. Townships developed on the periphery of the cities, with the economic wealth and white population living within the city core. Urban planning was used as a means of social engineering and control in an attempt by the apartheid regime to maintain their idea of a social order. As a result of this racial segregation, the “states hostility to black urbanization deprived townships of essential services, housing and economic opportunities” (Turok, 243), resulting in high levels of poverty, marginalization and crime. Although the apartheid ended in 1994, the urban design of the city still defines the social and economic realities of modern Cape Town.

Before visiting Cape Town, I was aware of the history of apartheid in South Africa, but was naïve about how expansive poverty was in the townships. I was in South Africa visiting a friend who grew up in the area surrounding Cape Town, in a town called Somerset West. The high way drive from Somerset West to Cape Town is a straight road and before entering the city, the urban sprawl of the townships is visible. Stretching for miles on either side of the highway, the housing plots could not be described as adequate for modern housing relative to Canadian standards, with tin slates for walls and many having no doors. Numerous attempts have been made to improve the townships, such as the 2001 National Urban Renewal Programme although very little improvement has been made. The power of an ideology to shape the urban design of a city is incredible. Apartheid affected not only the physical look of the city, but also Cape Town’s social and economic realities, with poverty being just one example of a serious outcome that has developed within the townships. Similar to the Italian Fascist regime use of urban planning for propaganda to promote their ideas, the apartheid city planning has influenced not only how Cape Town was built, but how and where people, classes and races settled and continue to live.


Donaldson, Ronnie, Danie Du Plessis, Manfred Spocter, and Ruth Massey. “The South African Area-based Urban Renewal Programme: Experiences from Cape Town.” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment J Hous and the Built Environ 28, no. 4 (2013): 629-38. Accessed October 24, 2015. doi:

Swardt, C. De, T. Puoane, M. Chopra, and A. Du Toit. “Urban Poverty in Cape Town.” Environment and Urbanization 17, no. 2 (2005): 101-11. Accessed October 24, 2015. doi:10.1177/095624780501700208.

Turok, Ivan. “Urban Planning in the Transition from Apartheid, Part 1: The Legacy of Social Control.” Town Planning Review 65, no. 3 (1994): 243. Accessed October 24, 2015.

The Uncontrollable Parts of Society

The discussion on Ebenezer Howard’s book Gardens of To-morrow and the other utopian plans touched on in class has proved to be a fascinating discussion. However, it can be argued that the ideas of these utopian writers perhaps did not leave room for the unpredictability of human behavior in society. When these plans began to emerge in the 19th century, the thinkers behind the ideas witnessed the problems of a city and believed it was due to the lay-out and construction of a city that induced many of the complications, thus deciding that rather than placing a Band-Aid on parts of it, it was vital to create an entirely new one. It is true that the structure of the city can produce different outcomes; freeing traffic due to wider streets for example. There is a lot of planning and control over the imagined city in order to produce the ideal society. Howard, for example, is quite meticulous in the details as he seeks to demonstrate how his idea would be functional in a real life scenario. Although he was lenient in areas such as the aesthetics of the buildings, he still put quite of a bit of thought into making sure there were as little unpredictable situations as possible. When Howard was creating the Garden City, he believed it to be a possible reality, and it is true that the plans of the city could produce positive effects. However, I do believe that Howard and many other Utopian writers depended heavily on the rationality of man, rather than making room in their ideas for unpredictability and man’s irrational, emotional behavior. They expected the people in these societies to be utopian in thought as well as the cities. Utopian cities attempt to control what is hard to control, and often do not leave a lot of room for irregularity. Unfortunately, I believe it reaches utopian status because of the idealism that people will do things justly and accordingly, forgetting that whether people react a certain way due to nature versus nurture, some things cannot be planned for. His idea of a city layout can improve many aspects of life, but may be unable to survive for long. These utopian societies offer great ideas and can be a model for dealing with problems such as traffic congestion, urban sprawl, health issues, and slums but they become utopian due to the unpredictability of humans, demonstrating that not everything in a society can be controlled.