Modernization of a City:
By Lee Min-Ju
Thesis Director: Alexander Ganse
For around 10,000 years of
Chinese history, Beijing wasn’t always the
center of economy, culture and politics as it has become over recent centuries.
I first visited Beijing when I was 11 years
old. I remember I was surprised to see that the city was much more ‘modernized’
than what I’d been thinking or watching on television. My second visit to
Beijing, in the following
year, was filled with more shocks and exclamations, since although I stayed in
the same building, the dormitory of Beijing
University where my dad lived,
the surroundings and the atmosphere of the streets were completely changed from
China is changing rapidly.
And so is its capital, Beijing. This paper will try
to access how China has gone through this
II. What is
Although we use the word
‘modernization’ a lot, it is hard actually trying to define the word. People
usually use the word ‘modernization’ interchangeably with the word
‘industrialization’, whereas the latter more signifies only the development of
the manufacturing sector. The word ‘westernization’ as well does not convey the
wholesome meaning and implications of the word ‘modernization’.
Literally, modernization is a
process of a society as a whole to enter the ‘modern’ era. Then what defines
‘modern’? Clarifying this would be very important, because doing so will affect
what time or what should be dealt throughout this paper.
I view modernization as the
process by which societies have been and are being transformed under the impact
of the scientific and technological revolution. This, of course, has a close
relationship with westernization and industrialization, since the three
processes inter-influence each other and thus the periods that three of them
cover quite often overlap.
There are other features, which,
although don’t ‘define’ modernization, indicates the level of modernization.
These include relative growth in nonagricultural production, especially
manufactures and services; a movement from high birth and death rates to low
ones; sustained economic growth; specialization and proliferation of
organizations and skills; bureaucratization; mass political participation
(democratic or not); and an expansion of education at all levels; and so on.
In any society, the period of
modernization can’t be stated specifically, like we can state that the French
Revolution started from 1789, because modernization is not a phenomenon
happening from one part of the society, but a series of phenomena occurring
throughout the society. Likewise, it is hard to say when the modernization of
China) began, or if the
process has been even completed yet.
This paper will cover the period
starting from the mid 19th century to the late 20th century, because this period
was when the rapid changes in many parts of
III. Overview: Modernization of
Chinese Urban Areas
Wherever in the world,
modernization process included more or less increasing gaps between the urban
areas and the rural areas. However, it is worth stating that in
China’s case, this gap was
unusually wide, partially because the wide landscape and the large population of
the nation didn’t allow the rapid social, economic, and cultural changes
throughout the whole nation. It is thus important to notice that the following
contents are based on the changes and circumstances that occurred in
China’s urban areas, or in
Dividing the period between mid
19C and late 20C roughly into five phases and naming each of them weren’t to
draw a clear line between the periods but to enjoy the convenience of looking at
gradual changes throughout near two centuries of history.
Phase 1:: 1840s ~ 1900:: Ready to Wake Up
Opening of the first five Chinese
ports in Shanghai,
(Canton) and the cession of
the Hong Kong Islandto Great
Britain were signed in the
Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, followed by the First Opium
War. This was an unequal treaty that China was forced to sign,
but it was true that the treaty opened up
China’s big ports to the
Western world, which was the starting point for the Westernization in
China. Foreign merchants
could officially trade in those cities, not only bringing lots and lots of
Chinese goods to the Western world, but also introducing foreign goods and
culture to conservative China.
Following the Taiping Rebellion, which showed the Chinese farmers starting
to voice their demands, and the Second Opium War, which again opened more
Chinese cities to the Western world, the tide of modernization was uprising. A
Foreign Office in Beijing opened in 1861, and
so the Self Strengthening Movement, which was consisted of a number of
diplomatic and military modernization projects, marked the
The Boxer Rebellion in 1900 leads
to the siege of the legation in Beijing, and an international
force was involved to lift the siege. Consequently,
China was required to pay a
large indemnity to the foreign power.
Phase 2:: 1900 ~ 1930:: Breakdown of the Old Systems
tradition of civil service examinations was abolished. Abolition of the
examinations based on the Confucian classics led to the outflow of the students
abroad, who played an important role in both the 1911 revolution and the May
Fourth Movement later in that decade. At the same time, this event urged the
reform of the education system. It shattered the existing hierarchy of the
social status, and this made the boundaries between urban and rural more fixed.
This was somewhat similarto the process of modernization in other countries
like Russia (freedom of serfdom)
and Japan (Meiji Reformation).
Realization of the weak military power gave all three countries fundamental
questions of security problem. Eventually, emerging worries prohibited the old
systems to function as smoothly as before.
Educational stimulus of the
reform era provides China with profound
changes. As classical studies ceased, education more geared up in modern schools
beginning to use the vernacular language. To
China it was more important
than to any other countries, because civil examination system for a very long
time stood for the fundamental respect towards the Confucian values and for the
unshakable class structure that gave scholarly elites a higher position and the
power to sustain that position. Abolition of this system provided opportunity to
break away from the old ways, and to turn towards western education as a source
of new knowledge and beliefs. In cities, especially, modern attitudes and
In 1908, the Empress Dowager dies
and the 2-year-old Puyi is proclaimed as the last
emperor of Qing
China holds the first
elections for regional assemblies in the following year, and finally on January
1st of 1912, the Republic of China is declared with SunYat Sen as provincial
president. Soon, Yuan Shikai, a Manchu general, takes
over. China’s first constitution
China had a nationalist
government and a fledgling modern industrial sector. The central government set
up the centralizing control, diminishing the power of warlordism. The modern, industrial sector had begun to grow
quite rapidly. Changing urban social organization, including the growth of
business groups and workers’ associations, and changes in family structure
reflected an era of intense urban transformation. The educational accomplishment
of Chinese upper class had reached high levels in many areas of modern
Its domestic disunity, however,
along with the serious blow of Japanese occupation, set back
Also, the level of political modernization was still staggering in
Phase 3:: 1930 ~ 1950:: Slight Hesitation
Between 1930 and 1950, the impact
of Japanese occupation, World Wars, and the Chinese civil wars made
process slower, or even recessive. Even in this time of confusion, however,
China succeeded to make
some progress towards the modernization.
By the beginning of the 1950s,
China had recovered full
sovereignty in international relations and was demonstrating that it could make
good use of a large number of modern enterprises built with outside assistance.
Also, the heavy industry in China was growing at a very
rapid rate, and the education and modern knowledge became available to rapidly
increasing portions of people in the society, whereas the education reform in
phase 2 was limited within certain politically or economically privileged
groups. Furthermore, continuous need of army, and a strong army, due to the
outbreaks of world wars and civil wars brought the modernization of army system
and weapons in China, along with the firm
base of the standing army.
Overall, although economically
and culturally phase 3 wasn’t a time of modernization for
China, it was somehow a
time of political and military modernization.
Phase 4:: 1950 ~ 1980:: Bold Progress
After the establishment of
People’s Republic of China in 1949 was Mao Zedong’s era. In that specific year, 1949, land reform was
enforced throughout China, leading to the
persecution of millions of landlords and wealthy peasants. This land reform was
something that turned the Chinese society up and down.
The Five-Anti campaign of 1952
was against bribery, tax evasion, theft of state assets, cheating on labor and
materials, and stealing state economic intelligence. This regulation was
completely hospitable to this campaign, since it made the power of business so
vulnerable in front of the state power.
From 1953 to 1957, the first five
year plan was launched, and it seemed that this plan satisfied many of its
In 1956, Mao launches the Hundred Flowers
movement. This was to encourage greater freedom of debate in political matters,
and was carried out under the slogan ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred
schools of thought contend.’ However in the following year, those who have
spoken out during the movement were condemned and imprisoned by the
Although Mao’s ambitious Great
Leap Forward plan in 1958 failed to bring the economic prosperousness that was
expected in China, years between 1950
and 1980 were certainly a period of visible economic growth.
GDP per capita
of GDP (%)
<Estimates of Chinese Economic
shown above matter-of-factly shows what a drastic economic change there
has been in China throughout this
period. All three economic indicatorsshow a significant growth from 1950s to
1970s. During this period, the share of GDP in agriculture had
significantly decreased, whereas that in manufacturingsector had increased sharply. All these are the
important features of economic modernization.
1960s was the time of Cultural
Revolution. The time was brutal, but in some ways, the revolution can be stated
to have helped the modernization process, since it boldly cleared up the
legacies of the old generation.
Mao died in 1976. Deng Xiaoping
rose as the successor of Mao and declared the Four Modernizations (agricultural;
industrial; scientific and technological; and military modernizations). Whereas
Mao’s time brought more ideology-based changes, Deng Xiaoping started to change
China with his ‘open door
Phase 5:: 1980,
In 1978, Deng established
something called Special Economic Zones (SEZs), along
the eastern coast, as a gesture of openness towards the world. This economic
reform resulted in the rapid growth of Chinese economy, and the rapid
urbanization of the cities that opened up.
As the foreign firms came into
the cities for the benefit of cheap labor and resources, and
China reversely took the
benefit of improved worker standard and bettered transportation and
IV. Modernization of
Beijing nowadays is the
political, cultural and economical center of
China. However, it wasn’t
always the case throughout the long history of
China. Beijing’s position
as an important city of China has long been emphasized, but the building of the
Forbidden City and being shaped as the current sense of ‘Beijing’ the capital
were done at the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as the Emperor Yongle founded the palace and moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. When the dynasty collapsed and the next
dynasty, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was established,
Beijing still remained as the
capital and the dwelling place of the emperors.
Phase 1:: Beijing Before Modern
China (under the Qing dynasty)
After Genghis Khan brutally
destroyed the resisting city in 1215, Kublai Khan declared it as the Great
Capital of his empire.
In the Forbidden City of Beijing,
the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties dwelt.
Thus the Beijing had long been
recognized as the city of the emperors, the capital city. The size of the city
Beijing was somewhat smaller
than it is now. At the foundation period of Ming Dynasty,
Beijing was only the size of
its current 2nd Ring Road system.
After the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911, Civil War begins by numerous
warlords and Kuomintang. During the time of confusion,
Beijing suffered as much as
other cities, if not was more victimized than others.
During the period of
China as the Republic of
China, the country’s capital was Nanjing. After further
dispute, Nanjing became the official
capital of the Republic of China in 1928, and Beijing was renamed Beiping in order to emphasize that it is not the rightful
capital. (‘Bei’ meaning ‘north’, ‘Jing’ meaning ‘capital’, the name Beijing means ‘the capital
in the North’.)
During the Second Sino-Japanese
War, the city fell to Japan in 1937, and was
again renamed Beijing. North China
Executive Committee in Beijing ruled
China, reemphasizing the city’s role
as the ‘Northern capital’. However, this couldn’t last long, since, eight years
later, Japan surrendered in the
Second World War. Beijing was again to be
called as Beiping.
Phase 2:: Beijing as the Capital of People’s
Republic of China
The communist force entered
Beijing without a fight. Then
to the mass gathered in the Tiananmen
Square in 1949, Mao Zedong declared the
creation of the new People’s Republic of
China, and named
Beijing to be its capital
city. It was the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that was
held just a few days earlier that decided the city’s name to be
It was then when the
administrative size of the Beijing was expanded from its
old nine gates of the inner city to the city covering a dozen new districts in
the outer city. As several counties were incorporated into the city, the limits
of Beijing were enlarged by many
times and Beijing finally became its
present shape. It was also then when the imperial residences, including the
City, provided open viewing.
New buildings such as the
International Post Office and Bank of China were built along the Second Ring
Road, which is the former line of the Inner City wall. City walls were
demolished to found the new transportation system throughout the city. Additional to that, large-scale construction has been undertaken to
build new main roads, such as the Fourth Ring Road. As a result of all
these, Beijing developed a generally
effective system of four concentric railroads that connect one place to another
within the city.
Phase 3:: Beijing Under
Beijing had grown and changed
significantly during the reform era starting from 1979 in its own district
pattern. Beijing has greatly expanded,
not in the sense of size (its current size and shape had been acquired when
People’s Republic of China set it up as the capital of the country), but in
sense of its urban areas that formerly had been limited within the confines of
the Second Ring Road. In other words, suburban and less developed parts of
Beijing were changed into
urban and modern parts of the city.
During the rule of People’s
Republic of China, most people in
Beijing lived and worked in
the same place. There was a sense of ‘work units’, which included communal
dining halls, offices, housings, and so on. Therefore, people could live within
their unit without having to move across the city much. The reform era changed
this. Although still housing is typically tied to a job, mostly the city is
divided into residential, commercial, working areas and so on.
The number of bicycles in
Beijing has been more than
doubled since 1979, making up most of the congestion in the city.
During this time, many areas that
were formerly farmland now developed into residential or commercial places. New
commercial areas like the Guomao developed, whereas
Wangfujing and Xidan have
developed into flourishing shopping and traveling districts. Zhongguancun has become the major center of electronics in
Phase 4:: Beijing Today
In more recent years,
Beijing has been the site of
political turmoil, in events like Tiananment
Square protests of 1989. However,
except for these special events, Beijing nowadays is rapidly
developing capital of Chinese politics, economy and culture.
The city plan, unlike those of
most other parts of the world, limits the height of the buildings in the center
of the city to be very low. Therefore, buildings in the heart of the city,
within the sphere of Forbidden
City, are the lowest, and the outer
of the city it is, the higher the buildings get, which somehow gives the city
unique and more organized outlook.
However, as rapid urbanization
proceeds, there are also some problems facing the government and its people.
Heavy traffic, air pollution, losing sense of historic ‘neighborhoods’, and a
drastic influx of migrants from poorer regions of the country, especially among
the young people, to earn better wages in the city and then to send some money
back to home.
Having held the United Nations’
Conference on Women in 1995 and planning to hold the 2008 Olympic Games,
Beijing is growing as an
international city as well.
Having had been the capital of
Qing Dynasty and also of the People’s Republic of
China after the Civil War, Beijing shared and endured the fate and pain of the
Chinese modernization. Modernization of Beijing or
China wasn’t a single,
one-aspect process which was a characteristic of one specific period, but rather
was a overall pattern that went through nineteenth and
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