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Beyond the City: Managing China’s Rural Spaces

Event Recap

On February 12 and 13, scholars convened at the Watson Institute to discuss new analyses of the waves of change rolling across rural China.

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Thursday’s conference, “Recasting the Rural: China’s Transformation in Global Context,” brought visiting geographers and sociologists together with members of the Brown community to discuss cutting-edge research on processes like resource extraction and agricultural change that are often overlooked as the world gazes at China’s cities. As geographer Emily Yeh noted in her opening remarks, “The recent redoubling of the Chinese state’s efforts to shift rural people to urban areas seems to confirm that China is leaving its agrarian legacy behind. Yet China’s authorities continue to be preoccupied with managing rural landscapes and populations. While the world gawks at China’s cities, these intensified efforts at managing rural spaces—and their global ramifications—go under the radar.”

Presentation topics ranged from model communities in the hinterlands of Chengdu to the pig farms that have become the country’s primary source of water pollution to the world’s largest coal mine, in Inner Mongolia. A final panel put these discussions in transnational perspective, addressing rural change in India, in Brazil, and globally. The following day, attendees took part in a workshop to refine the presented papers, which will compose a themed issue of Geoforum.

Jia-Ching Chen, a visiting scholar in sociology and former Watson affiliate, John Zinda, a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, and Emily Yeh, professor of geography at the University of Colorado, Boulder, organized the conference and special issue.

-John Aloysius Collins Zinda, Ph.D