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Collaborative Research Group project “Rural-to-Urban Transformation”

CCCI Collaborative Research Group banner

The Rural-to-Urban Collaborative Research Group (CRG) emerged in part from an overlap of research interests among faculty spread across several colleges, departments, and disciplines here at Cornell that all converge under the rubric of urbanization in China, and in part as a conscious response to recent policy initiatives and trends in China. The announcement of the “National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020)” in 2014 forms the immediate, broad context of such policies, which have encouraged us to engage in cross-disciplinary research focusing on less-urbanized or peripheral regions, including villages, townships, and smaller cities, and questions of their integration into larger networks of governance, economic development, labor markets, infrastructure, communication, etc. More broadly, it is clear that for the coming decades, the Chinese government has a long-term goal to transform rural areas and peripheral districts, incorporating villages and townships into ever-larger urban networks that culminate in megacity complexes. The flow of people from rural to urban settings now underway is unprecedented in human history. What are the implications of such policies for regional culture and rural lifestyles, for the way millions of Chinese live and work? What strategies are workers, families, or farmers employing to navigate the social disruption around them and adjust to an increasingly urbanized landscape?

The group is currently studying the immediate effects of large-scale closures of factories and industries in Shandong province, which were part of a broader government policy to identify egregious polluters and either upgrade or shut down their sub-standard facilities. This policy is known as the “2 + 26” campaign, comprising Beijing and Tianjin plus twenty-six municipal districts across Shandong, Hebei, Henan and Shanxi provinces. CRG faculty members have begun their work in villages and districts of Zibo, where government officials identified 23,314 such egregious polluters (amounting to a stunning 42% of polluters identified in the entire province), and shut down a reported 10,414 of these in roughly a one-year period. By working together with local scholars, officials, and industry, and talking directly to community members affected by these policies, the group hopes to gain a fine-grained view of how these closures and other policies and trends have impacted life on the urban-rural periphery. 

Fieldwork photos
Robin McNeal conducting fieldwork in Shandong village

Construction of high-speed rail line
Construction of high-speed rail line near the urban-rural periphery.

CRG Cornell Faculty Members
George Frantz

George Frantz, associate professor of the practice, City and Regional Planning, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, works on sustainable planning in the U.S. and China, with emphasis on small town and rural communities and agricultural land protection and economic development, and cooperates regularly with scholars in China on sustainability projects. Frantz has considerable experience with environmental clean-up projects and sustainable design and planning in the U.S.

Eli Friedman

Eli Friedman, associate professor, International and Comparative Labor, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, is a sociologist who conducts research on migrant labor, labor dispute, and social services for migrant workers and their families, including education and healthcare.

McNeal headshot

Robin McNeal, associate professor, Department of Asian Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, is a historian with an interest in historical and contemporary rural integration into regional and national networks of governance, culture, and society. He has published on textual studies, early Chinese archaeology, Chinese myth, and contemporary Chinese identity and cultural memory.

Jeremy Wallace

Jeremy Wallace, associate professor, Government, College of Arts and Sciences, conducts research on Chinese urbanization, big data, and vertical and horizontal governmental processes.

Jack Zinda

John Aloysius Zinda, assistant professor, Development Sociology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is a sociologist who studies how people respond to environmental and developmental interventions, and the consequences for social and ecological change, with a focus on land management in China.

Graduate Research Assistant
Christine Wen

Christine Wen, PhD candidate, City and Regional Planning, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, conducts research on urban service delivery and social protection for China’s migrants.