Hungry Urbanization: Eating Beijing

University of Toronto
Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design

Course Instructors
Adrian Blackwell, adrian.blackwell [at]
Xu Jian, xujian1958 [at] (Sichuan Polytechnic)

In collaboration with Meng Yue (University of Toronto + Tsinghua University) and literature students at Tsing Hua University and Ned Rossiter.

Mobile research laboratory based at beiLab and Tsing Hua University.

'The central goal of social progress became the elimination of the three great disparities: between physical and mental labour, between city and countryside, and between industrial and agricultural worlds'.
Qian Liqun describing Mao Zedong’s revolutionary program

'The rural component of Chinese civilization was more or less uniform and it extended everywhere that Chinese civilization penetrated. It, and not the cities, defined the Chinese way of life. It was like the net in which the cities and towns of China were suspended…. To extend this metaphor, Chinese cities were but knots of the same material, of one piece with the net, denser in quality but not foreign bodies resting on it'.
Frederick Mote – The Transformation of Nanking 1350-1400

'“Beyond Good and Evil, at least this does not mean: beyond good and bad.” The good is when a body directly compounds its relation to ours, and with all or part of its power, increases ours. A food, for example. For us, the bad is when a body decomposes our body’s relation, although it still combines with our parts, but in ways that do not correspond to our essence, as when a poison breaks down the blood. Hence good and bad have a primary, objective meaning, but one that is relative and partial: that which agrees with our nature or does not agree with it'.
Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

Traditionally China has always seen itself as an agricultural economy. The role of the state was always to manage the agricultural landscape often through the implementation of large scale infrastructure projects and the maintenance of a comprehensive network of grain stores, to prevent famine. China’s arborescent political system was developed in part to accomplish these challenging tasks.

Today, there is an alarming realization that China’s grain warehouses have been left empty; a global food shortage is driving up prices of food worldwide; and global warming is increasing at an alarming rate. Beijing itself suffers from unceasing sprawl upwards and outwards, causing traffic congestion and incredible air and water pollution, which in turn poisons air, water and food. While the city hungrily eats up the agricultural land around it, Beijing citizens find themselves consuming greater and greater quantities of toxins. Still, even in the face of these incredible challenges, Beijing sees itself as a leader in Urban Agricultural practices, with a surprisingly diversified peri-urban agricultural industry.

This course will attempt to understand the city of Beijing as a complex organism, an assemblage at multiple scales that is also part of a much larger cycle of food consumption globally. Food cycles remain one of the fundamental biological, social and cultural needs that urban design and architecture necessarily facilitate. By studying the problematics and potentials of food cycles in Beijing, we will gain a better understanding of the integrated relationship urban and rural spaces.

The course will introduce students to both the historical urbanism of Chinese cities and contemporary forms of urban expansion with special attention paid to urban food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste. In addition it will familiarize students with the quotidian realities of life in contemporary Chinese urban spaces. Students should develop techniques for mapping the forces that operate in peri-urban spaces.

You will be asked to imagine the problematic of urban food at three scales:

Project 1: architecture of a meal
Examine a single meal as a way of understanding the cultural, social, ecological and biological functions of food within everyday life in Beijing.

Worth 20% of the term mark

Project 2 – food architecture of a neighbourhood
Examine your specified neighbourhood type, to find how food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed and removed.

Worth 20% of the term mark

Project 3: food architecture of the city - the form of food systems
Study the city of Beijing according to the following 6 catagories: Water systems, farming, Processing, food distribution, food consumption, and waste.

Worth 30% of the term mark

Class discussions
We will have 9 class discussions during the course. Every student is expected to present one reading each week (every second class). Three students will present each reading, one student should introduce the thesis of the article using 1-2 key illustrations, a second will explain the key concepts, and the third student should prepare 2-3 questions about the article for discussion. Each presentation should last 5 minutes maximum. Prepare a single page of writing (300 words max.) in advance and hand it out to the group for discussion.

30% for six presentations (5% each). Due in the class of the presentation.

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with the Graduate Grading and Evaluation Practices Policy (and how that policy is interpreted and applied in this faculty). The University of Toronto, School of Graduate Studies, 2007 - 2008 Calendar, explains that policy in detail.

All assignments are due in class at the specified time and date. Late projects may be submitted after the deadline; however they will be subject to a late penalty of 10% per week or part thereof. In the case of illness or other special circumstances, notification should be given to the instructors and the programme office as soon as possible before the deadline in question.

Chinese Spatial Systems

Seminar 1 - Tuesday May 13

Class Introduction
Classical Chinese spatial strategies
1.1 Schinz, Alfred “The Structure of Chinese Cities and Towns” in The Magic Square: Cities in Ancient China (Stuttgart / London: Edition Axel Menges, 1996) 380-421

1.2 Xu Yinong “Courtyard and Public Urban space” in The Chinese city in space and time: the development of urban form in Suzhou (Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i Press, 2000) 166-199

1.3 Zhu Jianfei. “The Social Space of the City” in Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing 1420-1911 (London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004) 45-93

1.4 Francois Jullien, “Frontal versus Oblique Attack” in Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece (New York: Zone Books, 2000) 15-53.

Seminar 2 - Friday May 16
The integrated spatiality of the Chinese Market
2.1 Kenneth Pomeranz, “The Great Divergence”, Lecture at University of Toronto, January 25, 2008

2.2 Mike Davis, “The Poor Eat Their Homes” in Late Victorian Holocausts (London, New York: Verso, 2001) 61-90.

2.3 Giovanni Arrighi, “States, Markets, and Capitalism, East and West” in Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century (London, New York: Verso, 2007) 309-350.

Seminar 3: Monday May 19, Communist Planning
3.1 Shuishan Yu, “Redefining the Axis of Beijing: Revolution and Nostalgia in the Planning of the PRC Capital”, Journal of Urban History, Vol. 34 No. 4, (May 2008) 571-608.

3.2 David Bray, “Danwei Space” in Social Space and Governance in Urban China (Stanford California: Stanford University Press, 2005) 123-156.

3.3 Duanfang Lu, “Travelling urban form: the neighbourhood unit in China”, Planning Perspectives, 21(October 2006) 369–392.

Review 1: Wednesday May 21, Architecture of the Meal

II In-between cities

Seminar 4: Friday May 23, Dispersions of Governance and Production in the period of reform
4.1 Richard Walker and Daniel Buck, “The Chinese Road,” The New Left Review 46 (2007): 62.

4.2 Wang Hui, “Depoliticized politics from East and West” in New Left Review (2007):

4.3 Brian Holmes, “One World, One Dream: China at the Risk of New Subjectivities”, Continental Drift, 2008

Seminar 5:Monday May 26, In-between the City and the countryside
5.1 John Friedman, “Urbanization of the Countryside” in China’s Urban Transition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005) 35-55

5.2 Andrew Marton, “The Lower Yangzi Delta: historical geography and contemporary patterns of change” in China’s Spatial Economic Development: Restless Landscapes in the Lower Yangzi Delta (London, New York: Routledge, 2000) 57-93.

5.3 Daniel Buck, “The Subsumption of Space and the Spatiality of Subsumption: Primitive Accumulation and the Transition to Capitalism in Shanghai, China,” Antipode (Volume 39, Number 4, September 2007), 762-764.

Seminar 6: Monday June 2, Farmers in the city
6.1 Gu Chaolin and Liu Haiyong “Social Polarization and Segregation in Beijing” in The New Chinese City John R. Logan Ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 2002) 198-211

6.2 Dutton, M.“Subaltern Tactics, Government Response” in Streetlife China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 130-158

6.3 Deng, Frederic F. and Huang Youqin, “Uneven land reform and urban sprawl in china: the case of Beijing” Progress in Planning 61 (2004) 211-236

III Organic Urban systems

Seminar 7: Wednesday June 4, Biopolitics
7.1 Maurizio Lazzarato, "From Biopower to Biopolitics" , trans. Ivan A.Ramirez, Pli 13 (2002): 99-110.

7.2 Hein Mallee, “Migration, Hukou and Resistance in Reform China” in Perry and Selden eds. Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance (New York: Routledge, 2000) 83-101

7.3 Adrian Blackwell, “Casting Nets: dispersions of governance, production and urbanization in contemporary China” in Networked Cultures: Parallel Architectures and the Politics of Space (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2008) 100-109.

Review 2: Friday June 6, Food architecture of an urban enclave

Seminar 8: Monday June 16, Environmental Systems
8.1 Elisabeth C. Economy, “The Death of the Huai River” in The River Runs Black (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004) 1-26

8.2 Alana Boland, “The Trickle-down Effect: Ideology and the Development of Premium Water Networks in China’s Cities” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 31.1 (2007): 21-40.

8.3 ARUP, “Dongtan eco-city” in Cities From Zero, Shumon Buzar ed. (London: Architectural Association, 2007) 57-69.

Seminar 9: Wednesday June 18, Urban Food Systems
9.1 J Wolf, M S van Wijk, X Cheng, Y Hu, C A van Diepen, A W Jongbloed, H van Keulen, C H Lu and R Roetter, “Urban and peri-urban agricultural production in Beijing municipality and its impact on water quality”, Environment and Urbanization 2003; 15; 141

9.2 Andre Viljoen, Katrin Bohn, Joe Howe, “More Food with Less Space: Why Bother?” in Andre Viljoen ed. Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes: Designing Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities (Oxford: Architectural Press, 2005) 19-29

9.3 Yung Ho Chang, “Yuan” in Michael Bell and Sze Tsung Leong, Slow Space (New York: Monacelli Press, 1999) 346-358.

Review 3: Friday June 20, architecture of the city - the form of food systems

Other Resources:
Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security