Meet Duanfang Lu, a Professor of Architecture and Urbanism who has been researching the design of new villages in China.
While the world’s attention has been focused on the monumental changes taking place in China’s cities, Professor Duanfang Lu has been documenting an equally radical shift in the Chinese countryside.
Over the past ten years, millions of Chinese peasants – village dwellers owning a small strip of land – have been moved out of their homes by the government into a string of ‘new villages’.
In many places people have moved from traditional villages with no electricity or running water into purpose-built apartments in residential districts complete with roads, Internet coverage, and other trappings of modern life.
Dr Lu, Professor of Architecture and Urbanism in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, has been researching the design of the new villages and people’s reaction to them as part of an ARC Future Fellowship. The project takes a broad look at the economic, social and political aspects of Chinese urbanisation.
Interviewing people in Shandong and Hebei, she found that many people were unhappy about the loss of their traditional way of life – raising chickens and pigs in the courtyard, chatting casually to their neighbours under a tree, and sharing ritual spaces for cultural events like Chinese New Year.
Others complained that their living expenses had increased, and that they had to pay for air conditioning and tap water instead of water from their own well.
But others had enjoyed becoming modern citizens and having access to mobile phones, social networks and online commerce, just like urban residents.
“Everything has good and bad aspects,” said Professor Lu. “And things in China are changing at such a rapid pace that whatever you study might immediately become outdated.”
A Tsinghua graduate, Professor Lu gained a PhD from the University of California Berkeley, and has worked at Sydney since 2004. She has also been a visiting scholar at Harvard.
In 2015 she organised a conference at Sydney on China’s megaregions which she is hoping to develop into an ARC Linkage project with academics from Tsinghua, Tongji University and the University of Hong Kong.
“China’s economic growth has relied on the success of these regions, on cooperation between cities,” she said.
“My aim is to carry out a comprehensive review examining why some regions – like the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta and the Jing-Jin-Ji Region – have been successful.
“We can then make comparisons with other less successful areas like the Northeast region bordering Russia and North Korea, and Guangxi Province in the south. We need to understand why some regions are lagging behind.”