This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social life. The key question raised by this study is how the Internet and mobile technologies are affecting the way people make use of urban space. The chapter begins with some background to China’s emergence as a connected nation. It then looks at common use of web-based and mobile phone technologies, particularly bulletin boards, SMS and instant messaging. The chapter then presents findings of recent research that illustrates communitarian relationships that are enabled by mobility and the use of technologies. Finally, these findings are contextualized in the idea of the City 2.0 in China.
Urbanization in mainland China has increased dramatically during the past two decades. The urbanized population of China spiraled from 215 million in 1982 to 410 million in 2000, increasing to 32 percent of the total population (Friedmann 2005: 133 n17; see also Donald and Benewick 2005, 27). According to one authoritative source, by 2014 an estimated 40.2 percent of the Chinese population will be urbanized (Garner et al 2005, 67). New cities have emerged and many existing towns and regions have been reclassified as cities. According to Mars and Hornsby (2008), twenty new cities are constructed per year, a phenomenon that is likely to continue until the year 2020.
Urbanization has brought with it great social change. The last two decades of the twentieth century were characterized by widespread economic reforms and population shifts to cities, in part due to the reclassification of many non-urban household registrations (hukou) to urban districts. Many traditional social maintenance structures have subsequently come under stress; people have been forced to acquire new skills in order to survive in a changing urban landscape and to develop strategies to seek out jobs, housing preferences and possessions.
Migration has impacted upon the spatial transformation of cities. Unskilled semi-literate workers from the countryside now provide labor for the construction of high-rise gated apartments that house China’s aspiring white collar classes. Bulldozers and wrecking balls relentlessly demolish historic factories and traditional courtyard residences (hutongs)—and with this, traditional ways of life (see Zhou 2006). In this radical makeover of urban space overpasses, underpasses, ring roads, technology parks, theme parks, shopping malls and convention centers are the material manifestations of economic development.
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social life. China provides a contrast with other studies in this book. China is ‘in-between’, less creative and technologically literate than its neighbors Korea and Japan, but ascending fast in its desire to compete as an equal in the knowledge-based society of the new millennium. In many respects China is also less tolerant of disruptive social behavior than some of the other robust democracies discussed elsewhere in this collection. One of the key questions raised by this chapter therefore is how the Internet and mobile technologies affect the way people use and understand urban space. Furthermore, how do ICTs reconstruct communication networks in ways that allow people to feel a sense of connection and shared identity without causing the ruling regime to fear mass social uprising? Following some background information that acknowledges China’s technological ‘leap forward’, we present findings of research that shows the relationship between urban mobility and the creative use of communication technologies. One of the conventional indicators of urban mobility is the automobile (Doulet and Flonneau 2003). We examine perceptions of urban space, strategies to master city trips through the use of web-based technologies, and community celebration of urban experience.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Collective Mobility: Trips are motivated by a more open sociability and individuals adopting mobility behaviors that are instigated by one or more social groups; for example, a car club self-driving tour.
Urban Mobility: The whole of trips generated daily by the inhabitants of a city, and the methods and conditions associated with such trips (modes of transport selected, length of trip, time spent in transport, etc.)
Collaborative Spatiality: The perception, as well as the experience, of urban spaces is partly shaped by the collaborative activities within groups. For example, through car club BBS, people build a “City-Wiki” including trip routes, cheap parking manuals and a GPS guidebook to share their mobility experience and knowledge.
City 2.0: A new expression designating new approaches to organizing a city along the principles of Web 2.0, inviting participation from citizens to define urban services, a more widely shared type of urbanism.
Sociability Pattern: The way individuals build their social circles and the interactions between these circles.