Cities Surround the Countryside
Chairman Mao creatively laid down the general line and general pol-
icy of the new democratic revolution, founded the Chinese People’s
Liberation Army and pointed out that the seizure of political power
by armed force in China could be achieved only by following the road
of building rural base areas, using the countryside to encircle the cit-
ies and finally seizing the cities, and not by any other road.
‘‘Text of Announcement Issued by Peking Reporting Death of
Chairman Mao,’’ Xinhua, 10 September 1976
Mao’s mandate that the countryside encircle the cities
has been irrevocably reversed during the past three de-
cades in China. Although Deng Xiaoping’s economic
reforms started in the countryside, in 1978, with the
household responsibility system, policy shifted to ur-
ban development with the establishment of the first
Special Economic Zones, in 1980. Urbanization is now
dominant in China, both demographically and ideolog-
ically. The question that first provoked my inquiry into
postsocialist urban aesthetics is a simple one: what hap-
pens culturally when those in a historically agricultural
civilization start to identify primarily with the city?
China has maintained a rural population of nearly 90
percent for millennia, its poets rhapsodizing on glad
retirements to rural abodes, its culture characterized by
an ‘‘attachment to the soil.’’ Yet both the soil and the
values associated with it are swiftly transforming. The
modern urban-rural dichotomy, a legacy of nineteenth-
century imperialism, is being rapidly reconfigured in a
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