Where is the public realm in urban China? For most ordinary Chinese people, it is a tricky question. China, after all, is a civilization without the Greek agora, the Roman forum, the medieval marketplace, the Renaissance piazza, and the Olmsteadian urban parks (Carr et al. 1992). Numerous historical studies have argued that the traditional Chinese urbanism was characterized more by walls and gates than open spaces for social interactions (Knapp 2000). Of course, in recent years many “Western” landscapes have been transplanted into the physical fabrics of Chinese cities, but the notion of publicness is still vague, and not yet deeply engraved in Chinese people’s imagination of everyday urban life. When I was more than ten years old, my hometown, a medium-sized prefecture-level city in Eastern China, witnessed the birth of its first public square formally planned and constructed by the municipal government. Before that, streets and communal spaces in neighbourhoods were the only spaces which were literally “public” to all the inhabitants of the city. Urban parks, on the other hand, were normally considered to be tourist attractions and charged their visitors an entrance fee. Also, as one who was born only a couple of months before the Tiananmen Square tragedy in 1989, I have not been blessed with a chance to see a mature Chinese civil society emerging in urban public spaces: the post-1989 Chinese state has been continuing to monitor closely any public gathering or public association. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, being public was a very vague notion for me. Everyday street life was usually taken for granted by the people and its social and cultural significance was less understood.

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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyThe University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong

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