Scholars have long addressed 'the urban' as separate and oppositional to 'the rural'. What is 'urban' has thus often come to indicate a subset of Chinese culture, society, politics and places. The urban is, however, a dimension that spans not only different areas of research on China, but also different contexts and territories beyond the narrow margins of administrative classification and the borders of disciplines. Research in this stream will contribute to unveiling the urban condition (in material, political, spatial, cultural, ideological and historical terms), its imaginaries and the social and spatial landscapes it produces.
One could think of the holistic significance of 'the urban' in past and present roles of cities in state and social formation, and of urban imaginaries in shifting ideologies of modernity; the trajectories of and tensions between urban and anti-urban ideologies in China's revolution, and in reform and developmental strategies over the last century; the roles played by urban spaces in the tensions and struggles between local traditions and global influences; the eclectic nature of China's urban socialist and post-socialist aesthetics; and the centrality of territorialisation and de-territorialisation in the contemporary making of the Chinese local state, and so on.
An urban research agenda cannot ignore the debate about China's modernity but should not be reduced to it. We wish, instead, to encourage research that investigates urban practices, experiences, mentalities and ideologies both within an urban context and outside of it.
At a time of rapid urbanisation affecting directly or indirectly different areas of the country, and with individuals becoming involved in more complex social networks, there is one overarching question. With intensified mobility of people and resources reshuffling local identities and reducing the importance of local networks, while increasing the importance of national practices (language, spaces, social structures, media), how is the urban age contributing to redefining what it means to be Chinese?
The many issues that require consideration of urban practices, landscapes and imaginaries need to be both systematically connected and organically placed in conversation with global debates about the 'urban age'. Urbanisation as a material process of transformation is redefining China's society, territory, spaces, aesthetics and hierarchies. The study of the practices of the urban is also central to the evaluation of China's global (material and symbolic) reach in the world system. We expect scholars from different disciplines to suggest both unexpected and innovative ways to understand the importance of the urban in China and the world.