HomeSpaces and societies

HomeSpaces and societies

Spaces and societies

Espaces et sociétés

Espaces et sociétés

Chinese public space, a shared space?

L’espace public chinois, un espace en partage ?

El espacio público chino, ¿un espacio compartido?

*  *  *

Published on Wednesday, May 10, 2023


Espaces et Sociétés’ perspective on the Chinese city and urbanization, through a notion that is both distinctive and paradoxical in China: public space. The title of this call for papers, “Chinese public space, a shared space?” questions on the one hand the specific definition of Chinese public space, which is undergoing very rapid changes, and on the other hand its ability to be “shared” locally and internationally.



Olivier Chadoin, Jérémy Cheval and Nicolas Idier


Chinese urbanization in the last few decades has aroused fascination and concern in equal measure for its excess, and for the speed and sometimes even the radicality of the changes it has brought. Between large-scale new cities, urban villages and urban migrations, old neighborhoods (hutong) and standardized cities, the development of mass surveillance as a security version of the smart city… the “Chinese-made city” (Doulet, 2013), whether perceived as the expression of the urban nightmare or as an “attractor of the contemporary world” (Lussault, 2019), has become a symbol of both power and fragility. Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Canton, Chongqing, Wuhan… are all international cities whose image has a obvious influence. However, in our perception perception of them, as well as in their analysis, there is a risk of falling into the trap of stereotypical and geocentric readings of the urban phenomenon. In fact, this urbanization has not taken place in accordance with a perfect blueprint drawn up by a deliberately dirigiste power. Despite the mode of governance specific to China’s national political system, what we find in China is a heterogeneity of local and regional urban situations. The various tensions between desires for standardization, social practices, informal developments (Cheval, 2019; Descamps, 2019), but also the development of participatory and collaborative approaches (Lin, 2022), reveal a complex situation that needs to be elusive dated by detailed observations and analyses.

These observations and caveats form the basis of Espaces et Sociétés’ perspective on the Chinese city and urbanization , through a notion that is both distinctive and paradoxical in China: public space. The title of this call for papers, “Chinese public space, a shared space?” questions on the one hand the specific definition of Chinese public space, which is undergoing very rapid changes, and on the other hand its ability to be “shared” locally and internationally. 21st-century urban China has in fact evolved in two – sometimes opposite – directions, between internationalization and sovereignty. While the Chinese political system is characterized by a stability that remains proof against crises and internal changes, the urban phenomenon is nevertheless marked by different periods and recent events that have punctuated its evolution: the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, the launch of the New Silk Road program (Belt and Road Initiative) in 2013, or even the start of the health crisis in Wuhan in 2019 and the urban version of the Zero-Covid policy. In other words, the pace of its urban development has visible consequences on socio-spatial dynamics and on the evolution of rules and norms in Chinese public space. While the links between spaces and society have been analyzed through the prism of the making of civil society (Veg, 2009; Thireau, 2020), toponymy (Zhang 2001, Qian 2014), social and urban transformation processes (Cheval 2018), or of sensoriality (Frangville et al. , 2020; Bellot 2020), they have so far been relatively little approach from the angle of representations (Valjakka and Wang, 2018). This number of the journal thus invites a critical perspective on the perceptions and representations of the dynamic relationship between space and society through public spaces in China.
Chinese public space (gonggong kongjian ,公共空间) is generally devoid of a component that is essential in the Western understanding of the term – the public sphere (Habermas, 1978; Chye, 2008; Paquot, 2009). Until the 20th century, the description of spaces in cities, temples and houses, was covered a gradation between public and private, passing through intermediate variants called “semi-public” and “semi-private” spaces. In the 21st century, in the contemporary Chinese city, all of these descriptions come together in what is called “shared space” (Sanjuan, 2016; Cheval, 2018) ( gongxiang kongjian 共享空间or heyong kongjian 合用空间). Be it streets , alleys , cul-de-sacs, parks, squares, courtyards , halls, corridors, kitchens, car parks, all these spaces have either proliferated or diminished in cities. They are symbols of transformations, movements and interactions (Gaubtaz, 2008; Graezer-Bideau, 2012), heirs to a notion of public space defined by the vibration of the street (Pirazzoli-t’ Serstevens, 1970 and not of the square, which for its part is heir to the Greek agora in European representations. As a result, historical interpretations of the Chinese city (Gabbiani, 2011) constantly question the mental representations that we have of it.

Shared spaces are not immune to the complex urban issues of renewal, management, maintenance and sustainable development (Idier, 2010; Douay, 2017). The definition of land holdings and planning policies have massively influenced their transformation or disappearance, adding or prohibiting various activities and usage rights. In consequence, any analysis of public spaces cannot ignore the sharing mechanisms they instigate (Roulleau-Berger, 2017). They are defined spatially by the evolution of boundaries and thresholds over time between informal practice and managed planning, fluctuating between acceptance, resistance or erasure. These spatial phenomena also testify to the tensions and social relations between actors, occupants, passers-by, and the different levels of governance (Gransow, 2014). We find in these places modes of social inclusion and exclusion, along with different power relations. They raise questions about imbalances in the allocation of resources and the distribution of benefits as they do everywhere in the world. Based on these guidelines, we propose two directions of study for this issue of the journal.

The first questions the categories of analysis , and the representations associated with them, of the relationships between spaces and societies: can we speak today of a paradoxical public space in the Chinese city? What are the uses, practices and meanings of such a space? How can we explore or adapt the categories we use to understand these places? What are the different categories of “inhabitants” and “users” of the Chinese city and how they interact? How do we go about questioning, adapting the Western categories that we use to understand these places? What roles can they play in the perception of the Chinese city and in the representations and visions of international urbanization? Can we identify an idea or an urbanistic representation of what these places “should be”?

The second direction of study casts light on what it means to “make do” with public space in the Chinese city: how do the current social and urban changes run counter to or negotiate with these practices and these different meanings of public space ? This perspective can be adopted on at least two levels: the level of the “lived” city, i.e. practices and social uses, on the one hand, and on the other hand the level of the “designed” city, i.e. the mechanisms and logics of production. What does “inhabiting the public space” of the Chinese city mean for its inhabitants? How does the development of surveillance and monitoring technologies in particular modify the course of social interactions and uses? How do the dynamics of internal governance translate into shared spaces? How do local citizen movements or local singularities influence or not influence the design and realization of public spaces? Are all places open to the public covered by a single regulatory system? What role do commerce and the economy play in making space public? Is public space also cultural and artistic space? And finally, where are the margins of exclusion and the breaking points – physical or imaginary – in such a space?

It will therefore be essential for the proposed contributions to address the very question of the use and definitions of the terms “public space” or “shared space” in the Chinese context. The proposals may take several forms: either analyses focusing on places, situations, practices and facts, but also on biographical trajectories, which provide an account of the issues and modes of existence of Chinese public space; or critical and theoretical approaches, even epistemological questions, insofar as the notion of public space in the context of the Chinese city and its scientific uses remain open to examination. Finally, contributions that provide a mix of viewpoints and hence the possibility of comparison will be appreciated.

Additional proposal for this issue: an interview with one or more Chinese writers.

Submission guidelines

Articles must be submitted exclusively by e-mail to the following three addresses:

  • ;
  • ;

no later than November 6, 2023.

Authors uncertain about the suitability of their proposal can contact the coordinators

NB:The journal does not accept article proposals, only completed articles.

Articles should not exceed 45,000 characters (including spaces), encompassing: text, notes, bibliographical references, appendices, but excluding abstracts and keywords.

The presentation requirements and advice for authors are available on the journal website (pdf)

The journal would like to remind potential contributors that they can at any time submit an article outside the subject of this special feature, if it is about the relationship between spaces, territories and populations in the widest sense, and provided that it meets the publication requirements.


Bellot Marie, 2020, « Public space and affect: Political sensibilities, biographical narratives and emotional framing in China », Civilisations, vol. 69, p. 81-101.

Cheval Jérémy, 2018, Shanghai Shikumen Lilong, socio-spatial transformations of human settlement: appropriations in shared spaces beyond destruction, thèse de doctorat en architecture et urbanisme, université Paris-Est-Tongji university (Shanghai).

— 2019, dossier « La Chine oriente », Tous Urbains, no 27-28.

Chye Kiang Heng, 2008, « Chinese public space: A brief account », in Douglass Mike, Ho Kong, Ooi Giok Ling, Globalization, the City and Civil Society un Pacific Asia. The social production of civic spaces, Londres-New York, Routledge, p. 79-104.

Descamp Jérémie, 2019, « Du conflit à l’institutionnalisation, le participatif comme pratique urbaine à Pékin », Tous urbains, no 27-28, p. 76-80.

Douay Nicolas (dir.), 2017, dossier « Urbanisme en Chine », Perspectives chinoises, vol. 1.

Doulet Jean-François, 2013, La ville made in China, Paris, Ed. B2.

Frangville Vanessa, Petit Pierre, Richaud Lisa, 2020, « Public spaces in late socialist East Asia: Interactions, performativity, citizenship », Civilisations, vol. 69, p. 11-31.

Frangville Vanessa, Gaffric Gwennael, 2021, China’s Youth Cultures and Collective Spaces. Creativity, Sociality, Identity and Resistance, Londres, Routledge.

Gabbiani Luca, 2011, Pékin à l’ombre du Mandat céleste – Vie quotidienne et gouvernement urbain sous la dynastie Qing (1644-1911), Paris, éditions de l’EHESS.

Gaubatz Piper, 2008, « Les nouveaux espaces publics en Chine urbaine », Perspectives chinoises, vol. 4 [URL :, consulté le 13 mars 2023].

Graezer-Bideau Florence, 2012, La danse du yangge Culture et politique dans la Chine du xxe siècle, Paris, La Découverte.

Gransow Bettina (dir.), 2014, dossier « Espaces urbains contestés, quel droit à la ville ? », Perspectives chinoises, vol. 2.

Habermas Jürgen, 1978 [1962], L’espace public : archéologie de la publicité comme dimension constitutive de la société bourgeoise, Paris, Payot.

Idier Nicolas, 2010, Shanghai. Histoire, promenades, anthologie et dictionnaire, Paris, Robert Laffont.

Lin Yanliu, 2022, « Rethinking collaborative planning in China: Does the communicative or agonistic planning theory matter? », Planning Theory, vol. 0, no 0 [DOI :].

Lussault Michel, 2019, « La chine urbaine. Un attracteur du monde contemporain », Tous urbains, no 27-28, p. 42-50.

Paquot Thierry, 2009, L’espace public, Paris, La Découverte.

Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens Michèle, 1970, CHINE, Architecture universelle, Fribourg, Office du livre.

Qian Junxi, 2014, « From performance to politics? Constructing public and counter public in the singing of red songs », European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 17, no 5, p. 602-628.

Roulleau-Berger Laurence, 2017, « Temporalités, espaces et Individu compressé en Chine », Temporalités, vol. 26 [DOI :].

Sanjuan Thierry, 2013, « Les nouvelles trames de l’espace chinois : campagnes, villes et métropolisation (entretien avec Pierre Clément dans la table ronde organisé par Thierry Sanjuan) », Urbanité.

Thireau Isabelle, 2020, Des lieux en commun. Une ethnographie des rassemblements publics en Chine, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS.

Valjakka Minna, Wang Meiqin (dir.), 2018, Visual Arts, Representations and Interventions in Contemporary China: Urbanized Interfaces, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press.

Veg Sebastian, 2009, Fictions du pouvoir chinois : Littérature, modernisme et démocratie au début du xxe siècle, Paris, Éditions de EHESS.

Zhang Li, 2001, Strangers in the city: Reconfigurations of space, power, and social networks within China’s floating population, Stanford, Stanford University Press


  • Monday, November 06, 2023


  • espace public, espace partagé, chine


  • Olivier Chadoin
    courriel : olivier [dot] chadoin [at] bordeaux [dot] archi [dot] fr
  • Nicolas Idier
    courriel : idier [dot] chine [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Jérémy Cheval
    courriel : jeremycheval [at] hotmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Jérémy Cheval
    courriel : jeremycheval [at] hotmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Spaces and societies », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, May 10, 2023,

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search