[URBANTH-L]REV: Hill on Bray, _Social Space and Governance in Urban China_

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Sat Oct 8 14:41:45 EDT 2005

[x-posted from H-Urban]

Published by: H-Urban at h-net.msu.edu (July, 2005)

David Bray. Social Space and Governance in Urban China: The
Danwei System From Origins to Urban Reform. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2005. ix + 277 pp. Figures, table, notes, bibliography,
index. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-8047-5038-6.

Reviewed by: Richard Child Hill, Department of Sociology, Michigan State

Governing Urban China

Industrialization wrenches people from the land and thrusts them into the
city. Every industrializing society experiences this tectonic dislocation
but no two breech it in quite the same way. The danwei system is how the
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mobilized, integrated, and governed China's
exploding urban population after the 1949 revolution. The danwei was
simultaneously the spatial building block, the locus of daily life, and the
mainspring of social identity in the Chinese socialist city. Danwei is a
generic term referring to the socialist workplace and the activities it
encompasses. The CCP organized the city through the workplace. The grass
roots production unit, be it factory, government bureau, school, or
hospital, touched nearly every aspect of a Chinese worker's life: it
provided employment and housing, meal provision and bath houses, child care
and early schooling, medical treatment and welfare services, political study
and party membership, marriage and divorce, policing and security. Two
decades of economic reform have considerably diminished the danwei's
significance in the Chinese city but the system's legacy lives on in the
institutions that are replacing it. Social Space and Governance in Urban
China is an interpretive portrait of the danwei system framed by concepts
and methodology drawn from Michel Foucault. Author David Bray, a lecturer in
Chinese politics at Cambridge University, seeks to reveal through the danwei
how the "political and economic strategies of government in China have
impinged upon the everyday lives of the urban population" (p. 1). He is
particularly interested in the role of space in the exercise of power and
social control.

Bray uses Foucault's genealogical method and his concepts of power,
governmentality, and social space. Foucault understands the present as
history. Contemporary institutions are layered repositories of ancestral
practices. Power is intimately connected with knowledge. Knowledge codified
into disciplines enables calculated transformations of human life.
Governments use disciplinary knowledge to "rationally" police, educate,
socialize, and sanitize their citizens. Urban planning is a means to
discipline populations, a technique for controlling and transforming social
relations through the organization of space. Bray's project then is to
excavate the spatial genealogy of the danwei and trace the system's
strategic connections to "power, knowledge, discipline, government and
subject formation in Urban China" (p. 9).

Spatial genealogy suggests that a city's built environment evolves through
"mimetic" processes in which ancestral spatial forms and architectural
techniques are redeployed for new social purposes (p. 200). The archetypal
danwei is organized in a spatial compound girdled by high walls. Encircling
walls provide members with protection and a collective identity. Major
buildings are ordered along axes. The alignment of buildings symbolizes the
centrality of the party and productive labor. Work and living spaces are
standardized. Uniformity conveys an egalitarian ethic.

Danwei space is designed to bolster the socialist order yet it also mimics
the family compounds of traditional China. Confucian and socialist China are
very different social orders yet the wall demarcates social space in both,
and both endow space with political and moral significance. The Confucian
compound is ruled by the family patriarch; the socialist production compound
by the danwei. Confucian space sanctifies familial hierarchy; socialist
space a collectivist and egalitarian concept of social relations.
The danwei's spatial lineage is further complicated by intermediate Chinese
ancestors and cross-national lines of descent. Republican China reworked the
family compound to house guilds and corporations after the 1911 revolution
and before it was recast into the danwei by the CCP during the
industrialization drives of the 1950s and 1960s. Chinese socialist
architects also looked to European utopian traditions and to pre-Stalinist
Soviet planning for spatial designs that would enhance labor productivity
and worker cohesiveness. There is no one point of origin for the danwei,
Bray concludes, nor is there one line of descent or primary source of
influence. Rather, the danwei is a "complex layering of disparate practices
on top of each other" (p. 7).

The danwei's comprehensive penetration into workers' daily lives is
reminiscent of the American company town during the early twentieth century,
a phenomenon sometimes referred to as "welfare capitalism," and immortalized
in Henry Ford's Detroit empire at River Rouge.[1] Japan's "welfare
corporatism" version of the company town flourished after World War II,
exemplified by Toyota Motor Corporation's massive industrial urban complex,
Toyota City, near Nagoya.[2] The company town, like the danwei, used the
workplace to mobilize, socialize, and control rural migrants flooding into
an unfamiliar urban-industrial environment. All three systems drew upon
older village ways of life to help organize new ways of living in cities.
But the company town was never the basic unit of urban life in the American
or Japanese industrial city, whereas in China, by the late 1950s, over 90
percent of the urban population belonged to a danwei of some kind (p. 94).
Nor was the American or Japanese company town so directly connected to state
policy as in China. The CCP depended upon a vast corps of danwei based
cadres to implement its "mass line," a strategy of local self reliance and
initiative within a centralized policy framework. The Chinese state
channeled funds for economic and social infrastructure through individual
danwei rather than through city or regional government. Horizontally, the
Chinese socialist city was a patchwork of self-contained cells. Vertically,
the cells turned into silos each attached to the central ministry or bureau
whose functions the individual danwei performed.

Chinese socialist governmentality differed most from Western liberalism in
the role of the cadre, says Bray. Cadres had to be both "red and expert,"
both politically loyal and skilled at mobilization, production, and
leadership. The liberal expert, by contrast, is assumed to be a politically
disinterested specialist whose expertise alone is sufficient justification
for social intervention.[3] The danwei also contrasts with the nationalistic
and deterministic reading of socialism in the Soviet Union at the time.
While Stalin's influence can be seen in China's grandiose public buildings,
danwei construction during the 1950s and 1960s reflected Mao's
anti-bureaucratic, utopian line of thought. Two decades of economic reform
have taken a heavy toll on the danwei. Scientific management has entered the
workplace. The mass line has changed to the financial bottom line. State
owned enterprises have shed masses of employees. A new class of small
proprietors is shifting the danwei compound into commercial streets, back
lanes and shopping centers. The danwei may be in terminal decline, says
Bray, but the system's legacy continues in the institutions that are
replacing it. Many urban residents still live in danwei although they no
longer rely on it for their livelihood. The new unit of urban development,
the xiaoqu, resembles the danwei in bringing together various services and
facilities within an enclosed, communally oriented, residential compound,
although now under the control of professional property management. The
danwei itself is experimenting with new market oriented practices; some are
fronting their exterior walls with shopping strips. New private enterprises
are reproducing many features of the danwei, including housing, medical
care, and pensions. And the government is promoting community self help once
again to fill the welfare void left by the danwei's decline.

Bray sets his genealogical framework off against market transition and
party/state models of social change in China. The market transition account
is too simplistic, he argues. Collective and communal forms of organization
persist and intertwine with growing markets and individuation. While new
Chinese enterprises no longer evince socialist labor relations, they more
closely approximate Japanese collective enterprise culture than
individualistic Western business patterns. The spatial link between work and
residence has broken but enclosed communal living still predominates.
Bray also disputes claims about the pre-eminence of the party/state in
China. The party/state model is too "totalizing" a framework, he says. The
danwei is not a "seamless extension of the Chinese state but rather a
complex layering of many influences" (p. 195). One must examine each of its
layers, individually and in combination, rather than simply assume the
danwei's overall coherence as an agent of the party/state.

Foucault demonstrated how the exercise of power in Western institutional
settings created "individualized subjects." Bray wants to show how the
exercise of power in the Chinese danwei created "collectivized subjects."
Differently organized power relations produce different modes of
subjectivity, he reasons. Disciplinary power can operate as effectively
within collectively oriented as within individually oriented societies. Bray
makes his case quite admirably. The argument is tightly woven. The framework
is consistently applied. The conclusions are illuminating. Because the
danwei has been the core building block of urban life in socialist China and
continues in modified forms to exert a strong influence on social relations,
it is an excellent vantage point for exploring the Chinese city and for
drawing comparisons with urban formations elsewhere in Asia and in the West.
Social Space and Governance in Urban China should prove of considerable use
in that effort.

[1]. Stuart Brandes, American Welfare Capitalism
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).

[2]. Kuniko Fujita and Richard Child Hill, "Toyota City: Industrial
Organization and the Local State in Japan," in Japanese Cities in the World
Economy, eds. Kuniko Fujita and Richard Child Hill (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1993).

[3]. The Japanese "social bureaucrat" probably falls somewhere in the middle
between the politically committed socialist cadre and the politically
neutral liberal expert. See Sheldon Garon, _Molding Japanese Minds: The
State in Everyday Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

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