Neighborhood Space in 1950s Beijing: Urban Governance in the Early PRC


Park Sang-Soo, Korea University

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Abstract: Through an analysis of the early urban administration building process, the formation of neighborhood space, the connotation of “autonomy” (zizhi) of Residents’ Committees (RCs), and problems of governmental leadership in carrying out street works, this article attempts to redefine the state-society relationship in 1950s Beijing at the neighborhood level, appropriating the concept of “governance” instead of the conventional “state control” approaches which are, to a certain extent, based on the totalitarian model. The term “governance,” widely used in academia over the past decade, is essentially defined as state-society cooperation as opposed to the existing state-society dichotomy and its contradictory relationship. This more detailed and thorough investigation into the discrepancies between state intention and the reality of its own conditions, based on new materials preserved in the Beijing Municipal Archives, reveals a different landscape from the state’s strict control system in which governmental organizations seamlessly reached the lowest level of society. The strengthened reach of state power over urban society in the 1950s materialized not by coercive control through the expansion of the organs of state to the basic levels of society, but by governance through which positive societal responses to and cooperation with state policy could be put into place.

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