SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

The China Gentrification Footnote: Why Culture and Capital are not Enough

IMG - Luigi Tomba


Professor Luigi Tomba (China Studies Centre, The University of Sydney)

Date: 23 May 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 23 May 2019Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: Wolfson Lecture Theatre (SWLT)

Type of Event: Seminar

Due to unforeseen circumstances this event has been cancelled. We apologise for the disappointment.


The messages of planners and politicians to explain the rationality of a push towards an ubiquitous urbanisation focuses on the “positive” externalities of this transformation: what was rural and irrational becomes urban and coherent; what is dilapidated and inhabited by the working classes is transformed by new groups into middle class paradises; what had low market value becomes prime; what was small, chaotic and ungovernable becomes big, beautiful and orderly.

Cultural and capital-based explanations of gentrification have dominated the global literature about gentrification: the process of invasion of dilapidated neighbourhoods is generally explained either with the positive impact of an accultured middle class or with the damaging impact of capital. Yet, are the meanings that gentrification is conveying a useful way to indigenise a concept first invented for London and New York? Is the idea becoming a way for local elites as well as scholars to turn China into a “footnote” of the global debate?

This presentation discusses concrete examples of how urbanisation is producing the replacement of one class with another and how the gentrification it generates is a constitutive, not epiphenomenal, aspect of urbanisation in China. It will discuss in particular the fact that the state plays, at the same time, the role of regulator, landlord, and gentrifier that are generally associated with separate and competing actors in the literature on gentrification.


Born and educated in Italy, Luigi is a political scientist with three decades of China experience. From 2001 to 2017, Luigi was teaching and researching Chinese society and politics at the Australian National University. From 2017 he is the director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. His work covers many aspects of China’s political and social change, with a particular interest in the consequences of China’s urbanisation on society and governance. Between 2005 and 2015 Luigi was also the co-editor of The China Journal one of the world’s top-rated area studies journal.

His latest book on urban neighbourhood life and politics, The Government Next Door. Neighbourhood Politics in Urban China, was published by Cornell University Press in 2014 and was awarded the American Association of Asian Studies 2016 Joseph Levenson prize.

The China Studies Centre was created in 2010 and is funded by The University of Sydney, as a way to coordinate the different ways in which China features in the University’s research.

In 2018 the China Studies Centre launched a University-wide research program on "China in the Urban Age" that aims at bringing together multidisciplinary and global expertise around the issues related to China’s urbanisation. The Centre also features a diverse range of public activities, research workshops, hosts an international visitors' program and engages proactively with civil society government and business.


This event is open to the public and free to attend, however registration is required.

Chair: Steve Tsang (Director, SOAS China Institute)