Urban China: Informal Cities is a multifaceted exploration and physical manifestation of the groundbreaking magazine Urban China. Founded in 2005, Urban China is the only magazine devoted to issues of urbanism published in and about China. In addition to offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, the magazine has a network of correspondents and collaborators around the world who work under the guidance of its Editor-in-Chief, Jiang Jun, to meld elements of photojournalism, geography, architecture, graphic design, anthropology, statistics, and historical research together in an investigation of how cities, particularly rapidly developing cities, function today.
Each issue of Urban China is dedicated to exploring a single, researched theme, such as “Chinatown,” “Migrating China,” and “Urban Images and Text.”
Urban China: Informal Cities serves as an introduction to the methods and multiplicity of the magazine’s practices, as well as an extended exploration of how “informalism” influences the shape of cities in China and beyond.
Urban China uses the term “informalism” as a catchall term that combines notions of the informal, or underground, economy with popular, vernacular modes of remaking objects, buildings, and lives. The idea of the informal is especially consequential in light of the rigorous order with which Chinese cities have historically been planned and policed. Chinese cities are, and have always been, highly ordered; from the gatehouse structure at the core of ancient city plans to the volumes of bureaucracy necessary to engage in many everyday tasks today, Chinese cities are a study in control of space, people, and economies. For Urban China informalism is a way for individuals to exert direct agency over the basic facts of their daily lives and remix their immediate reality. As such, the gallery is replete with graphic treatments, objects, and remnants, all of which combine to explain how informal systems—spatial, economic, and utilitarian—act to subvert the highly structured nature of urban spaces in China and beyond.
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