DOI: 10.1177/00420980231201549 ISSN: 0042-0980

Creating the spectacular city in everyday life: A governance analysis of urban public space in China

Ryanne Flock
  • Urban Studies
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)

Chinese cities are making a name for themselves through what Guthman calls an ‘accumulation by spectacle’. Studies elucidate the fast change of the urban fabric and the interconnection of commercial profits with pro-state propaganda during mega-events. The spectacle appears as a once-in-lifetime chance for a city, orchestrated during a specific time and in purpose-built venues. This article, however, argues that efforts of spectacularisation expand to everyday life. I take the marginalisation of the urban poor in Guangzhou, that is, street vendors and beggars, as a starting point to understand governmental ideals, strategies and patterns of controlling public space. The data is based on fieldwork, government documents, yearbooks and newspapers. Engaging in the discussion on what Debord termed the ‘society of the spectacle’, I explain how urban management concentrates on areas serving (1) tourism and commerce, (2) memorial politics, (3) government relations and (4) transport and traffic; and follows the pulse of (1) annual events and seasonal holidays, (2) recurring political dates, (3) exceptional mega-events and (4) regular urban development campaigns. These zones and periods of increased control intertwine and culminate in an ‘ideal’ public space excluding poverty and other elements contesting the city’s success images.

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