In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture of China - City Planning

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Capital Cities
  • Reference Works
  • Collected Writings/Series

Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture of China - City Planning
Nancy S. Steinhardt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0034


Evidence of Chinese cities is at least as old as the 6th millennium BCE. It survives in the form of group settlements and walled enclosures, both confirmed by ever stronger archaeological evidence since the beginning of widespread government-sponsored excavation in China in 1949. The explosion of bibliographical work on Chinese cities and urbanism is a direct result. Excavation, historical records that include information such as censuses as early as the late centuries BCE, and other literature combine to document urban centers in every province and every autonomous region of China from the BCE millennia to the 21st century. The majority of those centers have continuous histories, also extending into the 21st century. The continuous history of Chinese civilization through millennia provides evidence, again literary and physical, for unique opportunities to explore social themes such as urban versus agrarian, imperial cities compared to villages, or the relation between religious construction and urban design. At the same time, China has unique international status as home to the world’s two largest cities: Shanghai with a population of more than twenty-four million and Beijing with nearly nineteen million. China is also the only country with ten cities that have populations of more than eight million and thirty cities with a population greater than three million, offering unprecedented opportunity for research on demography, climate control, ecology, and basic human survival. Inclusion of periodical literature in Asian and European languages would produce a list of several hundred thousand titles. The goal of this article is to recognize seminal titles already with or likely to have long shelf lives, as well as to represent the kinds of research and range of topics about the Chinese city.

General Overviews

An overview by definition should deal with general features or the sweep of history. Concerning the Chinese city, this definition means that the majority of overviews focus on the premodern period, which can be defined as pre-1912, or imperial China, or perhaps China until the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Because widespread excavation became a government-sponsored activity beginning in 1949, many pre-1950s publications are outdated. Pre-1950s overviews deal almost exclusively with capitals. Hundreds of general books about Chinese cities have been written in China since the 1950s. Many of the same major cities and same plans are published in them. Clark 2013 is a unique survey of both the Chinese city and global cities. Schinz 1996 is the most detailed work in English. Gaubatz 1996 is focused on one geographic region but represents the high level of scholarship on Chinese cities in the 21st century. Wu 1986 is in English but Chinese-style in presentation. The Chinese works, Dong 1988, He 1996, Liu 2016, Qu 2003, Zhongguo chengshi jiansheshi, Xu 2015, and Yang 2006 represent authors and research institutes that are affiliated with that work on urbanism. Komai 1977 relies more on texts than many of the Chinese authors but includes excavated materials only up to 1977. Xu 2015 is a posthumous compilation of works more in the style of Komai 1977.

  • Clark, Peter, ed. Cities in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Book compiled following several conferences and extensive exchange of information with the goal of producing a global history of cities from earliest to most recent times.

  • Dong Jianhong. Zhongguo gudai chengshi jianshe. Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 1988.

    (English translation: Construction of premodern Chinese cities.) History of Chinese city planning by one of China’s major urbanists. Dong’s selected best work is in Zhongguo gudai chengshi ershi jiang (Chinese premodern cities, twenty lectures) (2009) and Dong Jianhong wenji (Essays by Dong Jianhong) (2015).

  • Gaubatz, Piper Rae. Beyond the Great Wall: Urban Form and Transformation on the Chinese Frontiers. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

    Work based on dissertation research that deals with cities in Mongolia.

  • Guo Husheng. Zhonghua gudu. Nanjing: Kongjian chubanshe, 1997.

    (English translation: Construction of premodern Chinese cities.) By one of China’s earliest urban historians, this is a survey covering the most important cities and their original plans throughout Chinese history followed by passages from primary sources about Chinese cities.

  • He Yeju. Zhongguo gudai chengshi guihuashi. Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 1996.

    (English translation: History of premodern Chinese city planning.) Comprehensive study of Chinese cities organized thematically rather than chronologically by a major scholar of Chinese urbanism. Almost every important city or plan is discussed in the nearly seven hundred pages.

  • Komai Kazuchika. Chūgoku tojo, Bokkai kenkyū. Tokyo: Yuzan kaku, 1977.

    (English translation: Chinese cities, research on Balhae.) Two monographs published under one cover. The first, on Chinese cities, uses Chinese textual sources as well as excavation reports up to the 1960s.

  • Liu, Qingzhu, ed. Zhongguo gudai ducheng kaogu faxian yu yanjiu. Vol. 1. Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian, 2016.

    (English translation: Premodern Chinese capitals: excavation and research). Only volume published to date of anticipated series. Liu is most authoritative scholar of Han architecture and cities.

  • Qu Yingjie. Gudai chengshi. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2003.

    (English translation: Premodern Chinese cities). Succinct, excellent survey of the most important Chinese cities from earliest times through the Forbidden City.

  • Schinz, Alfred. The Magic Square: Cities in Ancient China. Stuttgart: Edition Axel Menges, 1996.

    Takes as its title the “magic square,” a reference to the ideal city: a square with three gates on each side described in the Classical text Rituals of Zhou, but much more extensive coverage of Chinese cities.

  • Tongji University Urban Planning Research Institute. Zhongguo chengshi jiansheshi. Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 1982.

    (English translation: History of Chinese city planning.) Study by a major research institute of Chinese urbanism. Gives more attention to modern cities than most other books in this category.

  • Wu Liangyong. A Brief History of Ancient Chinese City Planning. Kassel: Gesamthochschulbibliothek, 1986.

    Excellent survey of information about Chinese capitals and other cities through the mid-1980s based on lectures by Wu.

  • Xu Pingfang. Zhongguo chengshi kaoguxue lunji. Shanghai: Shanghai shiji chubanshe, 2015.

    (English translation: Research essays on the archaeology of Chinese cities.) Study by major research group that gives more weight to non-imperial cities and modern cities than most general overviews.

  • Yang Kuan. Zhongguo gudai chengshi zhidushi. Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin chubanshe, 2006.

    (English translation: History of the system of Chinese premodern cities.) Most recent version of a book written by Yang under a similar title, including Zhongguo gudai ducheng zhidushi yanjiu (Research on the history of the system of Chinese premodern cities).

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