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Event Review

Successful Conclusion of the Series of Events on ‘Rethinking Rural-Urban Integration in the Context of Planetary Sustainability’

Date: April 8, 2024

 

The series of events on ‘Rethinking Rural-Urban Integration in the Context of Planetary Sustainability,’ jointly organized by the Urban Systems Institute at the University of Hong Kong (HKU-USI) and the School of Public Policy and Management at Guangxi University, concluded successfully last Friday. The academic activities took place from March 31 to April 5, 2024, spanning six days in Hong Kong, Nanning, and Guilin.

 

The objective of this event was to explore the significance of rural-urban integration in the context of Earth's sustainable development and propose relevant strategies and solutions. Prominent scholars, government officials, and professionals from both domestic and international backgrounds gathered together to share their latest research and practical experiences in the field of rural-urban integration.

Part I: Symposiums and Field Trips

Day 1 /  31 March 2024 /  Field Trip at Hong Kong

Picture 1. Group Photo in front of Kai Choi School at Kuk Po, Hong Kong

Led by the team from the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the participants embarked on a one-day field trip to Kuk Po, located southeast of Sha Tau Kok in Hong Kong. This Hakka walled village, with a history of over 300 years, now stands empty and tranquil, overlooking the bustling Yantian District of Shenzhen across the sea. During the visit, the attendees explored the diverse natural ecological environment, such as mangroves, wetlands and woodlands, experienced Hakka culture, and gained insights into the historical transformation of rural Hong Kong.

Picture 2. Prof Wei Jen Wang (Professor in the Department of Architecture, HKU) introduced his conservation project at Kuk Po.

During the field trip, Prof Wei Jen Wang from the Department of Architecture at HKU led the participants to visit Kai Choi School, which was restored under his team's supervision. He shared the "acupuncture-like" restoration strategy and architectural ingenuity in transforming dilapidated old houses into ruin gardens, sparking lively discussions on-site. Mr Weihang Gong, a doctoral student from the Department of Urban Planning and Design at HKU, represented the Social Infrastructure for Equity and Wellbeing (SIEW) Lab and introduced the conservation project covering nine villages, including Kuk Po, in the Yan Chau Tong area. He advocated for rehabilitation the traditional rural Yeuk institution into a modern village alliance.

Picture 3. Field Trip at Kuk Po

Picture 4. Mr Weihang Gong (PhD Student, Department of Urban Planning and Design, HKU) introduced the Social Infrastructure for Equity and Wellbeing (SIEW) Lab’s Yau Chau Tong Villages Project.

Day 2 /  1 April 2024  /  Symposium at Hong Kong

Picture 5. Group Photo of Symposium at Hong Kong

At the opening ceremony, Prof Shenjing He, the Executive Deputy Director of HKU-USI, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK), and Professor at the University of Hong Kong Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation (HKU-SIRI), delivered an enthusiastic speech on behalf of the organising committee. She warmly welcomed the attending guests and emphasised the importance and urgency of the rural- urban integration topic. Prof Junxi Qian, the Cluster Leader of the Urban-Rural Systems at HKU-USI and Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at HKU, also extended a sincere welcome to the participants during the opening ceremony. He mentioned that this was the first event organised by the Urban-Rural Systems cluster and expressed his hope that through this symposium, academic institutions and government departments at home and abroad could enhance cooperation in rural geography and jointly explore new paths for coordinated and sustainable rural-urban development.

Picture 6. Prof Shenjing He (Executive Deputy Director of HKU-USI; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK); Professor, the University of Hong Kong Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation (HKU-SIRI)) delivered welcoming speech.

Left: Picture 7. Prof Junxi Qian (Associate Professor, Department of Geography, HKU; Cluster Leader (Urban-Rural Systems), HKU-USI) delivered welcoming speech.

Right: Picture 8. Prof Jin Zhu (Assistant Professor, Department of Real Estate and Construction and Department of Urban Planning and Design, HKU) chaired the keynote session.

Prof Jin Zhu, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Real Estate and Construction as well as the Department of Urban Planning and Design at HKU, chaired the subsequent four keynote speeches. The first speaker was Mr Desmond Wu, the Principal Assistant Secretary (Nature Conservation) of Environment and Ecology Bureau of the HKSAR Government. He introduced the establishment, commitment, and focus of the Countryside Conservation Office, and proposed four strategies for sustainable rural-urban synergy: developing a proactive conservation plan, preparing a laymen’s licensing guide, moving towards net zero carbon, and applying green and smart technologies. The experts and scholars in attendance, reflecting their experiences in the field trip on the first day while listening, gained a comprehensive understanding of rural conservation in Hong Kong and developed a keen interest. They engaged in lively discussions with Mr Wu on topics such as rural land ownership, governance institutions, and conservation challenges in Hong Kong.

Picture 9. Mr Desmond Wu (Principal Assistant Secretary (Nature Conservation), Environment and Ecology Bureau, HKSAR Government) delivered a keynote speech.

Next, Prof Hualou Long, the Changjiang Distinguished Professor of the School of Public Policy and Management at Guangxi University, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK), and Director of the Agricultural Geography and Rural Development Committee of the Geographical Society of China, shared the theory and practice of rural industrial restructuring in Guangxi. He explained the concept of "restructuring" from three aspects: element integration, structural optimization, and function promotion. Taking Yangshuo County and Tiandong County as examples, he introduced the rural development models led by tourism and agriculture, respectively. He engaged in in-depth discussions with the attending guests on how to address the practical challenges and pain points in these models.

Picture 10. Prof Hualou Long (Changjiang Distinguished Professor, School of Public Policy and Management, Guangxi University; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK); Director, Agricultural Geography and Rural Development Committee, Geographical Society of China) discussed with attendees.

Prof Bo-sin Tang, Honorary Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at HKU, and Associate Professor Siu Wai Ivy Wong from the Department of Building and Real Estate at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), delved into the historical evolution of rural-urban relations in China. They unfolded the evolutionary process from ancient rural-urban continuum to the modern rural-urban dichotomy and the contemporary pursuit of rural-urban harmony. Taking examples from Guangzhou's new countryside construction and the rural revitalisation of Hesilu Village in Yiwu, they compared two different models of rural-urban integration: government-led and gentry-led. They advocated for the government to act as a facilitator in community building and empower grassroots self-governance. Their talk stimulated the audience to contemplate the concept of "gentrification" in the context of rural areas and engage in discussions with the speakers regarding the transformation of the government's role.

Picture 11. Prof Bo-sin Tang (Honorary Professor, Department of Urban Planning and Design, HKU) on the left and Prof Siu Wai Ivy Wong (Associate Professor, Department of Building and Real Estate, PolyU) on the right delivered a keynote speech.

Prof Jinlong Liu from the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development at Renmin University of China shared his unique insights into China's transformation of rural-urban relations and approaches towards 2035 goals of rural modernisation. He argued that while the vertical integration driven by market forces, capital, and state power has achieved rapid economic growth, it has undermined the horizontal integration at the grassroots level, leading to a significant decline in the absorptive capacity of rural communities. Prof Liu's suggestions sparked in-depth exchanges and discussions among the attendees on topics such as coordinating government and market forces, creating ecological products, and advancing rural culture with time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 12. Prof Jinlong Liu (Professor, Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Renmin University of China) delivered a keynote speech.

Finally, Associate Professor Hao Gu from the School of Public Administration at Hunan University delivered a fascinating report on how the rural revitalisation strategy enhances the rural resilience in China. Taking Wushi Village in Xiangtan County as an example, he discussed various types of capital involved in undergirding rural resilience, including natural, economic, cultural, social, and governance capital. He explained the relationships between different forms of capital in the development process of the local rural painting industry and how they generate positive chain effects. Prof Gu's speech inspired the audience to reflect on rural resilience and engage in discussions on ways to enhance rural resilience and establish win-win mechanisms in rural development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 12. Prof Hao Gu (Associate Professor, School of Public Administration, Hunan University) delivered a keynote speech.

Day 3 /  2 April 2024  /  Symposium at Nanning, Guangxi

Picture 13. Group Photo

The International Symposium on Rural Studies and Rural Revitalisation was successfully held at the School of Public Policy and Management, Guangxi University on 2 April, 2024. With over 180 participants, four distinguished scholars from mainland China, Hong Kong, and UK shared their outstanding research findings followed by a lively Q&A session.

 

Mr Guoen Xia, Standing Committee Member of the Party Committee and Vice President of Guangxi University, attended and delivered a speech. Mr Yungui Shi, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee and Dean of the School of Public Policy and Management, presided over the opening ceremony. Prof Hualou Long delivered a welcoming speech on behalf of the co-organisers and chaired the keynote session.

Picture 14. Opening Ceremony of Symposium at Guangxi University (Left: Mr Guoen Xia, Standing Committee Member of the Party Committee and Vice President of Guangxi University; Right: Mr Yungui Shi, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee and Dean of the School of Public Policy and Management)

Left: Picture 15. Prof Hualong Lou (Changjiang Distinguished Professor, School of Public Policy and Management, Guangxi University; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK); Director, Agricultural Geography and Rural Development Committee, Geographical Society of China) chaired the keynote session.

Right: Picture 16. Audience at the Venue

Left: Picture 17. Prof Michael Woods (Professor of Human Geography, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, UK; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK)) delivered a keynote speech.

Right: Picture 18. Prof Shenjing He (Executive Deputy Director of HKU-USI; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK); Professor, the University of Hong Kong Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation (HKU-SIRI)) delivered a keynote speech.

Left: Picture 19. Prof Darren Smith (Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Loughborough University; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK)) delivered a keynote speech.

Right: Picture 20. Prof Yuheng Li (Associate Professor, the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences) delivered a keynote speech.

The keynote speeches delved into the challenges, opportunities, viable development paths, and strategies for rural development. Prof Michael Woods, Professor of Human Geography at Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK), discussed the local development of Chinese rural areas in the context of globalisation. He illustrated the development process and models of global villages with Chinese characteristics, using examples from Tengtou Village in Fenghua, Zhejiang, Da'ou Village in Qingdao, Shandong, and Xin'an Village in Xinxiang, Henan. Despite the success to a certain degree, Prof Woods highlighted several limitations and unintended outcomes which were thought-provoking.

 

Prof Shenjing He identified the lack of comparison among different rural representations from various social groups, advocated a dialectical and relational perspectives, and adopted a social representation approach to discuss the discourses, positionalities, and imaginations. Synthesising formal (policy) representation, public representation, and community representation, Prof He unpacked the multi-faceted nature of rurality using the case study of Hong Kong.

 

Prof Darren Smith, Professor of School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Loughborough University and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK), examined the formation and development of ‘geographies of hope’ by reviewing existing research in rural geography and rural studies. He pointed out that future rural studies could draw inspiration from mainstream geography and urban-related research. Specifically, Prof Smith listed a research agenda with ten suggestions for rural studies.

 

Prof Yuheng Li, a Distinguished Young Scholar at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, focused on the rural paradigm shift in the knowledge economy era. Taking Taobao villages in Cao County as an example, he explored new models for rural development in China amidst the rise of global division in knowledge economy. Prof Li believed that the fragility of villages in urban-centric development paradigms could be mitigated with platform-based enterprises coming into play, while some pitfalls of the new Internet-based paradigm were non-negligible.

 

During the Q&A session, Prof Michael Woods addressed the question about how to overcome the limitations of rural development in the context of globalisation. He emphasized the importance of policymakers considering practicality and making proactive plans. Regarding the question of how emerging markets can strike a balance between localisation and globalisation, Prof Yuheng Li stated that the new model of rural development led by e-commerce may have its shortcomings. However, he mentioned that by understanding market characteristics and actively seeking new opportunities for development, it is possible to find new prospects.

Picture 21. Q&A Session

After the symposium, Assistant Professor Yanfeng Jiang from the School of Public Policy and Management at Guangxi University held a roundtable meeting with invited guests. He introduced transformational development and rural revitalisation in the terraced farming areas of Northern Guangxi, which sparked enthusiastic discussions among the experts and scholars in attendance.

Picture 22. Roundtable Meeting Chaired by Prof Yanfeng Jiang (Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy and Management, Guangxi University)

Day 4-5  /  3-4 April 2024  /  Field Trip at Guilin, Guangxi

Picture 23. Group Photo of Field Trip at Guilin, Guangxi

Led by the team of our co-organiser – the School of Public Policy and Management at Guangxi University, the cohort visited the Longji Rice Terraces located in Longsheng County, Guangxi. The visit included the JinKeng Red Yao Rice Terraces in Dazhai Village and Xiaozhai Village, as well as the Ping'an Zhuang Rice Terraces in Ping'an Village. The team gained an intuitive and detailed understanding of the status quo in the region.

 

Dazhai Village, with its terraced landscape and unique cultural charm of the Red Yao ethnic group, has pioneered a development model of ‘enterprise + terraces + farmers’ over the past two decades. It has successfully developed the Red Yao Rice Terraces as a scenic tourism industry and was awarded the title of ‘Best Tourism Village’ by the United Nations World Tourism Organization in 2022. Prof Yanfeng Jiang pointed out that although Xiaozhai Village, which is located nearby and shares similar natural conditions with Dazhai Village, is facing significant challenges in its development due to a catastrophic fire several years ago. The experts and scholars showed great interest in this and brainstormed to explore possible development paths for Xiaozhai Village.

Picture 24. Experts and Scholars Discussing during the Field Trip

During the closing ceremony of the symposium, Prof Shenjing He and Prof Hualou Long, representing the organising and co-organising organisations respectively, expressed heartfelt gratitude to the attendees for their enthusiastic participation and insightful presentations. The symposium served as a platform for academic exchange and cooperation, promoting knowledge sharing and experience in rural-urban integration. Attendees acknowledged gaining a deeper understanding of the importance and complexity of this topic through interactions with experts, drawing valuable insights for future research and practice.

Part II: Public Lecture

Day 6 /  5 April 2024  /  Public Lecture at HKU

The Part II of the event ‘‘Rethinking Rural-Urban Integration in the Context of Planetary Sustainability’ was hosted by Prof Junxi Qian, the head of the Urban-Rural Systems Cluster at HKU-USI and an associate professor in the Department of Geography at HKU. The lecture invited two renowned scholars: Professor Michael Woods, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a professor at the University of Aberdeen, and Professor Darren Smith, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a professor at Loughborough University. The lecture attracted wide participation from faculty and students from various disciplines at HKU.

Picture 25. Prof Junxi Qian (Associate Professor, Department of Geography, HKU; Cluster Leader (Urban-Rural Systems), HKU-USI) chaired the public lecture.

Prof Michael Woods created a methodological framework based on ‘Assemblage Thinking’ which is applicable to study the reshaping of localities, including rural areas, in the context of globalisation. He illustrated this approach using the example of Tengtou Village in Zhejiang Province, China. He explained how the village has undergone a process of reterritorialization and recoding by participating in global ‘assemblages’ such as clothing manufacturing, tourism, and sustainable development. Simultaneously, local stakeholders have made efforts to strengthen the endurance of the village and its "rural" identity.

Picture 26. Prof Michael Woods (Professor of Human Geography, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, UK; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK)) gave a lecture.

Then, Prof Darren Smith used Nottingham, UK, as an example to illustrate the latest land-use changes in the city and its surrounding rural areas. He delved into the intertwined processes of urban renewal, gentrification, studentification, and suburbanization. Prof Smith argued that the government's strong commitment to housing provision and deregulation have facilitated a profound reshaping of rural and urban landscapes, potentially giving rise to more enclosed and conflicted new rural-urban systems.

Picture 27. Prof Darren Smith (Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Loughborough University; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK)) gave a lecture.

The speakers' presentations sparked strong interest among the audience, leading to active questioning and engaging discussions. Participants came up with questions about the similarities and differences between ruralisation and urbanisation, the impact of government deregulation on urban-rural relations, the application of ‘Place as Assemblage’ thinking to bottom-up individual interactions, the extension of gentrification concepts, and the processes and characteristics of reterritorialization and recoding.

Picture 28. Q&A Session

Professor Junxi Qian summarised the event as a valuable platform for academic exchange, enriching the understanding of rural-urban system transformations. He expressed hopes that the event would inspire further research and contemplation on rural-urban integration in the context of planetary sustainability.

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