(Recovering) China’s Urban Rivers as Public Space

Kelly Shannon, Chen Yiyong


This article focuses on the revered role rivers in China once held – in cartography, history, mythology, festivals, cities, and everyday life. It reviews and summarizes ‘hydraulic civilization’, taking cognizance of feng shui as it does so. Four historical cases testify to the fact that China’s great cities were founded on riverbanks and developed in tandem with floodplain dynamics.

Over time, a tension developed between the civilizing force of the city and water’s natural energy. Industrialization saw a growing disconnection between waterways and settlements, with canalization fundamentally altering the nature of rivers, turning them into physical, cultural, and economic dividers, and upsetting natural habitats.

Recently, there has been a rediscovery of Chinese riverscapes. Initiated by the government, three case studies highlighting the recovery of the urban, scenic, cultural, and functional nature of rivers inside Ningbo, Kunming, and Qian’an by design firm Turenscape are examined in the final part of this paper.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7480/footprint.7.1.760

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