Blog 2: Tianjin Fabric, 1975

Fig. 1 Tianjin Map, 1945, The University of Texas Libraries

When I decided to move to China in 1975, my main interest was understanding the communal system of living under Mao’s communist rule and its effects on the city. However, little did I know that over the coming ten years, the fabric of the city would change so drastically. The end of The Cultural Revolution in 1976, the death of Mao, the Tangshan Earthquake, the opening up of China, the draughts and the Luanhe Diversion Project, in my perspective, drastically changed the economical, sociological and therefore, the urban conditions of the city in these ten years.


In 1975, Tianjin was laid out in the typical arrangement of a Maoist City, featuring “a geography made up in the largest part of a jigsaw puzzle of spatially demarcated work units surround the old city core” (Lu, 2011). When I saw the map, it immediately reminded me of how city did not feature a large scale “dishonest mark of pretend order” (Jacob, 1960)  like many European and America cities by now, but surrounded it’s already functional old city core (Fig.1) and the Yunhe river with new development. The old city core accommodated commercial establishments and residential neighborhoods (Lu, 2011). Surrounding them were the work units: institutions, universities and factories arranged in a less intensive way than the old city core (Lu, 2011). In many major Chinese cities, following the Soviet model, part of the central district was redeveloped into a monumental center with ceremonial squares (Wang, Mark, Kee, Gao, 2014). In Tianjin, today, this is the Haihe Square. The square served as a stage for public spectacles, largely to advocate Mao’s political propaganda (Lu, 2011).

However, at the eve of the end of The Cultural Revolution, the city had suffered from great economical setbacks because of the propagation of the so-called  “Big Criticism”(大批判) and “political learning”(政治学习) (Wang, Mark, Kee, Gao, 2014) (Fig.2). It was only after the political faction, “Gang of Four” was confounded that commercial planning reports could be successful. The “Gang of Four” comprised four Chinese Communist Party officials with Mao’s (Fig.3) last wife, Jian Qing, as the fore-figure. The faction was a major force in The Cultural Revolution and was blamed by the Chinese government “for the worst excess of societal chaos that ensued during 10 years of turmoil.”(Lu, 2011) The village of Xiaojinzhuang 小靳莊, by the end of the years of the Cultural Revolution became a model village for Jiang Qing’s efforts in the propagating the socialist cultural sphere (Brown, 2012).

Fig. 3 Death of Mao, 1976

The standard of measuring quality of business enterprises was reversed. An enterprise would be regarded as an “advanced unit” (先进单位) even if their business standards were inadequate as long as they were in favour of “political stance”(突出政治) (Brown, 2012). Therefore, an old accountant with many years of work, who had never made any grave mistakes in his business would be caught without a job over time. Another case was that of a store manager who was directly communicating with the production plants as he was the only seller of the product in the market. However, he was accused and criticised for attempting to “restore the capitalist operation” (Lu, 2011).


The initiative for introduction an urban fabric with functional segregation of units was already hindered by the shops outside the old city core in the late 1950s (Lu, 2011) and now it was further limited by the political environment. Inessence, almost all the special and professional business management enterprises were dismissed. In tradition China, the city’s administrative territory included large adjacent agricultural belts in suburban districts where industrial enterprises, satellite communities and villages were juxtaposed with agricultural land.



Brown, Jeremy. 2012. City Versus Countryside In Mao’s China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lu, Duanfang. 2011. Remaking Chinese Urban Form. London: Routledge.

Stern, R., Mellins T., Fishman D. 1995. Two Power Brokers: Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Architecture and Urbanism between the Second World War and the Bicentennial. New York: Monacelli Press, pp. 37, 40-46.

Wang, Mark Y, Pookong Kee, and Jia Gao. 2014. Transforming Chinese Cities. London: Routledge.



Fig. 2 Down with the “Gang of Four” single sheet cartoons, no. 1, Sichuan Art Section Mass Art Work Office (四川省文化局群众文化工作室)
1976, December


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