(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.

Author Biographies

Kelly Shannon

Kelly Shannon is a professor at the Institute of Urbanism and Landscape of the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (Norway) and visiting professor at the Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning at the University of Leuven (Belgium). She has also taught at GSD, Harvard University (Cambridge), Peking University (Beijing), Aarhus School of Architecture, ESARQ (Barcelona) and the University of Colorado in Denver. Her research is at the intersection of urban analysis, mapping and new cartographies, urban design, and landscape urbanism. She is also an editor of JoLA (Journal of Landscape Architecture) and deputy editor of LA China.

Chen Yiyong

Chen Yiyong is a PhD student at the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Peking University. His research interest focuses on cultural landscape and cultural heritage. He has published several papers in Human Geography, Acta Geographica Sinica, Urban Problems, etcetera. The title of his doctoral dissertation is Traditional Urban Water Systems in China and Lessons for Water Urbanism.