DOI link for Sanxian
A new trend is emerging in Chinese mass discourse that categorises cities and formulates a hierarchical system. Labelling different “tiers” of cities, this new hierarchy also has historical echoes, when the country was divided into three “fronts” to respond to geopolitical tensions during the Cold War. Ironically, the Chinese character of both “tiers” and “fronts” is identical: xian. In this chapter, by referring to Luzhou, a medium-sized city in Western China that bears the same label as “sanxian” (third tier/front) in different periods, we interrogate the change of urban political economy and governing techniques that are underlying these two labels and develop recent reflections on comparative urbanism and ordinary cities. The “Third Front” produced during the Maoist era rendered the local state a passive political subject. In contrast, the rise of “tiers” discourse has a lot of purchases from the local state. Situated in inter-city competitions, they are empowered yet also impelled to be more active in promoting the urbanisation process and boosting “urban-ness”. We are invited to further reflect on what and how the development trajectory of an overlooked city could shed light on our understandings of global urbanism and anticipations of alternative urban worlds.