MA Rui

MA Rui
12:45 pm - 2:00 pm
Room 719, Knowles Building, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
The Land Reclamation Along the Hai-Ho River and the Birth of Modern Tianjin (1897-1937)
MA Rui

Department of Architecture
RPG lunchtime presentation by MA Rui

Primary supervisor: Dr. Tao ZHU
Co-supervisor: Prof. Weijen WANG


Within the early decades of the twentieth century, the so-called “hypercolony” Tianjin transformed from a traditional trade terminal to a modern city. The size of settlement expanded more than 10 times during these years which made Tianjin the second largest city in China at that time. Existing research from the perspective of planning and architecture rarely study water environment and topography of the city, and mostly see them as neglect bearer. And the research tends to treat the chaotic structure of the city as a reflection of the disorganized administration and the result of isolated planning on individual concessions. This paper will examine the important role of natural environment in the birth of modern Tianjin, compare Chinese traditional attitude to nature and modern concept of hygiene, and argue that the aquatic environment and topographic condition along the Hai-Ho River at that time limit any large-scale planning and construction to be formulated or implemented. The planning and construction of the concessions were made and carried out step by step after the reclamation of the land along the river.

A new proposal that fills pools and swamps in the hinterland with sediments pumped from the riverbed opened a new stage of land reclamation.  It was a byproduct of the Hai-Ho Conservancy Commission (HHCC), a cross-administrative executive authority established in 1897, with its main task of maintaining river navigation through the means of dredging, bend cutting off, and ice breaking. For the sake of the introduction of the new method and new technology, the buildable land doubled within 30 years, which triggered the booming of planning and construction. For this special terrain condition, the ordinary linear relationship between site selections, planning, land reclamation, and construction evolved into a complex interaction. Focusing on the concessions and native areas on the west bank of the Hai-Ho River, the paper will examine the complex relationship and the role of land reclamation in the process of the compelling construction, i.e. the birth of the modern city.


Rui Ma is an urban historian currently researching evolving relationship between water environment and urban construction of Tianjin.  He will present this research at the International Planning History Society this summer. His research interests center on urban history, especially on relations between urban planning and natural environment in Chinese cities, as well as the research of searching for modernity in China and its cultural influences and conflicts during the 20th century. He started his Ph.D. research at the University of Hong Kong since 2015. Rui Ma holds degrees in urban planning from Tianjin University and Southeast University. He has been worked as a professional urban planner at Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute for several years.

***All interested are welcome***