Urban China is pivotal global case study in contemporary efforts towards the expedited transition to sustainable and equitable modes of life that are urgently needed. On the one hand, the multiple wicked problems of proliferating complexity confronting the world coalesce in acute form around the issues of urbanization and urban transformation. On the other, the ongoing global rise of China, whether geopolitically, economically or techno-scientifically (particularly regarding digital technologies), and its sheer size, mean that what happens in China will most likely grow to have disproportionate impact globally. Taken together, moreover, China is in the midst of the largest process of urbanization the world has ever seen, and just beginning to proffer its services to burgeoning urbanizing societies across the global South. Finally, and by no means least, China has ambitious flagship policies and slogans aiming precisely to develop and then roll out such new sustainable models, under the title of ‘Ecological Civilisation’.
Debate on the prospects of Chinese (eco-) innovation remains (and promises only to become intensified as) essentially contested. To orient ourselves in this debate, however, we will consider a framework that enables insight into broad trajectories of socio-technical and socio-environmental change in ways that highlight and depend upon, rather than seeking reductively to minimize, issues of turbulence and uncertainty. From there, we can then highlight the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese innovation in urban mobility, focusing on three aspects of socio-technical change that are frequently neglected, namely issues of politics, culture and ethics.