In Memoriam: Prof. CP Pow (National University of Singapore)

The following is a translation of an article written by Chinese geographers following the sad news of Prof. CP Pow‘s passing on 22nd July 2021 (see formal announcement from NUS Geography department). The article circulated amongst the Chinese geography community is a touching tribute to Pow’s contributions to China urban geography, and testament to his fine qualities as scholar, teacher, and friend.

The original Chinese article can be found here: 来世再聚,存彪教授——纪念新加坡国立大学鲍存彪教授

Translated by: Junxi Qian and Karen Lai

(Most names in the translated article below are written in the order of family name followed by given name, following the Chinese convention.)

Prof. CP Pow

In Memoriam: Prof. CP Pow (National University of Singapore)

Dr. CP Pow, an Associate Professor of the Department of Geography at National University of Singapore, and renowned urban geographer, passed away from illness on the evening of July 22, 2021. Along with substantial contributions to urban theory, his research on the transformation of Chinese cities in the reform era has fostered many collegial networks with the scholarly community in China. His departure is not only a significant loss to the field of China urban studies but also to many Chinese scholars who have lost a reliable teacher, colleague, and friend. In 2012, Prof. Pow was invited to attend the first Advanced Seminar on Social and Cultural Geography in Guangzhou and delivered a keynote lecture. Since then, he had kept in touch with the South China Cultural Geography Group and supported the community in various ways. supports. Two students in the group, Chen Ningning and Guo Junwanguo were under his guidance as doctoral or joint training students. This commemorative article aims to pay tribute to and mourn for a generous teacher and a gracious friend of the South China Cultural Geographers. The rest of this article is divided into two sections: the first section highlights Prof. Pow’s key contributions to China urban studies; the second section is devoted to memories and condolence message from his colleagues and students. 

— Zhu Hong, Qian Junxi

1. Prof. Pow’s Contributions to Urban Geography in China 

a) Gated Communities in Large Cities of China in the Transitional Period

Gated communities has been an important research topic in urban China studies. Mainstream studies usually adopt a political economy perspective, focusing on processes of capital accumulation and the uneven distribution of consumption capabilities. In contrast, Prof. Pow’s research focuses on practices of social identities, discourse and daily lives to examine how gated communities feature in the construction of middle-class identity, and as an essential urban lifestyle in the post-reform era (Pow, 2007b; 2009a). In this process, middle-class owners establish a systematic and complex discourse system to construct certain moral boundaries and cultural differences between the “self” and the “other”, the latter referring to lower social classes. Such moral and cultural boundaries are further projected onto the construction and governance of space, leading to new social and spatial inequalities that constrain the life opportunities of lower social classes, such as migrant workers (Pow, 2007a; 2007c; 2009b). In other words, there is a dialectical relationship between ‘aesthetics’ and ‘politics’ of space. In this vein, Prof. Pow raised certain doubts about the public participation model initiated by middle-class owners. He pointed out that although the middle class played a leading role in participatory planning and urban management during the reform period, such participation only safeguarded individual interests based on property rights and capital while ignoring material, social, and power inequality in the broader society (Pow, 2009a).

Selected representative works

Pow, C.P. (2007a) ‘Securing the “Civilized” Enclaves: Gated Communities and the Moral Geographies of Exclusion in (Post-)Socialist Shanghai’, Urban Studies, 44(8): 1539-1558.

Pow, C.P. and Kong, Lily (2007b) ‘Marketing the Chinese Dream Home: Gated Communities and Representations of the Good Life in (Post-)Socialist Shanghai’, Urban Geography, 28 (2): 129-159.

Pow C.P. (2007c) ‘Constructing a New Private Order: Gated Communities and the Privatization of Urban Life in Post-Reform Shanghai’, Social and Cultural Geography, 8 (6): 813-33.

Pow C.P. (2009a) Gated Communities in China: Class, Privilege and the Moral Politics of the Good Life. London: Routledge.

Pow, C.P. (2009b) ‘Neoliberalism and the aestheticization of new middle-class landscapes’, Antipode, 41(2): 371-390.

b) Eco-cities, Green Cities and Urban Sustainability in China

Another of Prof. Pow’s key research area is the construction of eco-cities and green cities in China. Through systematic examination and analysis, he compared China’s experience with mainstream theories and models regarding eco-city construction, in critical response to Anglo-American theories. He argued for the importance of policy mobility as a vital lens to understand the development of eco-cities in China, pointing out that the construction of eco-cities in China was highly dependent on policy discourses and models at a global scale rather than being a purely territorial process (Pow and Neo, 2015; Pow, 2018). On the other hand, the construction of eco-cities usually serves as a channel for legitimating and justifying rapid capital accumulation, re-creation of the built environment, and avant-garde architectural design. Urban policy-makers and planners tend to pay less attention to the philosophical tenets of eco-cities, such as environmental sustainability and social equity (Pow and Neo, 2013). As a result, eco-city construction often serves the interests of enterprises and the wealthy classes while ignoring the role of the grassroots communities in this process. Waste generated through the metabolism of cities is often externalized and transferred to areas outside the city, instead of implementing real changes to high modes of consumption and unsustainable resource utilisation. At the same time, the construction of eco-city provides a new set of aesthetic standards for the city, which endows the government with more policy discourses and channels to intervene in the urban space and society to experiment with new methods and possibilities for urban governance (Pow, 2018; Shen, Pow & Neo, 2019). In other cases, environmental discourses also bring about new inequalities in socio-spatial differentiation and spatial power (Pow, 2017).

Selected representative works

Pow, C.P. and Neo, H. (2013) ‘Seeing Red Over Green: Contesting Urban Sustainabilities in China’, Urban Studies, 50(11): 2256-2274.

Pow, C.P. and Neo, H. (2015) “Modeling green urbanism in China”, Area, 47(2): 132-140.

Pow CP (2017) ‘Sensing visceral urban politics and metabolic exclusion in a Chinese neighbourhood’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 42(2): 260-273.

Pow CP (2018) ‘Building a harmonious society through greening: ecological civilization and aesthetic governmentality in China’, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(3): 864-883.

Shen M, Pow CP and Neo, H (2019) ‘Environmental governance with “Chinese characteristics” and citizenship participation in Nanjing’, Habitat International, 84: 15-23.

c) Other Research Achievements

Prof. Pow’s efforts on the construction of urban theory have also contributed significantly to China urban studies more widely. For example, Prof. Pow conducted theoretical work on how urban and communal spaces were engraved with cultural and moral discourses, which in turn led to a series of social-spatial differentiation (Pow, 2009). He also proposed that while some urban spaces play an integral role in constructing urban inequality and spatial segregation, scholars and society should not give up pursuing the potential for progress and spaces of hope (Pow, 2014). In addition, he conducted exploratory research on the urbanization process of small and medium-sized cities in China, some of which the author had the privilege of encountering through several conferences, although regretfully these remained unpublished (Neo and Pow, 2015).

Selected representative works

Pow, CP (2009) ‘“Good” and “Real” Places: A Geographical-moral Critique of Territorial Place-making’, Geografisker Annaler, Series B, 91(2): 91-105.

Pow, C.P. (2014) ‘Urban Dystopia and Epistemologies of Hope’, Progress in Human Geography, 39(4): 464-485.

Neo, H. and Pow, C.P. (2015) ‘The weight of small cities: Development and the rural-urban nexus in Jinghong, Southwest China’, The Professional Geographer, 67(4): 555-563.

2. Condolence Messages from Colleagues and Students

Professor Lily Kong, President, Singapore Management University

Professor CP Pow was kind, caring, and a generous colleague and friend. He was very fair-minded, diligent, and very supportive of everyone around him. He was also an excellent geographer who contributed significantly to urban development topics and issues. We co-authored an article together on gated communities in China. 

He took my course as an undergraduate and was one of the best students that I have had the pleasure of teaching. I learned a lot from his undergraduate dissertation and believed at that time that he would become an excellent scholar, which he did. We have regretfully lost a talented scholar and an amazing person. May we meet again in another life. 

Professor Zhu Hong, Guangzhou University

It has been two days, and I still find it difficult to accept the tragic news of Professor CP Pow’s departure; it feels like such incredible news. This morning as I flew from Guangzhou to Beijing for a meeting, I was flipping through a magazine during the flight, and came across a quote by Li Dazhao: “The most interesting thing in life is sending off the old and welcoming the new, as the strongest desire of mankind is to create a new life at all times.” This is undoubtedly an appropriate description for those of us in academia. However, it is still so heartbreaking to bid farewell to such a young and talented scholar.

In the summer vacation of 2012, Professor CP Pow was recommended by Professor Lily Kong, to be of the first overseas tutors of our “Advanced Seminar on Social and Cultural Geography”. His low-key personality, warm smile, and congenial conversation made him the most popular guest tutor. He was like a long-lost friend with whom one did not feel any sense of strangeness or distance. After that, although we did not have much direct contact, he still provided enthusiastic support and guidance to Chen Ningning, my Master student at Sun Yat-Sen University, and Guo Junwanguo, my student at South China Normal University. The friendship built on the basis of cultural geography scholarship thus continued. Professor Lily Kong said that during her conversation with Professor CP Pow shortly before he passed away, he said, “I feel very content, and also feel that I have truly experienced happiness. I very much appreciate everyone’s support.” This is the spirit of an upright and noble person, these are the words of someone who have lived boldly and stayed strong!

Each of us will inevitably go through life and death, and we all strive to fulfill our personal missions and responsibilities within the limited time that we have. I hope that in another world, Professor CP Pow will be experience the words of Li Dazhao in “the creation of new life, while accompanied by enthusiastic, warm and smiling faces around”. My brother, CP Pow, may you rest in peace!

— on July 25, 2021, Beijing

Professor He Shenjing, The University of Hong Kong

The Professor CP Pow that I know is a low-key and down-to-earth person, but also a sharp scholar working at the leading edge of his field. When we first met, he introduced himself by saying that “My ancestral home is in Fujian province, and my surname is ‘Pow’, as in the Chinese character in ‘abalone’” (which is considered a Chinese delicacy). This very humorous self-introduction made a deep impression on me. Through our subsequent interactions, I found Prof. Pow to be a very humble and low-key person despite being a renowned scholar with impressive publications. He was very passionate in his lectures, and his scholarly work provided much inspiration to me. I learned about his illness several years ago and hoped he would overcome it. Hearing the terrible news today brought much sadness. May there be no pain or sickness in heaven, and long live the spirit of Professor CP Pow’s intellectual pursuits! 

Professor Su Xiaobo, University of Oregon

I first met Prof. Pow in March 2007. He had just graduated from the Department of Geography at UCLA and was returning to Singapore to work at the Department of Geography at NUS, while at the same time I was planning to move to the United States for work. During those few short months, we had several exchanges during which he shared rich information about the geography departments in American universities, which benefited me a lot. We then stayed in touch and met a few times at AAG meetings and had coffee together. He invited me to visit Singapore every time we met, and I always said I must go back as I have so many good friends there. I didn’t expect that we would now be separated in two different worlds.

When I returned to China during the summer vacation, I invited Prof Pow to participate in academic activities. Like other professors at NUS Geography, Prof. Pow was knowledgeable, modest, and serious-minded, and he was very willing to share his learning with Chinese scholars and students. When I emailed him with some greetings at the beginning of 2021, he told me of his illness but in a relaxed and optimistic tone as always. He also reminded me to take good care of myself and hoped that we would have a good gathering when I am in Singapore. I am so shocked and sad to learn of Prof. Pow’s passing. May he have happiness in heaven and be free from illness and pain.

Associate Professor Wang Jun, City University of Hong Kong

I first met Prof. Pow when I arrived in Singapore as a researcher. At that time, I had just obtained my doctoral degree and stumbled into NUS, which was renowned for its internationalization, and immediately found myself lost in the diverse academic theories and trends. Prof. Pow showed me around the Faculty Club and introduced me to give guest lectures in the Department of Geography, where I got to know many senior and leading scholars.

The last time we met was in a department seminar about his research on policy mobility. At that time, policy mobility was an emerging research topic and Prof. Pow’s reflections made me realize the vividness of this topic from the perspective of interpersonal encounters and social interactions. Prof. Pow seemed to take on a different personality during his lecture, very enthusiastic, passionate, and thought-provoking. That to me is what a devoted scholar looks like, and that is the image of Prof. Pow that will remain in my heart.

Associate Professor Liu Yi, Sun Yat-Sen University

I did not expect that the next time I hear about Prof. Pow would be the shocking news of his passing.

Prof. Pow was always enthusiastic and encouraging. The only undergraduate course that I took as a Ph.D. student was his class on urban theory. At that time, I was terribly worried and had no confidence in passing the closed-book examination, but Prof. Pow just told me, “Louis, don’t be afraid. You do your best.” 

Later, I became his teaching assistant. With his encouragement, I gave a guest lecture to the undergraduates on Shenzhen central business district. My spoken English was very poor but he was very patient and encouraging; he patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Good job, you have engaged with the students.” 

Every time I saw him in the department, he was always in good spirits, walking quickly as if with springs under his feet.

I did not imagine that one day the springs would disappear, and Prof. Pow’s pace would slow down, getting slower and slower, until they ceased today.

Before his departure, he had arranged with his close friend to release the news in a way that would be accountable to those who had cared and worried about him. In the last two years, he comforted everyone that he was well, when in fact, he didn’t want to cause too much worry, sadness, and trouble to others. Even until yesterday, he still felt worried and sorry for the change in teaching for the next semester and any troubles for the department. 

This is Professor CP Pow.

I will learn from his strength and willpower as a way of remembering him.

Associate Professor Lu Tingting, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Prof. Pow is one of the first Western scholars who carefully observe gated communities in China from a geographical perspective. He conducted in-depth analyses on the public-private contradiction between urban space and everyday life (Pow 2007, in Social & Cultural Geography). He revealed the social differentiation shaped by spatial order (Pow 2007, in Urban Studies). He criticised the neoliberal politics behind the aestheticised urban landscape and urban marketing (Pow 2009, in Antipode) and he called on global scholars to pay attention to issues that will lead to progress and hope under the trend of closed urbanism, rather than regarding it as a pessimistic heterotopia (Pow 2015, In Progress in Human Geography). Meanwhile, he was also committed to advocating Asian urban studies and giving voice to Asian urban studies in a western-centered theoretical system. 

In remembering Prof. Pow, I think about how his work Gated communities in China: Class, privilege, and the moral politics of the good life has exerted a direct influence on the selection of topic of my doctoral dissertation. When I met him with my preliminary findings, I excitedly told him that I had read all his papers. How sincere and friendly he was, telling me I could discuss with him anytime and encouraging my research. Besides, he also congratulated me when I obtained offer of employment. In my view, Prof. Pow was modest, warm-hearted, and very supportive of younger scholars. He had all the good qualities that a respectable scholar should possess, a rigorous research spirit and a broad mind.

I stand with you all in remembrance of Prof. Pow.

Assistant Professor Qian Junxi, The University of Hong Kong

The first time I knew about Prof. Pow was 12 years ago in the course ‘Cultural Geography’ at Sun Yat-Sen University. At that time, Prof. Zhu Hong shared with us the article ‘Marketing the Chinese Dream Home’ (Pow and Kong, 2007, in Urban Geography) coauthored by Prof. Pow and Prof. Kong. About a decade ago, China urban studies mainly focused on the analysis of population, land, and the built environment, while Prof. Pow focused on the dialectical relationship between space and social culture from the perspective of discourse, identity, and everyday life, which was very refreshing. I have been a big fan of him ever since and benefited a lot from his insights into gated communities and urban sustainability in Chinese cities. I still remember that in 2011 when I was conducting ethnographic surveys in Guangzhou, I assisted Prof. He Shenjing in organising an international conference, and Prof. Pow was one of the special guests invited. Prof. He joked to me by saying that “your idol is coming.” Ten years have gone by since, and it is so difficult for me to accept that Prof. Pow has departed forever.

Prof. Pow is an outstanding scholar with a very modest, friendly, and accommodating personality. Since our acquaintance in 2011, we have kept in touch through academic conferences, emails, social media, etc. I am a person with social anxiety, but I always feel very comfortable and relaxed with Prof. Pow. In 2016, I engaged in post-doctoral research at Singapore Management University, and my supervisor Professor Lily Kong had left NUS at that time. Prof. Pow introduced me to join the Socio-cultural Geography research group at the Department of Geography of NUS, so that I could have the opportunity to participate in relevant academic activities. Despite his illness, he insisted on serving the academic community as an editor of Urban Geography. Every time he invited me to review articles, he would say, “sorry to trouble you.” But who knew that he was suffering from his illness while serving the academic community? Over the past two years, I knew he had been in poor health, and I often expressed my greetings via email, but he always replied that he was recovering well. That’s how he was, always keeping the difficulties in life to himself and leaving the easy parts to others. On the afternoon of receiving this sad news, I fell in a trance, feeling restless, in tears. At this point, I can only use these pale and shallow words to commemorate an outstanding academic predecessor and a kindly friend. 

Assistant Professor Zhao Yimin, Renmin University of China

Professor CP Pow left us so suddenly. When I was collaborating on an academic project with other scholars, he readily agreed to serve as consultant and gave us valuable suggestions on many occasions. He also met with us despite his illness and provided very enlightening advice on research and publication. His generosity and insights are models of inspiration for younger scholars. His long-term research on the social transformation of Asian cities is also a treasured legacy. Whenever we talk about gated communities and social exclusion, green projects and aesthetic governance, and justice and injustice in urban politics, we know that Prof. Pow will continue to be with us. 

Dr. Chen Ninging, Post-doctoral Researcher, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

I met Pow (as he is affectionately known) for the first time at the first Advanced Seminar of Social and Cultural Geography in 2021. I listened to his excellent lecture about China Exceptionalism and was deeply inspired. In the summer of that same year, I started my Ph.D. study at the Department of Geography at NUS under the supervision of Professor Lily Kong, and Pow became one of the members of my thesis committee. At the point of assembling the thesis committee, I remember Prof. Kong said that, “Pow knows a lot about China, and he is a very nice person; he would be a great choice.” It turns out to be a great honour for me to receive guidance from him. I learned how to write English papers through the Independent Studies Module with him, and the questions that he posed during my Qualifying Exam also influenced the orientation of my doctoral dissertation. In the fourth year of my Ph.D. when Professor Lily Kong left NUS, Pow became my supervisor. He carefully read my thesis chapter by chapter and gave detailed criticism and suggestions for revisions. These scholarly input enabled me to complete my PhD and graduate successfully. I am ever grateful to him for his generous guidance during my Ph.D. period. 

Pow was not only a respected supervisor and fine scholar whom we admire but also a close friend to me and my husband (who was also one of his Chinese students). Pow sent us his blessings when we got married and when our baby was born, as well as greetings for Spring Festival/Lunar New Year. Such correspondence continued after our graduation. Sometimes we contacted him first, but usually we were the ones who received his warm greetings and good wishes first. We are deeply saddened by the loss of such an amiable professor and good friend. 

We planned to co-author an article three years ago, but it took me until this year to get started due to various life changes. He had been helping me revise this article without revealing the truth about his illness, and I always thought that what others said was true, that his recovery was going smoothly. In correspondence, he frequently asked about my family in Guangzhou. The most recent contact between us was a month ago, when he emailed me his personal mobile phone number and wished me good luck with this article (he told me to call him via this mobile phone number if needed). I felt a little puzzled at that time. Still, I thought he might be worried about the further revision of the article or that I would need additional help due to the Covid-19 situation in Singapore. I didn’t want to trouble him and therefore didn’t make the call. Upon hearing the sad news of his death, my heart is filled with grief as well as guilt for losing the opportunity to call, and my eyes cannot help but flood with tears…

Dr. Yang Xueke, Postdoctoral researcher, Sun Yat-Sen University

Prof. Pow was my PhD co-supervisor during my study at NUS. He was very knowledgeable about China and an expert in the field of urban geography. However, he never put on any airs as an expert and was always approachable and amiable to students. Whenever I met him in the corridor, he would always be smiling, asking how I was doing, and always ending our conversations with words of encouragement. During my four years at NUS, Prof. Pow provided me with plenty of help and guidance. Whether it was during preparation for research plans, QE, writing the doctoral thesis, or final revisions, he would always clarify my doubts and point me in the right direction.

Prof. Pow had always provided unconditional support to his students. During my PhD oral examination, my primary supervisor was unable to attend. Even though Prof. Pow had another meeting, he rearranged his his schedule in order to be present. The rules were such that supervisors were not allowed to speak during the examination, but he was there just to support me, to sit by my side, and helped me take notes on questions from the panel. Whenever I looked at him during the examination, he would give me a gentle smile, which took away my nervousness. That was Prof. Pow, always caring, patient with his students, always encouraging with his guidance, and congratulating me on every small step of progress that I made. 

I had the chance to learn pottery during my fieldwork in China and made a cup for Prof. Pow. When I emailed him last month, he specifically mentioned that he had been using the cup I gave. Pow did not like to trouble others and never mentioned his illness. After resting for one semester, he came back to class and continued teaching. The sudden departure of kind-hearted Pow has left those who love him in deep sorrow. But as you have instructed in your farewell message, I will cherish the beautiful memories. Rest in peace, Prof. Pow. I believe that we will meet again in another place.

Guo Junwanguo, Ph.D. student, University of Southampton, UK

Prof. Pow was my tutor during my exchange programme to the National University of Singapore in 2016. He was an erudite and enthusiastic person, full of energy and zest for life. What impressed me most was his attitude towards learning. He taught me to lay a strong foundation and proceed step by step, that it was important to conduct proper fieldwork and research even for a short paper, and not to be too hasty. From him, I have learned a certain respect for scientific research; research is not just a job or a task, but a responsibility and passion, which requires a very rigorous approach in learning, and in thinking.

I feel blessed to be his student while studying in Singapore and very grateful for his help and support. The news of his passing left me reeling the whole day. In my memory, it was still 2016, and I was in Prof. Pow’s office, talking and laughing together with him and Dr. Qian. May there be no pain or sickness in Heaven. 

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