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China has officially become a predominantly urban country, with over 50% of the population now registered as urban residents. Its urbanization process has been described as the most managed in human history. The Chinese government manages the building of new cities, regulates the housing of displaced people and controls squatters. As an historically poorer area, the west of China has been the target of ongoing efforts at infrastructural development. Describing urbanization as managed however masks the conflicts and contradictions involved in a process which is far from smooth. Although villagers are usually seen to be largely the powerless victims of these initiatives, it is clear that many try to take advantage of the situation, while others are unable to do so. Based on recent fieldwork and eight years of visits to one village undergoing urbanization, this article looks at the complex dynamics involved and at the moral battleground which they lay bare.