China's rapid economic development and accelerated process of urbanisation has involved erosion of local distinctiveness during the last twenty years. This loss of character is widely regretted. With intensified inter-city competition there is a growing recognition among planning stakeholders and the general public that a stronger framework of urban conservation will be required in future. The dissertation offers a diagnosis of the methods for coping with urban character in modern Chinese cities and recommends how the contribution of conservation to regeneration may be enhanced. The study is framed within a discussion of the concept of urban character, and a comparative review of international practice within the field. The Chinese legal and policy context is then introduced. A review of current policy issues identifies four aspects for investigation: first, the issue of how urban character is defined and understood; second, the regulatory techniques employed in local planning; third, the issue of the hierarchy of design guidance at different scales; and fourth, the adequacy or otherwise of the basic legal framework for planning, historical conservation and design control.Investigation of these questions was pursued through an in-depth case-study of a single city. The chosen location is Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province in Northeast China. The Manchurian capital has a strong physical character and distinctiveness both because of its sub-Arctic location, and because of its historic legacies from Jewish, Russian and Japanese architecture. Detailed investigation of the regulatory process on a site-by-site basis shows the permissive approach to modern high-volume development. Policies for protection of urban character are not entirely absent. But the study shows their ineffectiveness, because of confusion over characterisation principles, absence of an evidence base, weakness of implementation, and inconsistency in execution. The thesis concludes with a discussion of urban character protection in the light of the Harbin case-study, drawing several recommendations for improvement, including the use of Local Identification Reports; provision of supplementary design guidance; and the introduction of site-specific design briefs.