rural and urbane urbanization in shenzhen

shangbu overpass, downtown shenzhen (futian)

the guangshen road, songgang

Today, I have decided to define two key terms–rural and urban urbanization–with respect to ongoing administrative restructuring and zoning in Shenzhen. My point of departure is a concise timeline of administrative change in Shenzhen [from my paper, “Vexed Foundations: An Ethnographic Interpretation of the Shenzhen Built Environment”. Contact me if you want the full academic version.] I then illustrate the importance of these changes by comparing who uses the Guangshen Road and Guangsheng Expressway, respectively.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY est. 1979 by elevating Baoan County to the Status of Shenzhen Municipality. Original Districts carved out of Baoan County communes: Shenzhen, Nantou, Songgang, Longhua, Kuichong, Longgang; all are “special”.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY re-established urban-rural distinction 1981, with the establishment of New Baoan County and the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. The Shenzhen Special Economic Zone is designated “urban”, inside the SEZ communes are administratively districted as “administrative regions (管理区)” It is a two-level administrative structure. Outside the SEZ, New Baoan County is designated “rural”. This means that the SEZ develops according to urban law and New Baoan County is administered according rural law. The Second Line (二线) divides the SEZ from New Baoan County. There are seven checkpoints along the border, and Chinese citizens must have a travel pass to enter the SEZ. There are no cross-line buses or taxis. Legal Shenzhen residents and visitors must disembark and go through customs when traveling between the SEZ and New Baoan County. The Second Line is fully operative by 1986.

NEW BAOAN COUNTY (est. 1981): 1,557 km2 zoned for industrial development under rural villages and 25 market towns (Xin’an, Xixiang, Fuyong, Shajing, Songgang, Gongming, Guangming, Shiyan, Guanlan, Dalang, Longhua, Minzhi, Pinghu, Pingdi, Kangzi, Nan’ao, Longcheng, Longgang, Henggang, Dapeng, Buji, Pingshan, Kuichong, Bantian, Nanwan)

SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE redefined 1983: initially, 327 km2 zoned for industrial development under urban work units; villages zoned for independent industrial development under village administration.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY restructured 1990. In keeping with administrative norms for major cities, the SEZ now consists of a three-level administrative structure—municipality, district, and street. New Baoan County zoned into municipal districts, Baoan and Longgang. The market towns remain rural. Baoan District is primarily Cantonese speaking and made up of 12 market towns (Xin’an, Xixiang, Fuyong, Shajing, Songgang, Gongming, Guangming, Shiyan, Guanlan, Dalang, Longhua, Minzhi). Longgang is primarily Hakka speaking and made up of 13 market towns (Pinghu, Pingdi, Kangzi, Nan’ao, Longcheng, Longgang, Henggang, Dapeng, Buji, Pingshan, Kuichong, Bantian, Nanwan).

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY completes SEZ rural urbanization in 1996. All villages in Luohu, Futian, and Nanshan Districts have been designated neighborhoods and administratively integrated into District governments by way of Street governments. The SEZ is restructured again in 1998, when Yantian District is carved out of Luohu District in order to stimulate economic growth in the eastern portion of the city.)

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY By 2006, the last of Baoan and Longgang market towns and villages have been converted to streets and new villages, respectively. Importantly, although the border between the SEZ and New Baoan County still in place, it no longer functions as a border. Cross-line buses and taxis no longer stop and passengers no longer disembark to go through the checkpoints.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY restructured in 2007 with the establishment of Guangming New District, combining the Baoan Street administrations of Guangming and Gongming

All this to contextualize the two forms of urbanization in Shenzhen—rural and urbane. Rural urbanization is led by and benefits local people (formerly farmers). Urbane urbanization is led by and benefits migrants from China’s cities—Guangzhou, Chaozhou, and Huizhou in Guangdong, but also Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian, and Chongqing, to name a few.

The second line remains an important landmark in Shenzhen. Although people no longer speak of the SEZ, nevertheless the categories “outside (关外: guanwai) and “inside (关内: guannei)” the checkpoint are fundamental areas in cognitive maps of the municipality. Roughly speaking, local people have urbanized the area outside the checkpoint; it is a prime example of urbanization as the proliferation of new village forms. Urban planners and architects have designed most of the area inside the checkpoint; it is the poster child for China’s high modern modernization. Inside the checkpoint, the new CBD is the prototype of this kind of modernization. Thus, guanwai development epitomizes rural urbanization and guannei development represents urbane urbanization.

To get a sense of how fundamental the distinction between rural and urbane forms of urbanization has been to the construction of Shenzhen, you could do worse than compare the Guangshen Road and Guangshen Expressway. Along the Pearl River in western Shenzhen, there are two primary roads from Shenzhen through Dongguan to Guangzhou—the Guangshen Road (广深公路) and the Guangshen Expressway (广深高速公路). After the Nantou Checkpoint, both the Road and the Expressway pass through Xixiang, Fuyong, Shajing, and Songgang before entering Dongguan and then Guangzhou.

Eight-lanes wide, with two-lane access roads, the Road functions like a mega-Main Street, where manufacturing, residential, and commercial clusters grow thickly along its edges and tributaries. Everyday, hundreds, indeed thousands of container trucks surge from village and zhen industrial parks toward Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Unlike inside the second line, where only the small blue container trucks can be seen, on the Road, large, 20-ton containers rumble past, twenty-four/seven. Busses that traverse the Road stop regularly, allowing, for example, Fuyong residents to pop—if pop can be used to describe the journey—over to Shajing. Consequently, the trip from Nantou Checkpoint to the Songgang terminus takes over an hour, often longer, depending on traffic.

In contrast, the Expressway operates like an expressway, slicing through the surrounding area, but not actually connecting with it. Cars and busses get on and off the Expressway at toll stations. Such is the Expressway’s disconnect from the local environment that its construction has not stimulated local business. Indeed, agricultural and piscatorial industries still abut the Expressway. Instead, the Expressway connects interests in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, integrating the economies of the two cities, quite literally allowing this level of economic production to bypass local residents. Consequently, the trip from Shenzhen bus station to the Guangzhou terminus takes about ninety minutes.

The Road links Shenzhen’s urban villages, where most manufacturing is located. In contrast, the expressway links commercial and financial interests in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. In other words, the Road supports the interests of village urbanization, while the Expressway supports the interests of urban urbanization.

In the unfolding of rural-urban valuations, the Shenzhen experiment has constituted an interesting twist on post-Mao reforms. Specifically, Shenzhen has actualized the attempt to realize xiaokang by transforming formerly “rural” areas into appropriately “urban” areas. In other areas, like Shanghai or Anhui Province, reform has entailed reforming cities as cities, or rural areas as rural areas. Many recent studies focus on the contradictions that migration into urban areas has created. In Shenzhen, however, the state imposed the work unit system onto an area that had been administered through collective ownership. In other words, the Shenzhen experiment initially consisted in transforming formerly “rural” areas into appropriately “urban” areas, even as it maintained this division within its administrative structure. Crudely, the past thirty years of reform and opening might be understood as an attempt to restructure and re-imagine the Chinese state by urbanizing rural areas. In this sense, Shenzhen is an ongoing product of a historically specification mediation of rural and urban Chinese societies.

The Road and the Expressway both exemplify the contradictions between rural and urbane forms of urbanization in Shenzhen and also actualize how that contradiction has been built into the environment, shaping possible lives. Pictures of the road, here. To contrast with urbane Shenzhen, visit icons of urbane urbanization.

7 thoughts on “rural and urbane urbanization in shenzhen

  1. Hello there,
    In this article you refer to a longer academic paper “Vexed Foundations: An Ethnographic Interpretation of the Shenzhen Built Environment.” I would be interested to read this paper. I am working on my PhD at the University of Auckland in New Zealand on “the ecological imaginary in micro-urban renewal”. Unfortunately development in Shenzen does seem to mostly embody a darker side of the ecological imaginary and so I have come across your blog and have been reading it often and very much enjoying it. I am most likely to be coming to China in the next couple of months as I am interested in looking at two micro urban projects, the Living Water Garden in Chengdu and the Canal Garden Walkway in Fuzhou. Please let me know if you would know of any academics in those districts who speak English and may be interested to act as my guide if I do come. Though I understand China is a very big place. Please let me know. I first came across your blog because the writing of Brian McGrath of the Parsons New School of Design on the city of Bangkok has very much inspired me and so in my PhD I am unpacking his terminology, especially the term simultopia and reapplying it in an interdisciplinary context. And so I came across your profile on the Vexed Urbanism page at New School. Also last year I attended the Living Landscapes Conference at Aberstwyth University in Wales and there were many performance artists working on walking projects and so as a fellow passionate urban walker I am finding lots of wonderful synergies in your blog….

    Best wishes,
    Jacquie Clarke
    School of Architecture and Planning
    National Institute of Creative Industries
    University of Auckland

  2. Hi Mary Ann:
    I am a master student from Erasmus university In Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Now I am looking for documents and information about DaChong urban village in shenzhen for my thesis. I would like to ask you if you have any of the information about that. I would be appreciate if you could help me with that.



    • Hi Ivy,
      Thank you for reading. If you could be more specific about what kind of documents you are looking for, I will do my best to help.
      Mary ann

      • Hi Mary :

        Thank you for your reply.

        In Dachong case, I would like to know how does HuaRun company(China Resource) negociate with landloard and how does the agreement has been achieved between those two parties on compensation in financial way and psysical way( square meters of apartments). Is there any ocuments landloard get from HuaRun company(China Resource) so that proved how much square meters they could get after the project one.

        Thank you for your reply

        looking forward your reply


      • Hi Ivy,

        I too would like to know how HuaRun negotiated with individual homeowners. In Shenzhen, there are standardized compensation standards. Nevertheless, actual compensation varies from village to village (collective property) and individual to individual (individual property). I don’t know if documents of actual packages are available to the general public. A good start would be to contact HuaRun. Another track would be to connect with Dachong villagers and interview them, especially with the village head, who is also chair of Dachong Enterprises.

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