Guankou and Yijia
Villages are located just outside the Nantou Old Town Arch and revamped walking museumon by way othe Shennan Road – Nanxin Road pedestrian overpass. The villages abut each other along the old, narrow road, which used to run parallel to Yuehai Bay and connected Nantou to Shekou. Guankou and Yijia are slated for renovation at some point in the future. In the meantime, they are “just places where poor people live” as someone said to me, indicating disapproval of my photo-walk through the two neighborhoods.
Guankou and Yijia interest me because the village architecture is actually older than much found in the Nantou Old Town walking museum. Many Nantou residents built handshake buildings before the area was designated for historic preservation. Consequently, what remains in Nantou are handshake and factory buildings from the early 1990s, as well as particular buildings that had been designated historic landmarks. In contrast, the old centers of Guankou and Yijia were untouched during the 1990s village building spree and littered (and I use the word deliberately) with all sorts of old and interesting buildings.
Now, inquiring minds may wonder: why is Nantou, the imperial capital of the area with a 1,000 year history gutted of historical architecture (except in the renovating) and Guankou and Yijia not?
The answer points to the way that land was initially redistributed in Shenzhen’s early years. Briefly, Nantou had a market (镇) designation, while Guankou and Yijia were villages (村). In markets, rural residents did not have livelihood land rights, only rights to land for housing. In contrast, village residents had both livelihood and housing land rights. Thus, for Nantou residents, their only resource for investment was their housing plat. Not unsurprisingly, Nantou residents built houses as soon as they could afford to do so, which was (often) 10 years before Nantou was targeted for historic preservation. At the same time, Guankou and Yijia village residents could build new homes and factories on land that they claimed for livelihood purposes, leaving the old village centers intact for renting to migrant workers and other “poor people”.
All this to make a rather banal point: history really is what we make of it.