new village origin stories: Caiwuwei redux

What to make of the following quote by Terry Farrell, architect behind the KK 100?

The site of KK100, [Farrell] says, used to be Caiwuwei village, a poor and rundown area. Kingkey had to build seven towers to rehouse local people and a further seven for other locals to own and rent out, so that they might share in the boom. It’s an extraordinary idea: even as China hurtles into capitalism, it does still show remnants of old socialist ideals.

It echoes a quote from archello, a website dedicated to world architecture. Although archello has erased the reference to socialism:

The 3.6-hectare site [for the KK 100] was previously occupied by a dense residential quarter, Caiwuwei Village. The developer had the creative vision to form a company with the villagers, initiating an entirely new approach to the art of place-making in Shenzhen. This serves as a model for 21st century for urban change all over the world. Existing buildings were run down and living conditions were poor. As part of initiating this transformation, a Joint Development Initiative was formed in which villagers became stakeholders. Each owner was offered a new property as well as a second home which serves as an income generating asset. This meant the preservation of community links that are built over generations.

Origin stories for Shenzhen and its various buildings continue to use “poor backward Baoan villages” as a foil for their own achievements. In Mandarin, stories about the KK 100 are more detailed (深圳城中村专题-罗湖蔡屋围蔡屋围:梦想的真实围绕, for example), but in essence no different: the KK100 symbolizes urban proress.

What’s more these stories share an enthusiasm for height, illustrating how phallic aesthetics not only bridge the social distance between England and China, but also between the Shenzhen Municipal Government, KK 100 developers, and Caiwuwei Villagers. Indeed, Farrell has received acclaim both for his design and the fact that it is the tallest building ever realized by a British architect, a neat illustration of the link between competitive masculinity and nationalism.

Importantly, the idea of the KK 100’s height is established through explicit comparison to low (level, quality, income) Caiwuwei. Those of you familiar with SEZ history remember that after the Bao’an County Seat moved from Nantou to Shenzhen Market in 1953, County Headquarters were built at Caiwuwei. Caiwuwei’s administrative importance was built into the SEZ’s urban structure in three ways. First, a section that abutted the Shenzhen River became Fishing Village (渔民村), the same village that Deng Xiaoping visited in 1984, when he declared the success of Reform and Opening as a first step in extending reforms to the rest of the country. Second, the site of the headquarters was the home base for the construction of Old Shenzhen. This was the part of town that was call “downtown (市区 or 市里)” throughout the 80s and 90s. Third, in the mid 90s as urban construction moved west to the new city center (at Gangxia), the area was redeveloped as the Shenzhen financial district.

BUT. The village that that KK 100 rejuvenated was not the village to which archello, Farrell and the Guardian reporter or the Chinese sources refer. Caiwuwei Village, technically speaking, refers to those who were members of the village when it incorporated just after Shenzhen was established. Caiwuwei New Village had a population of roughly 2,000 people and they and their children are the beneficiaries of any negotiations between developers in Caiwuwei Ltd. Five points follow:

  1. The urban poor who lived and worked in run down Caiwuwei were moved out of the area and had to find low-income housing elsewhere — they were not Caiwuwei villagers.
  2. Caiwuwei villagers were poorer than the wealthy urbanites who eventually surrounded them in the SEZ’s financial district;
  3. However, as in Gangxia negotiations to rejuvenate the area enriched them because compensation packages were for landuse rights and livelihood;
  4. In the negotiation between the SEZ/Municipality, KK developers, and Caiwuwei we see differently placed capitalists — all benefit from rejuvenation, and;
  5. They find common ground in the aesthetics of height.

So yes, at the moment I find myself asking, Where’s a feminist tsunami when you need it?

Also, a note related to my recent visit to Fuyong. The preservation roundtable has me thinking about the difference between the Pan family graves and the Wen Tianxiang memorial wall in terms of invented pasts, authentic inventions, and the use of history to make present claims about land rights or identity or human nature. After all, it is true that Wen Tianxiang once lived in the area. It is also true that his descendants are scattered throughout Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Huizhou. It is also true that small graves with good fengshui seem more authentically local than an imposed memorial wall. Talking about conservation, however, reminded me that both gestures are inventions of the past to serve particular communities and thus, without knowing who built the wall or who laid the graves, it is difficult to know what’s at stake in making claim to lakeside real estate.

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