After several months, I return to my synopsis of The Great Transformation (沧海桑田：深圳村庄三十年). This episode is about Futian Village (富田村), which begins raising the counterintuitive question of why Walmart would build a megastore in Futian Village. The underlying message of the episode might be half-facetiously summarized as “location, location, location”.
The story of how Futian Village became known as Futian suggests the shifting contours of village lands. 田 (tian) of course meant “paddy” or “fields” and has been constant over history. Over 900 years ago. One went to Futian, one settled in Shangsha, and the third went to Yuanlang in what today is known as the Hong Kong New Territories. However, the village was originally called “Getian (隔田)” because it was separated from the mainland by a stretch of seawater that extended to Tianmian. Over time, sedimentation filled the marshy areas between the coast and the separate fields. This new agricultural land was called Futian (幅田). When the name was formalized during the Mao era, the village was named Futian (福田), which included the character 福 (fu – prosperity), a homophone for 幅 (fu -meaning landfill). According to an old villager, “real Shenzheners” call him “Getian person (隔田佬)”.
In fact, the history of the area is the transformation of the status of fields. Before 1980, Futian villagers cultivated grain, sugar cane, and peanuts. The village itself was defined in terms of these land holdings. They were organized as one brigade, which was further organized into two work teams – total population 1,000 people. However, according to the old Village Party Secretary Huang many more villagers escaped to Hong Kong before reform. At the establishment of the SEZ, the village occupied had strategically located land holdings, at the edge of the Luohu downtown area. In 1992, when inner district villages transferred historic land rights to Shenzhen Municipality, the village developed rental property and commercial areas. There were two key developments that went on to have national impact. Firstly, in 1998, Walmart opted to open its first megastore in Futian Village. In turn, the Futian megastore became the model of how to operate a Walmart in China. Secondly, the Venice Hotel chain also opened its first hotel in the village.
1990s and early turn of the millennium corporate village development emphasized profit rather than public space. Importantly, however, Futian Village was located directly adjacent to the new central axis area. However, when the new Civic Center opened, Futian Village was required to upgrade accordingly. In 2007, when Futian decided to build a new culture plaza, then Futian District Party Secretary, Lv Reifeng reputedly said, “I can’t give you funding to build the plaza, but I can give you a policy.” The policy was quite simple: Futian District gave 30% of the total cost to build the plaza.
To recap: The Great Transformation tells the story of thirty Shenzhen villages. Importantly, the idea of “village resident” in the series constantly shifts between “indigenous villagers” and “migrants who live in the village”. This slippage is subtle but hinges on the way in which urbanization has not only transformed fields, but more importantly restructured property rights. For example, when the narrator says “villager/s (村民)”, he clearly means “local villager/s”, referring to those who own buildings and have stock in the collective holdings. However, when he speaks of “urban villages (城中村)”, he means the urban neighborhoods that evolved out of the previous village. More tellingly, the slippage between “villages” and “urban villages” structures rhetorical questions throughout the series. The episode, “Futian Village”, for example, opens with the rhetorical question, “Many wonder why one of the world’s 500 richest companies would choose to open their first megastore in an urban village.” Clearly, the intended audience of the serial documentary continue to view urban villages as rural villages rather than urban neighborhoods.