Those of you following the construction of Qianhai, may or may not be aware that it’s cultural geography includes many, many fish (now buried) and Dachan Island, once upon a time home to Dachan Village. Inquiring minds want to know: just where is Dachan Village, today?
In the early 1990s, the city had planned and built a power plant on Dachan Island. I visited Dachan Island in 1996 and saw the abandoned village and still occupied military border outpost; in the Maoist past, refugees often mistook Dachan for Hong Kong. When I asked where the villagers had gone, I was told they were better off in the new village. At the time, the plan included reclaiming land between Dachan and the Nantou Peninsula. Roughly 15 years later, this area was redistricted as the Qianhai Development Area, which is now part of the free commerce zone (自贸区).
In the early 1990s, Dachan villagers were allocated land in Shekou, just next to the Shekou long distance bus station. They were roughly 100 or so people, and with their compensation they built a small neighborhood of two-story farmer homes. However, that was only the beginning of there peripatetic journey. About ten years ago, Dachan villagers were again relocated because their new village had been designated for redevelopment. This time, they were moved into temporary housing, which they will leave, when they move back to the new housing built on the land of the Shekou Dachan new village.
This shuffling from new villages to temporary housing to compensation residences is common. As I write, Shuiwan villagers are preparing to move into compensatory housing in the 1979 Housing Estate, begging the question: just what holds the village together when there’s no longer any village there? After all, villages like Huanggang and Xiasha and Huaide which re/built ansestral halls and temples in the 1990s still have spatial hooks for rituals and identities that flesh out the otherwise abstract connections formed through stock options and contracts.
Strangely, the fact that New Dachan still stands, abandoned except for a few migrant worker families makes it particularly suited to an imaginary nostalgia for what might have happened in the narrow allies and two-story homes had villagers not been removed to the next best thing.
Impressions of New Dachan, below.
New Dachan looks actually rather normal except the people missing and too much greenery coming from all the cracks in the pathways and buildings. This style buildings in China always give me the impression that they won’t last even few decades. Often newly build two stores houses in then suburban area of Xi’an look like that they won’t last the next winter because they look already a year after construction very used up, or it is the general construction method?
I think the wear and tear in the south has to do with using concrete in in humid climes; the tiles help to prevent early crumbling. I actually like this style of modernist neighborhood; the spaces between buildings and large second floor balconies encourage connections between neighbors. It seems possible to know everyone in this space, unlike in the large unwieldy estates of several thousand residents.
I really hate those big apartment complexes where each apartment appears to be more of a prison cell than a home.