yumin village: changing meanings of “farmer housing”

Just recently got my paws on “The History of Yumin Village (渔民村村史)”. Yumin Village, of course, was the village that Deng Xiaoping visited in 1984, during his first inspection trip to the SEZs. Xi Jinping followed up with a visit in 2012. So yes, this village has played an important symbolic role both in the ideological construction of post-Mao society and in representations of  pre-reform Shenzhen Bao’an County. What struck me as I flipped through the pages was how this transformation can be readily represented in the changing typology of “farmer housing (农民房)”.

So, the houses that Deng Xiaoping visited in 1984 were private homes or “villas (别墅)” that had been built for the thirty-three member families of the village in 1980.

big polders

As one can see in this early photo, Yumin Village was a tight neighborhood, very much like a suburban enclave, except built in the middle of wetlands and fishing polders. This layout is exactly like the layout in recently visit Dachan Village in Shekou; the first generation of Shenzhen farmer houses were individual family homes. When built by the collective, the first generation of Shenzhen farmer homes represented a realization of a collective ideal for a new village.

Also of note in this picture: the fishing ponds and water in the right of the picture will be soon reclaimed and the Shenzhen River (to the right) channelized. During the process of channelizing the Shenzhen River, the Lok Ma Chau area was created.

deng xiaoping Pictures of Deng Xiaoping visiting one of these newly built homes, emphasize the size and cleanliness of the rooms, as well as the placement of electronics (especially televisions), comfy chairs in the main room, and auspicious symbols. In 1984, these amenities were only available to high-ranking urbanites in Beijing and Shanghai, let alone poor fish farmers and their families.

In 1995, when Shenzhen celebrated its 15th anniversary, models of these rooms were displayed in exhibitions throughout the country. This was, however, a bit of “after-the-fact” construction of ideology because by 1995, Yumin Village had already built handshakes.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAs this picture from the early 90s shows, Yumin Village had already become an important arrival village for migrants, both rural and urban, who worked in the Luohu area. Also of note, the density of the construction which has expanded village holdings into reclaimed wetland and ponds. Note also that the Shenzhen River has been channelized.

The point, of course, is that in 1984, the private homes of Yumin Village represented Deng’s idea of “little happiness (小康)” or a basic standard of living for all Chinese families. However, by the time of his 1992 Southern Tour, villagers had already begun transforming their private homes and collective fishing ponds into capitalist property.

旧改

In 2001, not even twenty years after Deng Xiaoping’s first visit to Shenzhen and just under a decade after his second, Yumin Village was renovated (旧改). As with previous transformations, the number of individual and collective village rental properties increased. However, unlike previous transformations, with renovation, the Municipality took the lead in bring village buildings into alignment with contemporary high-rise aesthetics.

Today, Yumin New Village Community remains an arrival neighborhood for low-income migrants who work in Luohu. Importantly, Yumin and Baishizhou are both considered “urban villages (城中村)”.

Point du jour is simply to complicate understandings of urban renewal projects and their discontents. What the pictures of Yumin Village illustrate is that in terms of Shenzhen history, handshake villages are a second generation of “new” village. They are have been constituted (both historically and ideologically) as a transitional form moving toward contemporary aesthetics. This transition occurs at both the level of society and at the level of the individual migrant. This explains, on the one hand, the differences between Yumin, which began renovations in 2001 and Dachong, which began renovations in 2006. It also explains the enduring ideology that the point of landing in an urban village is to earn enough to move out AND up.

Also of note: many in the Municipality’s government recognize the need for affordable housing as well as the role that urbanized villages have played in providing that housing. Consequently, renovated villages (like Shuiwei and Xiasha, for example, but also Gangxia and Caiwuwei for that matter) have retained upgraded handshakes to provide housing for low income workers in the immediate neighborhood.

In many ways, current Shenzhen debates about the place of urban villages within the city’s landscape echo discussions of conspicuous construction in places like NYC and London, where high-rises and rising property values have made it nearly impossible for young and low-income people to reside in desired parts of the city.

2 thoughts on “yumin village: changing meanings of “farmer housing”

  1. Just crazy how much changed in those few decades! Here in my (boring) german home towni can tell what was build new during the past thirty years…nearly nothing, some buildings got new windows and that’s it 😀

    Everytime I visit xi’an the city changed a bit, would be nice to see a decade long time lapse video of quickly developing chinese cities.

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