hubei: recognizing “value”

The current focus on preserving Hubei Old Village obscures just how much Special Zone history and everyday life will be demolished to make way for the new China Resources development downtown. What’s at stake are competing understandings of what makes a good life for whom and who gets to decide the form and function of the city.

The history of Hubei village, if reduced to a few bullet points is:

  • In 1466, the village was established on this site when the third and fourth sons of the 12th patriarch Zhang Yue Gong moved from Shuibei to Hubei;
  • During the 18th year of the reign of the Shunzhi Emperor (1661), the ban on sea travel was issued and all villages and towns in coastal Guangdong had to move inland; Hubei village and its Hall for Zhang Yue Gong were demolished;
  • During the 22nd year of reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1683), the ban was lifted and villagers returned to their hometowns;
  • In 1804, the Hall for Zhang Yue Gong was rebuilt, and
  • During the Republican era, the Hall for Zhang Yue Gong was restored.

This is history as written in one version of the redevelopment plan. This history emphasizes patriarchal family structure as symbolized by Zhang Yue Gong and his hall; indeed, in the earliest plans all that the developers expected to preserve was that hall, rather than the entire layout of the village. Since the intervention of Hubei 120, the area to be preserved has increased to include the central section of the old village, although it remains undecided just how much of the ancient village will be preserved.

Of course, the redevelopment plan targets more than just the old village; redevelopment also targets New Hubei Village as well as neighboring sections of Luohu. Hubei was the urban heart of the early SEZ, and  includes compound housing (大院) that was built circa 1980, narrow commercial streets, including the street of seafood restaurants for which Hubei is famous, and a patchwork of commercial towers that embody 3.5 decades of urban transformation.

Villagers and other home-owning residents will be compensated for their demolished property; renters will not be. Roughly 50,000 people live in New Hubei Village, a figure that does not include shopowners and restauranteurs as well as renters in other housing, who have made this a densely populated, multi-use area. In fact, even Luohu culture park is slated to be replaced by a new, more modern park!

Here’s the rub: walking through this section of the city it is not difficult to image that the area needs upgrading. However, it is frightening to contemplate that corporate profits can be seen as trumping any other value, including both patriarchal and renter histories, but also ordinary rights to make a living and to have affordable housing downtown.  Sigh.

Impressions from yesterday’s walk through the Hubei area.

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One thought on “hubei: recognizing “value”

  1. Your question at the end of this first paragraph, is of course the thing all history begs us to understand. This post, with its evocative photos, indeed elicits a “sigh” and brings me to understand you more clearly, as a scientist observing over time, phenomena and data, that you and are able to report objectively. The “sigh” shows a modest restrained allowance for emotional response outside of the disciplined “Scientific” behaviour.


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