On Friday September 9, 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Nanting Village, Guangzhou with Professor Chen Xiaoyang, from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. The occasion for the visit was a screening of Zhong Shifang’s film, “From Border to Border,” a documentary on the Chinese community in Tangra Calcutta. I will discuss the film in my next post. Today, I would like to contextualize the screening of the film with a brief introduction to Nanting Village.
Before we screened the film, Prof. Chen took us on a tour of Nanting Village, which is located next to Guangzhou’s University Town. Prof. Chen started out as a sculptor and ended up doing a Ph.D. in anthropology because there were questions she wanted to explore through research. For the past five years at the Guangzhou Fine Arts Academy, she has run a program of field research and art making in collaboration with Nanting Village.
What a walk through Nanting makes clear is that this area was historically much richer than Shenzhen (Bao’an County) as well as the ongoing negotiation over what tradition can and cannot mean in the face of mass redevelopments and relocations of people. Until the construction of guangzhou’s University Town, the area was only accessible by boat and ferries along between villages remain (if not important) pleasurable ways of engaging the environment. Indeed, when I was there, the ferry was serving students and their bicycles. Unlike neighboring Yanning, which was demolished to make way for University Town, Nanting partially survived because of resistance by several elders. Yet, not all is equal amount villagers.
Nanning is a two surname village, the Guans and the Huangs. During the redevelopment, the Guans did not demolish their houses or move to compensation land elsewhere. The Huangs did. However, expected compensation money did not arrive and so today, many of the Huangs along with art students rent apartments from the Guans. Both the Guans and the Huangs managed to preserve their ancestral halls, but it is clear that continued proximity to the old village center and homes allows the Guans as a village community to thrive in ways that the Huangs are not. Not that it has been easy for the Guans. Their temple to Guandi has been demolished by the government and they fear to rebuild it, while their ancestral hall with names of ancestors was demolished and has only been recently rebuilt. The carpenter who did the detailed ornamentation is an older, local gentleman. The story of the construction of University Town is told in the documentary film “Yanning (焉宁),” which looks at the complete demolition and forced relocation of Yanning villagers.
The trip allowed me to think about issues of transience and belonging within the Pearl River Delta, as well as reminded me that not only are their urban villages that are still quite rural, but also that the rural has been differently constituted in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Images from a walk in Nanting Village, below.