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)”. Continue reading

there is no city here…

The translation of 城中村 as “urban village” misleads. In fact, it is more accurate to call them urbanized villages, with the understanding that a village is not simply a rural settlement, but also and more importantly a corporate entity. The village settlement became urban, and in the process created a class of corporate land owners, who own the buildings. Thus, for example Baishizhou, where several thousand households control the real estate where 140,000 people live. Dalang Precinct (大浪街道) has an idegenious population of 8,000+ with a migrant worker population of over 500,000. The villages and some villages are not poor, they are the “local rich”.

Dachong, Hubei, Baishizhou — the list of urban villages that have been or are in process of being rennovated (a euphamism for razed and rebuilt) is, of course, the list of the most important real estate developments in contemporary Shenzhen. The plans for these new neighborhoods resemble those of Southern California, with climate controlled buildings, exquisite landscaping, and carefully planned walking areas.All this to say, when not talking about the need for low income housing (for both the working poor and recent college graduates) or rejoicing in the messy, cheap convenience of urban villages, the general Shenzhen consensus about urban villages in general is that the buildings and environment sub-standard. The goal is to replace them with neighborhoods that have enormous shopping malls at their center.

Now, the ideological irritant is the extent to which young intellectuals and urbane Shenzheners have coded the suburban impulse as tasteful, while the guilded buildings of the village corporations are being called “dirt wealth” buildings (土豪楼). In other words, there is something worse than being “exploding” or nouveau riche (暴发户); one could be “vulgar” rich, or 土豪. Indeed, vulgar rich is the term used to describe the skyscrapers and office buildings that villages (or individual villagers) have commissioned. The problem, of course, is that the logic of building vulger rich buildings is the same as building nouveau riche buildings. Urban villages and suburban cities hire the same architectural firms, use the same materials, and aim for the same symbolic ends — to announce their social importance. The only difference is the exterior of these buildings; where’s the guilded tipping point from nouveau to vulgar riche?

More importantly, the cultural coding of suburban urbanization as “tasteful” and rural urbanization as “tacky” misses the point — neither urban typology completely nourishes the human soul because both forms rely upon exploitation and exclusion in order to generate the capital investment necessary to build and rebuild Shenzhen.

渔农村: border lives

Connecting the Shenzhen Metro and the Hong Kong KCR, the recently opened Futian Checkpoint has provided incentive for building higher end real estate for those who live in, on and from the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border. The area teems with residential and leisure developments that target variations of Shen Kong lives.

Yunongcun (渔农村) is one of the closest urban villages to the checkpoint; simply exit, turn right, and walk 500 meters or so. The walk from the checkpoint to the village area reveals layers of history, both in the making and the discarding. One sees, for example, a soon to be razed 90s food street and mid 90’s housing, and then buildings from roughly ten years later, including a large spa and even newer shopping mall, as well as the Shenzhen river, which is guarded and sealed off from pedestrians.

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What one does not see on this walk is Yunongcun’s important place in Shenzhen’s village renovation movement (旧村改新). Over five years ago on May 22, 2006, the Shenzhen government began the movement with a nod to Shekou’s “first explosion (circa 1979),” by detonating “the first explosion” of the village renovation movement and bringing down fifteen illegal buildings all at once. Villagers had put up these buildings as part of their negotiation for a better settlement package. A kind of holdout, but at a much larger scale than the individual family because the area only became prime real estate with the completion of the checkpoint. Continue reading

意maging baishizhou

Three pictures of the northeastern corner of Baishizhou along Shennan Road. The map and detail are from a map in the Window of the World subway station, the third is a photo of the actual corner, taken from the plaza in front of 沙河世纪假日广场 (Shahe Century Holiday Plaza), the large landmark in the two maps. The contrast between the map and the territory interests me because it the ongoing (re)imagineering of Baishizhou in particular and Shenzhen more generally.

Baishizhou, as mentioned in earlier posts, is one of Shenzhen’s more “chaotic (乱)” urban villages. However, it occupies prime real estate – directly across from Window of the World and on the Line 1 Subway. Consequently, upgrading Baishizhou is an ongoing project and has included major real estate development. Tellingly, most information about Shahe Century Holiday Plaza real estate (herehere, and here, for example) emphasizes the subway convenience, views of Window of the World, and modern amenities, downplaying and often ignoring the Plaza’s neighbor, Baishizhou.

Continue reading

Xiasha “Old village renovation”

In point of fact, the phrase “village renovation (旧村改造)” is a misnomer. What many Shenzhen villages are renovating is not the old village, but a village that was “new” in the mid-1990s. Images from Xiasha’s recently completed renovations suggest possible tradition-socialist-early reform-contemporary mashups or postmodern post-villages, so to speak.

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historic ironies: the fanshen metro station, shenzhen

Fanshen is one of the recently opened Baoan District subway stations. Like Daxin (in Nanshan), Fanshen was the name of one of the Communes in Baoan County and now refers to the general area where commune headquarters once stood. Literally, 翻身 (fān shēn)means to turn over. In the context of the Chinese Revolution, fanshen referred to the liberation of peasants from feudal obligations by transferring rights to land and draft animals from local gentry and rich peasants. Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village by William Hinton remains one of the best introductions to the reasons for and implementation of Maoist land reform.

Along Fanshen Road, I also stumbled upon Anle Second Brigade New Village (安乐二队新村), a place name that melds traditional values (安乐 means peace and happiness), Maoist production (小队 small production brigades based on village divisions), and early Shenzhen reforms (新村 new villages were the first local incarnation of the household responsibility system; only as urban area spread to surround them did new villages become “villages in the city (城中村)”). Continue reading

qinghu – end of the line [du jour]

Walked around the qinghu station, which for the moment, is the last station on the longhua line. in its underdevelopment, the area reminds us that Shenzhen’s “villages in the city (城中村)” began as “new villages (新村)”, as locals took advantage of their land, proximity to Hong Kong, and cheap labor to jump into global chains of production. Nevertheless, with the subway, bourgeois taste has begun to restructure the landscape and upscale housing developments now push Longhua factories and dormitories further inland. Pictures below.

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over 350,000 illegal buildings in shenzhen?

I have been reading and translating texts about the latest effort to clean up (raze and rebuild) urban villages to conform to changing definitions of what constitutes a modern global city, which is, of course, the goal of Shenzhen’s 2010-2020 overall urban plan. Below an excerpt from an online report on the results of a survey to catalogue all the illegal buildings in the urban villages. Of note: illegal status is defined historically, in other words: buildings become illegal over time (either they become dangerous or come into conflict with changing codes). Worth remembering: Shenzhen’s urban villages occupy roughly 4% of Shenzhen’s actual land, but are home to an estimated 50% of the population, and generate a significant percentage of the local economy.



Translation: June 2, last year [2009], the “Shenzhen Municipality People’s Congress Standing Committee’s Decision for Handling Illegal Buildings Left from the History of Rural Urbanization” (below “Decision”) was promulgated, opening another surge of illegal construction in order to take advantage of this policy. According to Decision requirements, there would be a thorough inspection of all illegal buildings in the city to establish an archive of illegal building costs and numbers, to be finished within one year. To date, inspection of illegal buildings has been conducted throughout the city, even as the work of documentation has been accomplished with much fanfare.

By June 2, this year [2010], the basic work of gathering information and recording statistics had been completed. According to the survey results, there are 357,000 illegal buildings left from the history of rural urbanization. These buildings have a total area of 392 million square meters and take up 131 square kilometers of land. 348,000 buildings have already been reported for a report ratio of 97.63%. At the same time on June 8, the implementation of the Decision was in principal approved by the Standing Committee of the Municipal Government and will next go to the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress for final ratification.  You Xiping, Xinlang Real Estate, August 17, 2010