mappy thoughts about “yellow hill”

So, here’s a photograph that confused me for way too long. It pops up on Baidu, when I search “深圳老照片”. It was not immediately apparent to me, however, when and where this landscape existed. And then I stumbled upon a map of Futian Commune and it was like, wow, I get it. Here’s the map:

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dachan: just where is the village anyway?

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? Continue reading

next to go: huanggang

The plans for renovating Huanggang have been released–just in case you were wondering, “How quickly can Shenzhen remake itself in its own ever shifting image?” That said, Tianmian has also evicted the design companies and is gearing up to raze and renovate its former industrial park. In fact some areas of the city–looking at you OCT–are preparing the fourth generation of urban plan. Below, the maps and images of Huanggang 3.0, urbanized villages vanishing except as real estate companies.

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suzhou garden, huanggang, shenzhen

Visited the Suzhou style garden in Huanggang Village today. The Village axis runs from the arch on Fumin Road via a main street and the central plaza to the ancestral hall and temple. The garden is located behind the ancestral hall.

Also of note: in the main plaza, the village has crafted a self representation that mimics Shenzhen billboards, in which key buildings symbolize the strength and unity of the group. Nevertheless, unlike the municipal central axis, the village central axis runs east – west. Indeed, that’s the rub. If the central axis were opened up through the convention center, it would split Huanggang and plow through the garden.

Impressions, below.

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Jilong Village ruins

In the ongoing rush to raze urban villages, vestiges of the actual old villages have suddenly assumed an almost mythic aura and handshakes seem classically urbane. The latest example? Remnants of Jilong Village, one of the four neighborhood/ villages that constitute Huanggang (the other three are Shangwei, Xiawei, and Huanggang New Villages) are currently being renovated in the shaded grove next to Huanggang Plaza and now flicker with ancient promise. As close as half a year ago, migrant workers rented these decaying row houses; now, visions of a Huanggang Xintiande dance in my head. A few pictures, below.

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Shuiwei’s New Park: Commemorating Reform and Ancestor Zhuangzi

As part of its ongoing upgrades, Shuiwei has finished a small park dedicated to Zhuangzi. In fact, the village traces its genealogy back to the famous philosopher; according to the plaque, the village’s founder Zhuang Sen (庄森) was born into the 48th generation of Zhuangzi descendants. The commemoration, like others throughout Shenzhen villages, links the establishment of the village with its Reform era rejuvenation.

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Our founder established the village 600 years ago, for happiness and prosperity we praise the Party’s magnanimity,

Our prayer is that our compound thrives 10,000 years, harmony, co-prosperity, a new homestead,

Reform and Opening surpasses 1,000 autumns, the Zhuang family descendants to flourish,

The moat and old walls have been replaced. We connect past and future generations, eternally going forward.


Gregory Bateson helped me learn to think about how human beings engage in (ultimately) self-destructive forms of competitive growth; Wendall Berry continues to inspire how I think about rural urbanization under capitalism.

Bateson provided a theory of schismogenesis or “vicious circle,” in which our behavior provokes a reaction in another, whose reaction, in turn, stimulates us to intensify our response. According to Bateson, schismogenesis comes in two flavors: symmetrical and complementary. Symmetrical relationships are those in which the two parties are equals, competitors, such as in sports. Complementary relationships feature an unequal balance, such as dominance-submission (parent-child), or exhibitionism-spectatorship (performer-audience). The point, of course, is that unless there is an agreed upon limit to the development of provocation and response, the relationship just keeps going until it hits a natural limit – collapse of the relationship because neither side can continue to meet and exceed the other’s call.

Berry teaches that one of the more deadly tendencies in capitalist urbanization in the United States is to turn all of us, eventually, into Native Americans. On Berry’s reading, the basic structure of American life was to eradicate the people and lifeways of Native Americans and then to replace those people and lifeways with settler capitalism. Importantly, this model of a settled community being replaced by the next, more intensive form of capitalist production both established the rhythm of American development and has become a powerful symbol of how generations of Americans have justified our destruction of people and lifeways in favor of more efficient and valuable forms of life. Importantly, efficient and valuable are defined in terms of profit. Thus, industrial, mass agriculture replace the settlers that had replaced the Native Americans; smart technologies and production are offered as the solution to problems of rustbelt withering.

How have Bateson and Berry shaped my understanding of Shenzhen?

Shenzhen all too clearly grows through an amazing range and diverse levels of complementary schismogenesis. Within Shenzhen, villages, neighborhoods, districts, and municipal ministries all engage in compete for competitive advantage; at the same time, Shenzhen as a city competes with all other cities in the PRD as well as internationally.  In this system, the function of urban planning is contradictory. On the one hand, the Municipal government needs to stimulate competition so that the city can respond to development in Guangdong, China, and the world. On the other hand, the Municipal government also needs to set limits – usually in the form of social goods, such as parks, schools, and hospitals – on how far development can encroach on the people’s quality of life.

Moreover, as Berry noted, the pattern of the first razing and replacement sets the rhythm and symbolic lexicon for understanding capitalist schismogenesis. The problem in Shenzhen is that eventually, we all become locals, our homes and lifeways replaced by more capitalist intensive forms of consumption (increasingly high maintenance housing) and production (higher value added production).

The result has been the ongoing production of rubble. Villages go. 80s housing goes. 90s residences are going. And as in the United States, postmodern nostalgia has become one of the forms that middle class resignation to this fate takes. The poor occupy the rubble until they are moved elsewhere. Images below.

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旧村改新:initial observations

this is another thoughts-in-progress entry. these past few days, i have been trying to organize thoughts about the 旧村改新 (old village make-overs), a recent government initiative to clean-up shenzhen’s new villages (now understood as “old”). this was part of the reason for posting on luohu; i actually took that series of pictures last december, but the juxtaposition of new luohu village, the era of two cities building, the new housing development, and the renovated train station point to issues that come together in the make-over initiative. so if you haven’t yet, you may want to first take a walk about luohu.

the point, of course, is simple: there are many shenzhens and they all abut one another. indeed, it’s as difficult to miss new villages, which have a distinctive layout and architecture, as it is to overlook a high-end housing development. these different urban forms actualize the different development trajectories that shenzhen’s villagers and white-collar migrants have pursued. that is to say, even if we bracket for the moment the question of whether or not shenzhen has deep, imperial history, nevertheless, it has been over 25 years since deng xiaoping began reform and opening just north of hong kong. architecture styles and urban plans actualize different moments in this process, providing a material history of the city. with the village make-over initiative, the government seems determined to remove traces of historic difference, even as cultural officials continue to moan about shenzhen’s lack of history. below is a picture of the arch at the entrance to huanggang new village.

the old village make-over initiative first came to my attention over dinner last year, when friends were discussing the government’s decision to raze 18 mid-rise buildings), right at the huanggang cross-border checkpoint. the topic came up not because those at the table disagreed with the make-over process, but because this was the first time china was simultaneously imploding 18 buildings. the event was know as “china’s first blast (全国第一爆).the buildings belonged to yunong village (渔农村). if memory holds, the conversation focused on the technology involved, the need for a modern area to face hong kong, and the avarious fearlessness of villagers, who continued to errect illegal, rental properties.

this past year, i have watched construction teams lay the foundations for a new yunong with something of a jaded eye. this is not the first time that the municipal government had directed a movement specifically at shenzhen’s urban villages. and in a certain sense, it often feels like a more of the same kind of project.

in 1991, the government initiated the rural urbanization movement (农村城市化运动) with the goal of integrating all villages into the municipal government and giving all shenzhen peasants, citizen status. this was called the double transformation. this movement finally ended in august 2004, when baoan and longgang districts announced that all villages had been redistricted and all villagers had been given a new hukou. shenzhen was thereby the first city in china to have neither villages nor villagers within its borders.

for officials determined to turn their city into a global, international city, the end of rural shenzhen was a major milestone. indeed, in this area shenzhen has been heralded as a national leader. these administrative changes, however, did not irradicate the visceral spatial differences between shenzhen villages and the surrounding city.

in order to deepen the integration of the villages into the fabric of the city, shenzhen officials turned their gaze to the built environment as a sign of rural-urban difference. consequently, the following year, in 2005, the government decided to start the old village make-over initiative. crudely, this entails razing what are known as “handshake buildings” and replacing them with modern residential developments. handshake buildings are so-called because they are so close to each other that neighbors can reach out their windows or across their balconies and shake hands. the initiative includes building plazas and public areas, as well as different kinds of housing developments. i include a picture of a row of handshake buildings, huanggang new village.

compare with an image of the new urban dreams currently under construction in huanggang:

the old village make-over initiative was formally approved on october 28, 2005. it is a special five-year plan to improve the urban villages (城中村), speed up urbanization, promote the unification of infrastructure within and outside the sez, realize the joint planning and harmonious development of urban villages and other areas in the city, and to advance the architecture of a global, modern, and key city, errect a harmonious and efficient shenzhen. the curious can check out the full old village make-over plan online.

nevertheless, the question of make-overs and everyday life only became interesting the other day, when i was in shuiwei and huanggang, two of the futian villages that abut the hong kong border. frankly, i was impressed with the layout of shuiwei’s culture plaza, which boasts a funky (if derivative) outdoor stage, a curious rocks museum (the rocks are mainly from guangxi), and a library. i also had tea at a colorful hong kong style teashop, where the milk tea was strong and rich. suddenly, i wanted to move from tianmian, which is conveniant but not like shuiwei. (the lack of tasty but reasonable restaurants in tianmian is a bone of ongoing contention. after all, one of the defining features of the urban villages has been the quality and price of the restaurants.)

my desire to move to shuiwei points to an underlying fact about new village life; the primary source of income for most villagers is rental property. this has meant that villagers have built as densely and as highly as possible, with little concern for the overall environment. it also has meant a density of cheap beauty and massage parlors, restaurants, places to play mah johng, food markets. indeed, since the mid-1990s, as most of shenzhen’s factories have been pushed outside city limits, the importance of rental property and services to village economies has grown. the main residents of the villages are low income migrants, usually from the countryside.

it seems that the ratio of villagers to migrants in the villages concerns the government. the villages maintain their own militias (民兵) that act as a police force within village borders, shifting social regulation from the state to these quasi-governmental organizations. according to futian government statistics, for example, there were 19,353 villagers registrared in 15 administrative villages (there are 20 natural villages in futian.) those villagers provided housing for 572,143 migrants. a ratio of 1 villager for every 29.5 migrants. (these figures do not include unregistered migrants, some of whom live in illegal housing, but others who live in the underground walkways that connect villages to the city proper.) these migrant laborers are precisely the persons regularly identified in the press and popular opinion as causing social unrest. outside the sez in baoan and longgang districts, the villager to migrant ratio is even higher. thus, this research suggests that the greatest challenge facing the make-over movement is a contradiction between the villagers’ economic interest (as landlords) and the state’s interest in maintaining social discipline.

i conclude with a picture of the home of the shuiwei militia (水围民兵之家).