laying siege to the villages: baishizhou

A FIVE-PART ESSAY, “LAYING SIEGE TO THE VILLAGES” HAS BEEN PUBLISHED ONLINE AT OPEN DEMOCRACY. HERE’S PART FIVE, WHICH DISCUSSES INFORMAL URBANIZATION AND THE CREATION OF NEIGHBORHOODS FOR AND BY THE WORKING POOR.

5. Baishizhou: Neighborhoods for the Working Poor

As of 2013, Baishizhou was the largest of the so-called urban villages in Shenzhen’s inner districts. With respect to the overall layout of Shenzhen, Baishizhou occupied both the southern and northern sides of Shennan Middle Road, at peripheries of both Luohu (moving west) and the Nantou Peninsula (moving north), making it one of the most centrally located transit centers in the inner districts (map 8). As of 2013, Baishizhou had a total area of 7.4 km2 and an estimated population of 140,000 residents, of whom roughly 20,000 held Shenzhen hukou and 1,880 were locals. The population density of Baishizhou had breached 18,900 people per square kilometer, more twice that of municipal average of 7,500 people per square kilometer, a statistic which in 2012 had made Shenzhen the fifth most densely populated city on the planet. There were 2,340 low and mid-rise buildings in the area, with an estimated 35,000 units. Monthly rents ranged from 700 to 3,000 rmb, which were significantly cheaper than in neighboring Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) or nearby housing estates, where a “cheap” apartment could rent for 4,000 rmb.

master plan

Map 8: Location of Baishizhou, 1996 Master Plan

Many of the garbage collectors for the area live in the cheapest rentals, rural Mao-era dormitories where it is possible for three workers to share a 30 m2 dorm room for 200 rmb a head, plus electricity and water. Old Cai, for example, was 65 years old, when interviewed. He came to Shenzhen after retirement because his monthly pension is 40 rmb per month, but he and his wife need 20,000 rmb annually, or about 1,700 a month to meet their expenses. In Baishizhou, he makes a living collecting and reselling cardboard boxes and other garbage. He says he can save money this way because although there’s no real profit, he makes enough to support himself and to bring a little home for Chinese New Year. However, the diversity of Baishizhou residents also includes working families who have lived in the area since migrating to Shenzhen over twenty years ago and young professionals who are sharing their first flat independent of their families. One family from Sichuan, for example, rents a 60 m2 two bedroom apartment for 1,700 rmb a month, which the husband, his wife, her mother-in-law, and their two children share. During the day, the parents work at one of the OCT themeparks, while the mother-in-law takes care of the children and housework. In addition, many of Shenzhen’s young designers and architects who work in the OCT Loft, a renovated factory area for creative industry live in higher-end handshake buildings, which sometimes include parking space for a car.

In addition to rental properties, the first floor of most Baishizhou buildings was used for commercial purposes and the area boasted several commercial streets, at least two night markets and entertainment areas, in addition to independent vendors and office space for independent carpenters, builders, and handymen. There was an elementary school and several nursery schools. Moreover, in between two of the abandoned factories of the Shahe Industrial Park enterprising migrants have set up the Baishizhou Pedestrian Street, which mimics the Dongmen Walking Street. There are food stalls and toy vendors, and several juvenile rides.

Clearly, using the term “village” to describe this level of settlement density and diversity is misleading – Baishizhou is a vibrant urban area composed of five neighborhoods – Baishizhou, Shangbaishi, Xiabaishi, Xintang and Tangtou, which under Mao had been organized into a state-owned agricultural collective, Shahe Farm. In the early 1980s, 12.5 km2 area of the Shahe Farm was partitioned into two enterprise areas – Overseas Chinese Town in the eastern section and Shahe Enterprises in the western section. In the mid-1980s, both OCT and Shahe built factories for assembly manufacturing. However, the management teams and access to investment capital were significantly different. OCT was a state-owned enterprise and its management team educated professionals from China’s major cities. In contrast, the former collective leaders managed Shahe and its development. In the post Tian’anmen era when Shenzhen’s low-tech low cost manufacturing had ceased to be as profitable as during the 1980s, OCT developed themeparks – Splendid China, Window of the World, and Happy Valley – to stimulate the economy. In turn, this investment also enhanced the rental value of the area and drove the redevelopment of the former industrial park into a Soho like creative area.

laying siege to the villages: xixiang and fuyong

A five-part essay, “Laying Siege to the Villages” has been published online at Open Democracy. Here’s part four, which discusses informal urbanization beyond the Second Line (erxian).

4. Informal Urbanization in the Outer Districts: National Highway 107

Shenzhen township and village enterprises (TVEs) in the outer districts (formerly New Bao’an County) were quick to take advantage of reform policies. By 1985, village-teams, township brigades, and the recently re-established Bao’an County government had already registered over 50 industrial parks (Map 6).

national highway 107

Map 6: Industrial Urbanization in New Bao’an County, 1985

Nevertheless, this massive social restructuring occurred outside and despite municipal urban planning (Map 7). A comparison of these two maps reveals three important features of informal urbanization in Shenzhen. First, the total area of Shenzhen’s informal industrial urbanization was over four times greater than planned urbanization in inner districts (original SEZ). Second, urbanization in the outer districts occurred outside official urban planning. Moreover, the density of industrialization along National Highway 107 becomes on the 1986 Plan an incomplete red thread. Indeed, as targets of urban planning, the outer districts did not appear in official maps until the release of the 1996 Shenzhen Comprehensive Plan. Third, the scale of development in the outer districts indicates the high level of informal organization in the villages. Informal urbanization did not arise sui generis, but through the redeployment of TVEs, which did not only represent the economic interests of the collective but also traditional identities and social constituencies.

guannei-wai

Map 7: 1986 Master Plan for the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Transposed onto the 2013 Shenzhen Municipal Map

In addition to the New Bao’an County TVEs, the outer districts also saw the development of private stock companies formed by alliances between individual villagers and investors, often from Hong Kong or an Overseas Chinese community. The diversity of ownership, notwithstanding, all of these enterprises engaged in low-tech labor-intensive assembly manufacturing. The factories themselves were long, concrete buildings, usually 4-6 stories in height. These buildings usually had electricity and water hook-ups, and depending on the complexity of assembly, individual tables for detail work. Outside firms contracted a TVE to assemble a product according to spec. Earliest manufactured goods included textiles, toys, and cheap electronics. These early industrial parks also included 4-6 story dormitories for migrant workers. Dorm rooms were narrow, and fitted with four bunk beds. Opposite the door was a small window, while along the remaining walls two bunk beds were placed back-to-back. There was enough space between the bunk beds for residents to walk to their bed. Consequently, most conversations occurred sitting on a bed or outside on the lawn. Importantly, these factory complexes were built either along National Road 107 or the railway, along which goods were transported to the port of Hong Kong, where in turn the goods were shipped overseas.

In the early 1980s, when the Shenzhen TVEs opened, there were no other manufacturing jobs available to rural workers, who were still tied to collectives and mandatory agricultural production quotas through hukou status. This meant that the Shenzhen TVEs had labor reserves throughout Guangdong and neighboring provinces, where rural workers who were effectively excluded from wage labor. The number of migrants who took advantage of these opportunities constituted the Shenzhen population boom, transforming the landscape in three important ways. First, more people came than there were jobs and by extension, dormitory space. This created an immediate need for rental properties. Second, the increasing population also needed food and social services, which in turn created more jobs for migrants across sectors, but primarily in construction and service industries. Third, urban construction this area was largely informal. By the time that Shenzhen Municipality had annexed New Bao’an County in 1990, local collectives had emerged as the de facto urban planners in the outer districts. Moreover, when considered in terms of population and territory, urbanization in the outer districts constituted the primary form of urbanization in Shenzhen. Moreover, by the mid-1990s, many domestic and international companies chose to rent use rights from the collectives and build campuses in the other Districts, especially Longgang near the railway. As of 2013, high profile electronics manufacturers in Shenzhen included Foxconn, Tencent, and Huawei.

The fuzzy nature of ownership rights over-determined the haphazard direction of urbanization in the outer districts. Indeed, throughout Shenzhen, the foresight of a collective leader and the willingness of members to coordinate development has shaped the quality of life in specific villages. In the post Mao era, land ownership rights belonged to the collective, while “use rights” were delegated to members of the community. This slippage provide a brief window of opportunity for individual villagers to engage in individual profit-seeking activities, however, the most successful enterprises belonged to the county, townships, and villages that expropriated use rights by exerting their ownership rights. Indeed, conflicts between Shenzhen Municipality and its “urban villages” have also arisen due to the distinction between ownership and use rights. As of 1992 in the inner districts and 2004 in the outer districts, Shenzhen Municipality owned all land within its borders. However, through housing and industrial parks, the collectives continued to exercise use rights. Indeed, since 1992 and 2004, villages and developers have been negotiating compensation for transferring these rights; Shenzhen Municipality has mediated these transfers through its Master Plans.

laying siege to the villages: the nantou peninsula

A five-part essay, “Laying Siege to the Villages” has been published online at Open Democracy. Here’s part two on the Nantou Peninsula.

2. Concentric Occupations: Nantou Peninsula

The built environment of Shenzhen urban villages references three historic moments – late Qing and Nationalist-era rural society, Maoist collectivization, and post Mao reforms. Spatially, this history has been expressed as concentric occupations, with the oldest sections being first appropriated and then surrounded by newer developments. In turn, older settlements have been downgraded and converted into low-income neighborhoods. Locally, this process has been called, “cities surround the countryside”, which not only resonates ironically in post Mao China, but also identifies poverty with rural status. Maoist theory and practice had identified cities with all that was foreign and reactionary, and villages with all that was truly national and revolutionary. In contrast, the elevation of Bao’an County to Shenzhen Municipality began the administrative transvaluation of the rural-urban relations, which was formalized in 1982 Chinese Constitution.

Over 1,000 years ago, salt fields were developed in the Shenzhen-Hong Kong area, and the yamen for the local salt intendant was located on the Nantou Peninsula. The area was also famous for its oyster and pearl production. The peninsula provided protected harbors and access to Guangzhou via the Pearl River. During the Ming dynasty, the Shenzhen-Hong Kong area was called Xin’an County and Nantou City was designated its County Seat. Located on the southeastern banks of the Pearl River, Xin’an was historically poorer than the counties on the eastern banks. Nevertheless, the harbors of the Pearl River’s eastern coastline were significantly deeper than those on the western coastline. Consequently, Chinese maritime access to the South China Sea traditionally went through Humen (in neighboring Dongguan) and Nantou. Indeed, Zheng He’s fleet stopped at the Tianhou Temple in Chiwan Harbor on their voyages of exploration (1405-1433), which took the Ming explorer as far as Africa. After the Ming ban on ocean travel made it possible for pirates to control the South China Sea, Guangzhou remained the southern gate to China and the ports on the eastern coast of the Pearl River became even more coveted by international traders (map 2).

nantou old city

Map 2: Xin’an County Seat in the Reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722)

By the late 18th Century, Guangzhou had not only become and important financial center, but also the center of opium trade. The first Opium War ignited when Lin Zexu dumped the opium stocks of British traders in the Pearl River. In turn, the traders successfully pressured the British government to use military means to secure compensation for their losses. China’s defeat in the Opium Wars resulted in British colonialization of southern Xin’an, including Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. The Sino-British border was drawn along the Shenzhen River and passed just south of Shenzhen Market (map 3). The laying of the Kowloon-Canton Railway in 1913 further shifted the flow of goods and people toward Hong Kong and away from Nantou. Small-scale trade between settlements on the Pearl River continued, although Nantou no longer played a dominant role in the regional political-economy. Instead, Shenzhen Market, the first station on the Chinese side of the KCR became the political and economic center of Xin’an County, which was renamed Bao’an at the start of the Nationalist era.

incursions

Map 3: Riparian Trade Routes, Nantou City, and British Incursions

In fact, the establishment of Shenzhen explicitly invoked colonial history, making the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty one of the key political impulses behind economic liberalization. Maoist modernization of Nantou, for example, included a two-lane road (today known as New South Road), which was laid parallel to the ancient South Gate Road and connected the peninsula villages to the national railroad and highway system. In the post Mao-era, however, state investment has aimed to urbanize the area, rather than to integrate rural settlements into the state apparatus. Land reclamation of Pearl River coastline gives the clearest indication of the scale and ambition of these plans – replacing Hong Kong and possibly even Guangzhou in the global organization of South China trade.

The reform-era transformation of the Nantou Peninsula illustrates the broad contours and social contradictions that have characterized “cities surround the countryside”. During the Ming Dynasty, a pounded earth wall enclosed Nantou, but by the time of the first Opium War, the wall had crumbled into disuse and only the southern and eastern gates still stood. A road stretched from the decrepit Southern Gate and along the coast of the Pearl River to Nanshan Village, which was located at the foot of Nanshan Mountain. Between Nantou Old City and Nanshan Village six villages – Guankou, Yongxia, Tianxia, Xiangnan, Beitou, and Nanyuan – claimed land that included access to the Pearl River, a portion of South Gate Road that they identified as Village Main Street, and farmlands that extended inland. However, through land reclamation and the emplacement of a grid of four- and six-lane roads, such as Qianhai Thoroughfare, Shenzhen’s rural origins have been surrounded and isolated South Gate Street neighborhoods from the larger city (map 4).

 surrounding the countryside

Map 4: Cities Surround the Countryside: The Nantou Peninsula