The second station on the Chinese side of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, Buji was an important Hakka market town that during the early years of reform was a center of manufacturing. Today, Buji is a street office (办事处) with an estimated population of over one million. Most Buji families live in an urban village and their children attend minban (民办) schools. A minban school is owned and operated by private companies, filling educational needs that are not met by the public school system. Elite minbans tend to be international and position graduates for university abroad. However, the most common type of minban school in Shenzhen is the urban village minban, which has been set up to educate children who are ineligible for a public education. The most common reason for being ineligible for a public education are hukou related; often families are not long-term residents of the city, which means their children are only eligible for public education back home, or the child was born outside the family planning policy and the parents cannot afford the fines to send the child to public school.
How many people actually live in Shenzhen? The numbers vary. Current Shenzhen Party Secretary Ma Xingrui says 20 million. However, the administrative population supposedly hovers at 18 million, while the city itself has never admitted to more than 15 million. Rough estimates suggest only 4 million people have Shenzhen hukou, another 8 million have permanent residency, and another 5-8 million “float” unofficially within the city
These statistics obscure how Shenzhen’s urban villages spatially organize these three administrative classes. For example, Shi’ao (石凹) Villagehas a local population of 4 to 500 people and a renter population of 20,000, making the ratio of local to renters residents 1:40. The ratio of local to renter populations in Baishizhou is an astonishing 1:77. Moreover, it is clear that renters–even floaters–aren’t actually leaving the city. Instead, they are finding newer (and often) narrower niches within the village.
Much like US American suburbs which manage inequality through distance, Shenzhen’s urban villages do the hard (and socially productive) work of managing inequality within the city. The majority of floaters and a large percentage of permanent residents live in the villages and tend to work in service and the semi- and informal economies, while hukou residents and wealthier permanent residents occupy “official” housing estates and tend to work in the formal economy.