the difficulty of representing shenzhen’s urban “villages”

Talking about Shenzhen’s urban villages is difficult because legally they are not villages, but “communities (社区)” that have been integrated into the urban state apparatus. Moreover, depending on their location, these neighborhoods have different social functions — slums, gateway communities, and affordable housing for both the working poor and recent college graduates.

Mark Leung‘s photo essay,  Welcome to Wuwucun, a Village in the City offers a detailed and sympathetic look at life in Wuwucun, a Shenzhen urban village and is well worth checking out. However, the images beg contextualization, illustrating the difficulty of interpreting images  in the absence of historical knowledge. Is Wuwucun poor? Are these villagers? Is manufacturing a good thing?  On the one hand, a shorter version of the same essay, for example, explained that these images showed how manufacturing in Shenzhen was providing small steps forward to improve the lives of China’s rural millions. On the other hand, these images depict one of the more peripheral villages in Shenzhen, where the level of poverty depicted justifies ongoing campaigns to raze working class neighborhoods in other parts of the city. In other words, these images can be used either to show that industrial manufacturing in Shenzhen has been good for the country or to justify the Municipality’s ongoing program of razing urban villages in the inner districts. 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.

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