Shenzhen's urban villages: surviving three decades of economic reform and urban expansion

David Wang

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The Chinese urban village, or chengzhongcun, is a unique urban communal entity that emerged since the economic reform in the early 1980s and the subsequent rapid urbanisation. The formerly agrarian villages were quickly absorbed by expanding cities, or emerging new cities as in the case of Shenzhen, and transformed into urban villages. In Shenzhen, the urban village is a zone of ambiguity because the urban villagers are warranted by the Chinese Land Administration Law to maintain their collective ownership of land, which is a special privilege not granted to the average urban citizen whose property ownership in fact takes the form of long-term leases of up to seventy years. The urban villagers were able to quickly adapt to the their urban surroundings and capitalise on their unique legal status to generate rental income through self-constructed dense rental apartment buildings, which have housed most of Shenzhen's migrant population for the last thirty years. In addition, the urban villagers' collective identity and organization, such as the village joint stock company, have made the villages semi-autonomous zones in the city. Due to the original villagers' attempts at self-government and the great difficulty in regulating the migrant population who largely resides in the urban villages, the urban villages are a favorite target for local government which regards the zone of the urban village as an eyesore. Hence, from the start, the urban village's very existence is at odds with the high modernist aspiration of the local government. They represent chaos in an otherwise well-zoned and centrally planned city where population and buildings are tightly controlled. In a high modernist city there is no room for random self-constructed apartment buildings and their migrant tenants who, according to the high modernist ideology of the authorities, only belong in massive barrack like dorms located on major transport routes. This thesis will present the urban villages of Shenzhen as self-governing urban communities with flaws but are overall beneficial for their residents of original villagers and rural-to-urban migrants. It seeks to explore the various aspects of Shenzhen's urban villages, such as, the original villagers, their history, the settlement of rural-to-urban migrant population, and various topics crucial to the continuous existence of the villages. It will shed light on the original villagers' relations with the migrants, the local government and wider society. This thesis has a very limited scope focusing only on the urban villages within the Shenzhen central business districts. It has gathered interviews largely from original villagers and rural-to-urban migrants living in the urban villages. In addition, it includes interviews with businessmen and local officials with interests in the urban villages. The second hand sources of this thesis included government documents, local county annals and various forms of local paper and electronic media.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


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