Urban Villages in China

Over the last three decades, China’s rapid urbanization has been facilitated by the unprecedented mobility of rural migrant populations. Today it is estimated that some 240 million migrants have left the countryside to work in China’s cities, though the number is surely much higher. While there are heated debates about how to characterize what some have dubbed “largest human migration in history,” there is general agreement that this mobility has resulted from the increased demand for formal and informal labor in industry, for urban fringe agriculture, and for a range of services (everything from recycling and trash collection, to domestic work for the middle class to road and building construction, hotel work, food delivery services, entertainment and beauty services, sex work, and much more). As scholars on migration have emphasized, this mass human migration has unveiled the fluidity and dynamism of the rural and urban divide, even while the hukou 户口 or “household registration system,” created in the late 1950s, has remained the dominant mode to categorize and count rural and urban populations. Less understood is how rural migration to different kinds of urban spaces has created ambiguous interstitial spaces and networks through which new forms of labor and production of surplus value are emerging. These uneven urban spaces are inextricably linked to transformations in regimes of production and land use, as well as to changes in the organization of kinship and other social relations.

This workshop focuses on the historical and contemporary dimensions of one of the most ubiquitous of uneven urban spaces: the urban villages (chengzhongcun 城中村), previous rural areas engulfed in urban expansion and development. We argue that analyses on urbanization in China must take into account the uneven spaces of urban villages in order to understand the historical and on-going contradictions between the urban and the rural from the perspective of those who are most affected by them. In particular, urban villages are key sites in examining the intersection between capital accumulation and the urban-rural dynamics in China. This workshop features a group of leading scholars on China to reflect on urban villages in the socialist period, through the reforms and into the present.


May 1, 2019

Check in.

May 2, 2019

9:00 – 9:15 am James Miller, Duke-Kunshan University

Opening Remarks

9:15 – 10:00 am Qian Zhu, History, Duke-Kunshan University,

The Production of Everyday Space for Workers: New Village Movement in China, 1919-1951

10:00-10:15 am Coffee/Tea Break

10:15 -11:00 am Megan Steffen (via Skype), Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Tsinghua-Michigan Society of Fellows, Tsinghua University and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

The Fruits of Demolition: Zhengfu, Chaierdai, and Other Idioms of Generative Neglect in Zhengzhou’s Urban Villages

11:00-11:45 pm Mengqi Wang, Cultural Anthropology, Duke-Kunshan University,

Calculating Needs and Prescribing Properties: Chaiqian and the Governance of Value in Nanjing’s Urban Fringes

11:45 – 1:30 pm Lunch DKU Dining Hall

1:30- 2:15 pm Nellie Chu, Cultural Anthropology, Duke-Kunshan University,

The Spaces Between: The Tu Er Dai Peasant Landlords in Guangzhou’s Urban Villages

2:15 pm – 3:00 pm Minhua Ling, Anthropology, Centre for China Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Snail House”: Uneven Space and Contained Mobility on Shanghai’s Fringe

3:00 pm – 3:15 pm Coffee/ Tea Break

3:15 pm – 4:00 pm Yang Zhan, Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University,

When it’s Dark in the East, it’s Light in the West”: Reconceptualizing Labor Mobility through the Culture of Venturing in Chinese Urban Villages

4:00 pm – 4:45 pm Tzu-Chi Ou, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan

The Emergence of Apartment House and the Migrant Housing Plight in Beijing

4:45 – 5:30 pm Jane Hayward, Teaching Fellow, King’s College

Who makes the City?: Beijing’s Urban Villages as Sites of Ideological Contestation

6:30 pm Dinner at 大鱼海棠, at Dayu Bay

May 3, 2019

9:00 am – 11:30 am Workshop Discussion/ Reflection on Major Questions/ Themes and Future of the Urban Villages Project (includes Tong Lam, University of Toronto, via Skype)

11:30 – 1:00 pm Lunch

1:30-5:30 pm Site Visit: Jinxi Water Town

6:30 pm Dinner: at Jinxi