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Posts Tagged ‘shijiazhuang’

Hogwarts of Asia: New Campus in China Channels Harry Potter – WSJ.

via Hogwarts of Asia: New Campus in China Channels Harry Potter – WSJ.

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My recently completed dissertation offers my own take on the process of land conversion, and I plan to pen a series of posts on the process of urbanization more generally. What interests me, of course, is not only the conversion of rural to urban land, but also the conversion of “rural lands in the city” to properly urban neighbourhoods, not to mention (and here this sentence is really getting out of hand because this my actual primary concern) the conversion of “ruralites” of both kinds into urbanites.

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I’ve commented a bit on these processes in a couple previous posts (this one and that one), but haven’t yet pursued the topic at length in this venue. For some perspective on the activities of peasants opposed to the process of conversion as currently conceived, have a look at this piece on a pitchfork rebellion in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. I do have a book chapter coming out sometime this year, and I’ll be sure to talk more about that when it is released.

For now, have a look at the Wall Street Journal (Land Sales: The Ever-More Lucrative Habit China’s Officials Just Can’t Kick – China Real Time Report – WSJ.) for some bare stats on land conversion and the addictions of local officials to the money to be earned in the process.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this development. If you’ve ever been to China, you’ll know that there are always more than enough police, security guards, and military personnel around that one never feels entirely unsafe. That sense of security is, of course, in many ways illusory, although it is a cliche to say that this is because the police themselves are the more worrisome threat. Indeed, police indifference seems to be the more serious problem, as was the case one day about ten years ago when I saw a man with a massive head injury ignored as he staggered down the road in front of the public security bureau (not their job!) and subsequently honked off of the road by a police cruiser.

No doubt this move has little significance for those already intent on thumbing their noses at the powers that be. These people are only too aware of the semi-concealed power and potential violence of state security forces. But if Chinese police are to become more armed, how will this change the way they are viewed by everyday folk? In my experience and that of most under most circumstances, Chinese police are not threatening at all, though they may be profoundly annoying in certain capacities.

I do realize that this is not the experience of every foreign resident and local. I don’t have dark skin. I don’t tend to wander the streets at night in a drunken state. And I haven’t been doing anything (intentionally) illegal or (obviously) politically threatening. Still, that police don’t carry weapons makes them seem less threatening than your average officer in any given Canadian city. If you’ve noticed as I have the increasingly robust, armoured look of police uniforms (not to mention weapons array and the physique and demeanour of officers themselves) in recent decades, you’ll know what I mean. A City of Edmonton police officer for good or bad just looks and often acts like someone not to be messed with. This isn’t to say that you’re more likely to run afoul of police in Edmonton than the average Chinese city. Of course that depends largely upon a combination of who you are*, what you’re doing**, and what officer you happen to cross paths with that day***. Still, I would much rather run afoul of an officer with no gun (and maybe a notepad) than one with a pistol, taser, club, bullet proof vest, and cruiser with 400 (?) horsepower under the hood.

All of which begs the question: is Edmonton really that much more dangerous than Shijiazhuang?

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*     race, class, gender, age, homeless vs. not, etc.
**   protesting, stealing, j-walking, loitering outside the public library wearing dirty clothes, collecting bottles with a stolen shopping cart, stealing investors’ money
*** for example, if you are an average Edmonton semi-homeless person riding a bottle-collecting bicycle and your are trying to use a crosswalk blocked by a right turning police cruiser, you should not make the mistake of mentioning to the wrong officer on the wrong day that he is committing a traffic violation. Said officer might turn on his lights, drive down the wrong side of the road in order to apprehend you for…something or other. Like I said, wrong officer, wrong day.

China’s Police Will Carry Guns Unlike Any Others – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

via China’s Police Will Carry Guns Unlike Any Others – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

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Re-reading a few pieces (like this one and especially this for a more nuanced take) on China’s “ghost cities” called to mind some things I’ve read over the last number of years and, consequently, a few questions. It’s no secret that there are concerns about bubbles in China’s commercial, residential, and state infrastructure sectors. Google “ghost cities,” “China hard landing,” “China economic crisis,” or any of a hundred other similar terms and you’ll find unlimited prognosticators (both informed and not) predicting ten of the last two crashes of the Chinese economy. The general concerns are valid, of course, but I’ve long wondered to what extent the visual spectacle (see photos below or click here) of urban construction affects everyday observers ability to predict the future prospects of current developments (new neighborhoods, districts, railway stations), not to mention analysts’ ability to objectively read the underlying indicators.

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In my own experience of radical (re)construction and urbanization in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), what appears ghostly often becomes corporeal in short order. And to clarify that terrible metaphor, what were empty housing projects one year are sometimes filled to the brim the next. Of course my take on this is also tainted by another form of spectacle, so I’m not sure the fact of rapid occupation of neighborhoods I happen to come across indicates good anymore than the countries most famous ghost towns prove bad. If you have the time, Hessler’s Driving China is a compelling if impressionistic take on reading the spectacle of an earlier infrastructure boom.

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Whatever the truth (and I will be sure to let you know what it is many years after it has become obvious), it will be interesting to see what consequences China’s bubble – should it prove to be real and eventually burst – has in terms of capital growth, accumulation, and distribution. I’m particularly interested in the fate of the rural population as it is dispossessed of a long cherished birth-rite – that small piece of land that has served as a place of refuge over the past thirty years as these people have slowly made their way into the new urban China. To be sure many are purchasing (i.e., leasing long term) a new, though much more limited birth-rite in the form of a much more limited and likely better appointed apartment in the city. But where will they go in the event that a burst bubble takes even that away?

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If so, please don’t move it to Shijiazhuang, a city that tops the list of most polluted cities in China, if not the world. Don’t be deceived by rankings that show the city anywhere but at the top. Usually cities near or above it on the list are either part of its hinterland or downwind.

The air isn’t always bad in Shijiazhuang, but you’ll be lucky to find a day when it’s not…unless you’re my uncle and aunt, who found three miraculously clear days on their visit. Fortunately the terrible air is balanced by the welcoming and generous attitude of the great people of this city.

See this story for a discussion of the problem of pollution, a proposed solution, and some obvious objections to the idea (here is another)

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Top polluted cities in China at the moment I captured this image. Shijiazhuang is 4th, but most of the other cities on the list are either part of the SJZ’s hinterland or “downwind.”

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A rare blue sky day allowed us to capture this shot at sunset. Yes, those are apartment buildings right in the shadow of those cooling towers. If we could pan to the left we would see apartment blocks in even closer proximity to plants like this one.

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The affective core of Chinese life is the family home, an understanding of which helps to explain1 the central role of residential construction in Shijiazhuang’s urban renovation. The desire to improve the domestic living conditions of one’s family and to provide a better future to subsequent generations drives family members to seek a hao yi xie de shenghuo (好一些的生活 — literally, a slightly better life).20130617-131602.jpgChina’s policy makers are highly sensitive to the economic potential of this desire to improve living conditions. At times they work to incite and exploit the desire for familial improvement as an engine of economic growth, at others to restrain it in order to protect the economy from bubble formation. Beyond direct economic implications, they are highly sensitive to the negative effects of an overheated real estate market on the daily lives of the less well off and poor, and the potential of inflation in the housing market to stymie their familial aspirations. A population with an excessively large group of impoverished, “homeless,” and stymied citizens is a potentially unstable one, and there are no principles more central to the governing philosophy of post-Mao China than those of stability and harmony.20130617-131439.jpg

Understanding the hand and glove relationship of familial aspiration and broader economic policy and practice is crucial to decoding the ways in which Shijiazhuang’s urban renovation has unfolded. As discussed here, san nian da bian yang kicked off an explosion of new housing, much of it infill/densification units. The spectacle of this massive, city-wide residential renovation overwhelms the eye, but it is the construction and promotion of entirely new neighborhoods on the clean slate of demolished chengzhongcun that provides the most compelling object of analysis for my purposes. Such projects are enormous in scale and totalizing in terms of their capacity to create and will to promote themselves as deliverers of entirely new and, of course, superior ways of life.20130617-131536.jpg

One such “clean slate” neighborhood is the 500,000m2 linyin dayuan(林荫大院/Park County) only now rising from the rubble of Beijiao Cun (北焦村). The project has only recently started construction, but its sales centre and the walls surrounding the demolition-construction site have been in place for more than two years. Objectively, the development will represent a massive increase in population density on this piece of land and a correspondingly large profit for its developer, Guangsha Real Estate Development Co. Ltd.

The overarching slogan for the project, fengjing yuanluo de gushi, appeals to familial aspirations to live the kind of good life imagined to be the norm in foreign countries. These understandings of the good life are cited and incited by ads papering the walls that surround the site, and in promotional images featured in the sales centre and circulated on the internet. In one ad, an image depicting a child bathed in filtered sunlight is coupled with the project tag line to promise the opportunity of a “life story” composed in the “scenic courtyards” of this “500,000 square meter shady forest kingdom.” In another, a similarly bucolic image works in tandem with a slogan that alludes to the poetry of Laozi to link the emergence of an improved Shijiazhuang and the re-emergence on the world scene of China as whole.

Buying a home in Park County, these ads promise, is not only the first step toward a happy and prosperous life for one’s family, but also a concrete contribution to the rise of the nation.

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Notes

1. Concepts like capital over-accumulation, spatio-temporal fixing, and accumulation by dispossession are also crucial — see David Harvey’s The New Imperialism or A Brief History of Neoliberalism for a concise discussion of these terms.

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Dong San Zhuang

A rare blue sky morning allowed me to take this panoramic photo (thanks, iPhone 5) in which I attempted to capture the scale and scope of the redevelopment of one of many of Shijiazhuang’s (Hebei) cheng zhong cun (城中村). A few years ago the city government initiated an accelerated program of urban renovation that included the demolition and redevelopment of about 42 of these urban villages. The result has been an astonishing amount of construction activity, and a thoroughgoing change in the nature of life in the city. I’ve categorized this photo under “The pedagogy of everyday life in China,” but I won’t develop the discussion at this point. Needless to say, the change in lifestyle for the former residents of this converted village will be significant.

The apartment buildings in the foreground (the high rise on the left, two six floor walkups at the centre, and three on the right) date from the late 1990s/early 2000s and are attached to SOE office buildings built on former village land. Directly behind these sit the five walkups that house former residents of the village’s now demolished siheyuan (四合院 — courtyard style homes). In the left middle ground are dozens of 6th floor walk ups built and sold on Shijiazhuang’s vibrant real estate market in the 00s. The high rises in the middle ground and on the horizon are products of the acceleration of redevelopment during and following a government program known as san nian da bianyang. Another group of buildings is set to rise on the last remaining vacant ground (right, middle).

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