Xu Xiaoyan Eco-Feminism

Xu Xiaoyan is an eco-feminsit, who specializes in oil paintings of landscapes. These landscapes typically show the earth being destroyed or polluted by the urbanization of China. Through her eco-feminist lens, the goal of these paintings are to highlight how urbanization is damaging mother nature, which she believes is symbolic of feminity and female identity. In these paintings, the way in which she exemplifies how urbanization is harming the earth and also female identity is through her use of the female anatomy within the paintings and her use of color. 

The use of female anatomy within the picture allows the viewer to clearly see the connection between the earth and femininity thus highlighting how man made urbanization is destroying it. In her painting Body of the Earth, the focal point of the picture is “a conspicious vaginal shaped hole” (156). This hole is being invaded and destroyed by the debris left behind from construction. This symbolizes how man made structures and Chinese urbanization are encroaching and destroying the female identity within China, as well as harming the earth. The action of the hole being invaded and destroyed shows how urbanization is harming the environment as well as invading upon female progress and masking female identity.(try not to repeat what you have already expressed)

In another one of her paintings in the foreground there is a river that is heavily polluted and in the background there are skyscrapers. Again, the river is painted in a way to resemble the female anatomy. The fact that this river is polluted conveys the same message as the last painting, that female identity is being harmed, invaded, and suppressed through these man made structures, which the skyscrapers in the background represent. (make a connection between mother nature and female body. in so doing, there would be more comments that could be made)

Body of Earth

In these two paintings she also uses color to portray the destruction of the earth and female identity. In the painting Body of Earth, she contrast the colors in the foreground and background to highlight this. In the foreground, where the hole is being invaded and polluted, she uses very harsh, dark colors. These colors are dark reds and browns to symbolize blood and destruction of the earth and the female. She wants the viewers to see that the construction from urbanization is physically harming the earth and the female. While in the back, where the landscape is untouched, she uses softer colors like greens and yellows, that symbolize the nurturing qualities of the earth and femininity. She uses these soft colors to highlight the beauty and femininity of the untouched landscape. Through these soft colors she tries to convey a feeling of safety and attractiveness to this version of the earth and compel the viewer to try and preserve the earth and femininity rather than destroy it. 

In the second painting, she paints the foreground, which is the polluted river, in very dark  harsh colors again like browns and blues. She does this to highlight how bad the pollution is and how urbanization has stripped mother nature of its femine and nurturing qualities. In the background, which is the skyscraper, she paints the buildings and sky with light and dark grays. She uses these greys in order to devalue the skyscrapers and convey the gloomy and destructiveness that urbanization causes to the earth. She does not want to glorify this urbanization in any way so she chose to paint them in the greys to make urbanization seem negative. 

Throughout Xu Xiaoyan’s artworks she tries to convey to the viewer that the current state of Urbanization in China is harmful to mother nature and female identity. Being a eco-feminist causes her to view the enviroment and feminity as connected and symbolic of one another. Therefore, in her paintings she tries to represent that ideology artistically through creating pieces that have elements that resemble the female anatomy. After, she has visually established the connection between the environment and femininity in her painting, she then highlights the destruction of the two that urbanization is causing. She also uses the colors within the painting to highlight this pollution and destruction of the earth and femininity to drive home this message to the viewer. 


Dai Guangyu – The Failure of Defense

In his two performances of The Failure of Defense, Dai Guangyu uses material, composition and performance to illustrate contemporary issues such as globalization, westernization, destruction of culture, (any thing more specific so those phrases would not sound general) etc. as they relate differently to China and the United states.

Guangyu’s use of the traditional ink uses the historical significance of the material to give cultural significance to the symbolism of the ink in representing themes such as globalization and westernization.(further clarify the connection between ink and globalization) Trained in classical calligraphy as a child, Guangyu’s use of ink is rooted in tradition both nationally and personally. In both performances of The Failure of Defense, the ink is used as the primary feature of his performance. However, what is unique from his other works, is that the ink, while still having traditional significance, does not represent Chinese traditional culture, but instead invites the viewer to interpret the symbolism of the black ink. The black ink is commonly interpreted to represent themes such as globalization, westernization, modernization, economic power and military power. In both pieces, the red ink seems to represent the culture of the country in each respective piece. The contrast between the two ink colors represents the contrast between traditional culture (red) and the other themes like globalization (black). Hence, the traditional material of ink is manipulated in this work to represent the dichotomy between tradition and threats to tradition and culture. (stay with the title as well as the central thesis of “failure of defense” in terms of color contrast between red and black?)

The Failure of Defense, 2007
Dai Guangyu

The composition difference between the original piece in 2007 (pictured above) and the rendition performed in 2017 (picture and link below) illustrate the different experiences of the US and China in respect their contemporary cultural (ten years apart, is it consideration of US-China relations?the analysis could be further supported with US-China relations). In the 2007 rendition, the black ink can be seen slowly overtaking the red shape of China, until the entire canvas is black and Guangyu even paints himself. (performance art is supposed to take the body as the site/medium) Common interpretations of this piece are that the black ink represents western culture and globalization, and how China’s culture has been erased by the nation’s transformation into a global power by failing to defend against the black ink. By the end of the piece, the red shape of China has been completely covered by ink, representing the dominance of globalization/westernization compared to China’s preexisting culture and traditions.

In the 2017 rendition, the black ink forms the outline of the United states while red ink drips from Guangyu’s leg to fill in the outline of the US. The contrast between the final compositions of the two pieces is that in one, China is covered by the ink and in the other, the US remains untouched by the black ink. One interpretation of this contrast is that globalization and westernization define the US and US culture, whereas they erase Chinese culture. If the black ink is seen as representing economic power, one could interpret that China has allowed the pursuit of economic power to prevail over the maintenance of traditional culture. In the US, however, the development of US culture has evolved in parallel with the pursuit of economic power, instead of one dominating over the other. The second rendition, however, can also be interpreted as an individual piece, not as a diad with the original work. In light of the 2016 election, the 2017 Failure of Defense could represent the US failure to defend against an extreme candidate and the social movements that led to his election. Overall, the compositions of the two pieces can be compared in order to analyze the contrast between the two pieces and their respective symbolism, but Guangyu can also adapt the original piece in order to speak to contemporary issues such as recent elections. (in consideration of China as the rising power and competent with US, the color and composition transition could make much more sense)

The Failure of Defense, 2017
Dai Guangyu

The performative differences between the two pieces represents the different experience of globalization (and the other themes) in China compared to the US. There are two main differences between the performance in 2007 and 2017: the first is that in 2007, China is painted in red prior to the start of the performance and in 2017 the US gets filled in during the piece. A literal interpretation of this difference is that China is a much older country, and existed with its culture and traditions long before the industrial revolution and globalization. The US, on the other hand, was established as a country at the beginning of this period of global transformation. As a result, US culture developed in parallel with globalization rather than being erased. This same interpretation applies with the other themes such as westernization, modernization and economic power. The second difference is that Dai Guangyu does not paint himself in 2017 as he does in 2007. As a Chinese man, Duangyu uses the significance of painting himself to humanize the symbolism of the work. As an audience member, there is much more empathy for a human being painted by the black ink and all that it represents. Therefore, Guangyu capitalizes on this emotional response to emphasize the human experience of culture being erased in the face of globalization. Guangyu uses enhance the experience of the viewer and further emphasize the symbolism, enhancing his overall goal to translate the different experiences of the US and China in the wake of globalization.

Overall, the two pieces are complex in their symbolism, lending themselves to many interpretations. Guangyu’s choice of material, composition and performance all complement one another in their symbolism and together create this complexity. The openendedness of the work lends itself to sparking conversation and thought regarding all that the piece can represent. This capacity for sparking conversation and contemplation is seemingly the goal of the work and is well executed in both renditions, demonstrating the timelessness of the work as it can continue to address contemporary issues.

Dialogue or Monologue: Zhang Dali’s Demolition and Dialogue

Zhang Dali is one of the most famous artists who did graffiti art in the streets of Beijing. Between the years 1995 and 1999, he did a series of graffiti of the profile of a bald head on buildings waiting to be destroyed in the urbanization effort by the Chinese government. In his series “Demolition and Dialogue,” Zhang Dali “hoped to engage the city in a “dialogue” with himself” by putting his likeness throughout the city. However, as Wu Hung remarks, from simply observing the nearly four hundred photos he had access to, “one gains less knowledge of Beijing than of the artist’s contested relationship with the city” (Wu, 2000).

This picture stuck especially because it not only contains the signature outline of the artist, but also himself as part of the art. Clearly, Zhang is trying to make a statement with his own presence, but it is unclear to me exactly what he is trying to say. There are a few features that singles this photo out from the other few hundred in the same series: the artist himself and the female body statue he is sitting on. (are you going to develop this idea?)

As Zhang mentioned to Wu, putting “a condensation of my own likeness as an individual” allows him “to communicate with the city.” Therefore, the bald head serves as a representation of the artist. Hence, it would be redundant if Zhang had intended for his own presence to simply place himself in the artwork. Therefore, his choice to be in the artwork himself must symbolize something other than his own identity. In my opinion, Zhang Dali himself in the piece represent the thoughts and opinions of the artist, being inside his representative head.


Instead of scribing his signature slogan of “AK-47” on the wall, Zhang writes it on his forehead. This slogan is usually written somewhere close to the graffiti image on the wall, sometimes completely inside the head. Because images of guns are prohibited in China, the slogan, representing a powerful assault rifle originated from the Soviet Union, symbolizes military power and threat. If we replace the strain of words with the actual image of the weapon, the image becomes a gun pointing at the artist’s head. In this case, Zhang chose to put it on his forehead instead of that of his likeness, maybe to signify that the metaphoric gun is pointing at and threatening his thought, or who he really is.


All the while, he is sitting on a statue of a female body, in a gesture that can only be interpreted as his dominance over the female body. Whether or not Zhang is championing a specific gender power dynamic is unclear, but it is sure that this is his way of engaging the city into a dialogue about the topic. As Wu writes, “the question these photographs evoke is not so much about the content or purpose of dialogue, but whether the artist’s desire to communicate with the city can actually be realized—whether the city is willing or ready to be engaged in a forced interaction.

Wu Hung, Wu. “Zhang Dali’s Dialogue: Conversation with a City.” Public Culture 12, no. 3 (January 2000): 749–68. https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-12-3-749.

China’s Urbanization: Sacrificing tradition for city modernity

China’s modernization can be boldly compared to a revolution. This revolution is far from a grassroots one; instead, the development narrative, as told through many cities within China’s borders, document a top-down story. The nature of this city-wide modernization coincides with the erasure of both marginalized populations and traditional life. Previous discussions of village-in-the-city landscapes have described quite well the plight of migrant workers throughout China’s Pearl River Delta. Now, the focus rests on the erasure of China’s traditional roots. In “Cement Dragon”, a sculpture installation from Yang Yongliang, the reality of China’s traditional disappearance is salient. The artist, Yongliang, emphasizes that the rapid progression of the city-scape has, to a far extent, begun erasing China’s traditional roots.

“Cement Dragon” Yang Yongliang

The dragon in Chinese culture has persisted through time as a symbol of power and strength. Yongliang’s incorporation of this symbol as the main focal point of his sculpture allows for the viewer to first understand the significance of the piece. Above, we first see a Chinese dragon bursting through a cement wall. The delicate balance Yongliang strikes between a provocative foreground, the dragon, and a neutral background, the cement wall, persists as one of the core ideas of the piece. While the dragon symbolizes tradition, the wall symbolizes modern China and its built landscape. With the dragon, quite literally, breaking free from this wall, we may be able to interpret this as a way of the traditional trying to escape the modern; this idea, though, is ill-fated due to the dismal appearance of the dragon itself.

“Cement Dragon” by Yang Yongliang

This sculpture’s physical construction further echoes the contrast between traditional and modern; in some sense, it seems to shut away China’s tradition-rich past for the sake of bleak modernity. Overall, this piece is constructed entirely from cement, bricks, and steel bars(material) These elements are fundamental components of modern skyscrapers, alluding to the modern built Chinese landscape. Interestingly, we see not only the cement wall in the background clearly constructed from these elements, but we also see that the traditional Chinese dragon is, too. In fact, it appears that the dragon has a shaggy physicality due to the cement. Boldly, the dragon is cloaked in cement; the cloaking of such is far beyond the dragon’s wants. We can assert that the unkept nature of the dragon’s appearance suggests that traditional China is being overwhelmed and fully consumed by the modern built landscape.

“Cement Dragon” by Yang Yongliang

            “Cement Dragon” is an attempt to critique the loss of tradition in the modern Chinese landscape. This erasure of traditional China has been driven largely by government regimes and large corporations. This piece begs us to ask who is making city development decisions? Maurizio Marinelli’s “Urban revolution and Chinese contemporary art: A total revolution of the senses” asserts that much of city development reflects the ideas and goals of a Chinese minority – those who can afford to make such decisions. In some sense, as Marinelli also describes, this revolution in the Chinese city-scape is similar to mid-20th century China during Mao’s era. In Yongliang’s piece, the cement dragon seems to be cognizant of this dismal revolution. It looks reluctant and quite scared to be succumbing to the revolution. On its face, we see a blank stare with furrowed eyebrows. Its mouth is open. Combined, the dragon seems to have paused mid-gasp, suggesting a hesitation to fully embody its traditional powerful nature. The process of modernity has completely dominated the dragon, far beyond the creature’s ability to counteract it. (the connection between the dragon and revolution)

Twilight by Chen Qiulin – in response to the decayed environment

Chen Qiulin, Twilight, 2009, Photograph 48.8 x 60.6 in / 124 x 154 cm. October 28, 2019  https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/chinese-elements-at-2013-art-basel-hong-kong

Chen Qiulin’s photograph, Twilight, is a piece of performance art that displays the photographer’s discomfort with the decayed environment. To support her claim, Chen Qiulin focuses on the eroding surroundings and destroyed landscape. She illustrates both concepts through the composition of the traditional and modern figures and their points of view. (revision and editing have made the paragraph sound clear and beautiful!)

Focusing on urbanization, Qiulin shows the eroding traditional surroundings through both the position of the historical figures regarding the demolished house and their vision. In the background, Qiulin presents a partially demolished traditional family house. She purposefully locates the traditional figures in front of the house and makes them face the dilapidation in order to express disappointment in urbanization. According to their distinct dress, they are deemed descended from heaven and searching for the house they used to call home. However, the views frustrate them as their beloved home is demolished and will soon become ruins and rubble. Positioning the traditional figures in front of the dilapidated house, Qiulin expresses nostalgia for the cultural and architectural disappearance under urban modernization.

Aside from the composition, the point of view of the traditional characters leads the viewers to further consider toward the aftermath of demolition. In the traditional views, the landscapes represent a philosophical notion of harmonious relations between humans and nature, like a woman’s body with aesthetic beauty essential to the built environment. However, this traditional aesthetic collapses as the scale of urbanization behaves like an aggressive man, violently assaulting the land and leaving the woman with a wounded body. The artist’s subjective insertion of a traditional perspective on contemporary destruction questions today’s economic frenzy from a historical perspective. (turn this into topic sentence?)

In order to present the aftermath of the earthquake, Qiulin presents the destroyed landscape through the position and perspectives of the modern figures within the photograph. Qiulin intentionally places the woman wearing a western bridal gown at the foreground and the man in a tuxedo in the background. Though they are dressed for their wedding, they are far apart from each other. The two people seem shocked and bemused by the earthquake and do not know where to go or how to find each other. Deliberately separating the couple, Qiulin illustrates the psychological impact people suffered from the physical change of the environment associated with the earthquake.

Aside from the composition, the modern characters’ point of views leads the viewers to further consider the aftermath of the earthquake. The contemporary characters gaze into space beyond the frame, suggesting a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity. From the glazed look and sullen facial expressions of the two characters, they seem to look at the destruction and damage done. Maybe their wedding place has turned into ruins. Maybe their relatives have become the victims of the disaster and lost their lives. The ambiguity of their perspective reflects the artist’s unease about the unpredictability of nature as the earthquake overthrows the balance between humans and nature.

What are the causes of the decayed environment? Whom should we blame? Interpreting from Qiulin’s portrayal, I believe we, humans, should take full responsibility for destroying the past cultural heritage and blurring the goal for future development. The urban modernization has caused the eroding surroundings. In order to reach urbanization and gain economic benefit for itself, the government neglects the past cultural architectures and chooses to demolish buildings unhesitatingly. The destroyed landscape seems caused by the inevitable natural disaster, but it is related to the jerry-built construction. In order to reach the deadline assigned by their demanding employers, workers have no choice but to rush the construction process without paying attention to the housing quality. As a result, these low-quality houses easily collapse in earthquakes and takes the lives of many people. The damage could have been lessened if the houses are built following standards. As a result, humans have destroyed the past and shattered the identity of the landscape. The future for the homeland will be unclear since the land’s identity has been lost. No one knows what should be constructed anymore.

Overall, Chen Qiulin presents the decayed homeland by focusing on both the demolished surrounding in terms of modernization and destroyed landscape in terms of the earthquake. Qiulin demonstrates these two types of landscapes through the composition of the figures and their points of view. The image reflects modern China’s negligence toward cultural architecture and the contemporary construction process. She invites conversation and contemplation on the role humans play in our environment, whether built or natural. As a viewer, I feel disheartened about the way we choose to blindly move forward and ignore the standards, leading to the loss of identity and punishment from nature. I hope this artwork alarms people into seeing the damage they have done and prevent any future landscape from being destroyed. (a strong conclusion)





The Violence to Migrant Workers

Urban transformation in China is a mixture of violence, destruction, and exclusion. State exploits ordinary people to build the infrastructure, but ignores their petitions and voices. Jin Feng’s Wordless Petitions (2006) employs ordinary people as subjects and redistributes visibility from the glorious Chinese urbanization to the migrant workers. This article explores the composition, color, and site of Wordless Petitions, which all reflect the cruelty imposed on the workers in the process of urban transformation. 

The gestures and facial expressions of these workers indicate that they are subject to poverty and harsh living conditions. Their positions against the wall and impatient gestures mark the endless waiting for the government to accept their petitions. (in terms of composition) The immobility gesture of standing or squatting also signifies their hopelessness as if the time is frozen and they have to stay in this static poverty forever. There are elders, children, and adults among these workers, however, they all show a dull and listless facial expression. One can read from the children’s concerning faces that their future is destined to be despairing. The burden of raising a family has erased the smile and positive expression from all adults in the picture. And workers all have their heads slightly lowered facing the ground to convey the passive feeling and repression from the state. Only one of them looks up to the sky, but not in a positive or hopeful way. She stands in the center among these workers as if she represents all of them to ask for an explanation of this unfairness from heaven. (the significance of the composition because of the collective identity of migrant workers and their sheer numbers against the wall. The long line of the migrant workers, the sculpted bodies, and silenced faces ….. assert a powerful petition against social injustice)

Besides, Jin sheds light on the dispossession of these migrant workers through their appearances and the empty cardboard. The clothes are all oversized and scruffy on them as if the clothes have been reused for many years and even passed around families. The two naked boys in the picture wear adult size slippers because the family cannot afford to buy them new shoes. The picture also shows that all female workers do not wear makeup and have the same ponytail hairstyle, which is the most convenient for them to get ready for the labor-intensive day.

In all demonstrations and petitions, people hold cardboard with slogans and words on it. However, just as the title indicates, these cardboards in workers’ hands are wordless and empty. Two explanations can relate to this blank feature of cardboard. One explanation is that these workers have too many petitions and complains that would never fit in the limited space on cardboards. Another explanation is that the workers lost their identity and language along with the dispossession of their social status and lands in the process of urbanization. (wordless petition: the voiceless migrant workers turn their silence into petitions)

Last but not least, the use of the golden color and the red-brick wall both illustrate the exclusion of migrant workers. Jin paints golden color on the clothes and faces of these migrant works to refer to their invisibility and the lack of identity under the progression of the state. On the other hand, the golden outfits, which appear like soldiers’ uniforms, glorify the sacrifice of workers. Ironically, the state deprives workers’ identity in the same way as their treatment to soldiers. Jin chooses the red-brick wall as the site because one would directly connect the red-brick with workers. However, one would never connect workers with fine-designed architectures, which seem to be a privilege enjoyed only by upper-class citizens. Both the color and the site reflect the violence done to these workers.

Jin brings visibility of the destruction to these migrant workers through the depiction of gestures and appearances of workers, the use of color, and the site in Wordless Petitions.

Dafen Village; Art and Urbanization

 At a time where villages in China are either being torn down or abandoned, the Dafen Art Village thrives. It has become one of China’s most successful and sustainable villages, inspiring many others to try and duplicate their success. It has also become a popular tourist attraction, generating a lot of money for the Chinese economy. The reason for its unique success is because of its unique form of urbanization and transformation of identity. The Dafen Village has used art as its medium to transform the villages identity in multiple ways and urbanize without physically destroying and reconstructing the village into skyscrapers.

Through new artworks, the village has transformed its former identity as a solely reduplicative artistic village to an original, creative art village. The village was once known for only reproducing famous artworks from artists like Picasso or Davinci (Dafen comes from the artist name Davinci). However, now its identity has transformed from being a village where you could only purchase recreated artwork to a village where you can get unique, beautiful and original artwork. This transformation is highlighted by the new art museum and artist residencies in the village. The museum has become a symbol of the villages new identity by featuring mostly local artists original work, with very few reduplications. The museum highlights this newly formed artistic identity of the village, through displaying the unique and talented artists work for tourists and locals to see Dafens contribution to the art world. Furthermore, this transition can be seen by the new artist residency the Village has created. Now, artists are being encouraged  to come live and study art in the village, whereas in the past they were only being encouraged to come reduplicate art. The village and Government officials have identified this newfound identity of the village and have embraced it in order urbanize the village and make it sustainable.

The Village has also transformed its identity from a local producer to a global producer of art work. This is highlighted through the villages Main Street, where the artworks are sold. All throughout the street there are many shops and artist selling thousands of pieces of art. In the past many local Chinese and Chinese business vendors would come to Dafen to buy these works. However, now thousands of tourists and businesses from various parts of the globe flock to Dafen to buy the artwork. They still sell reduplicated works, but the main focus now is on original artwork produced by the young local villagers. This gives the villagers and the village a new incentive to embrace art as a medium to expose their talent and identity worldwide. This generates a lot of money for the village and the Chinese government, thus making the village sustainable.

The village has also modernized its architecture and identity through art rather than construction. Various buildings throughout the village are covered in murals and artwork. They also are painted bright, modern colors and have sculptures outside or pieces of art hanging from them. These buildings are a physical symbol of the ideological shift in the villages identities. The artistic buildings are representative of the villages shift from a once reduplicative art village to an original, unique art village. They also are a representation of the shift from the local to global because now these buildings are being used to house international art students in the Dafen Village.

The Dafen Art village has used art as its medium to transform their identities and modernize without destruction. Dafen is a symbol of success to other villages and is one of the most sustainable villages in China. It is a symbol of how villages can use identity and other forms of urbanization besides skyscrapers to modernize and thrive. For Dafen the medium in which they used to urbanize and transformed their identity was art. 


Cities in between Villages

In “Cities in between Villages,” Marco Cenzatti proposes a process of urbanization different from the traditional model. (please follow up or introduce the different model immediately) Through examples of villages in the Pearl River Delta area (or PRD), he provides a path that can help villages avoid the destiny of becoming dilapidated “Villages in the City.” The PRD model contains various aspects unique to the Chinese political history, but Cenzatti argues that through the industrialization of villages, people can achieve the same result of an urbanized area as the traditional urbanization process. According to him, the villages will eventually become a sort of suburb where urban and rural coexists. In this process, villages will not only get to improve the physical neighborhood, but also have an active voice in deciding the direction of their urbanization.

Image 1: New apartments, old village houses, and construction in process
Image 1: New apartments, old village houses, and construction in process in Shantou, Guangdong.

(please define and clarify a specific characteristic of the different model as the guiding topic for this section) Cenzatti points out that villages in PRD developed due to open-door policy and transportation infrastructure, while city development was limited at the time. Trade through the Township and Village Enterprises (TVE) helped villages accumulate capital and encouraged industrialization process. Helping to develop the trade relationship are the villagers who emigrated to more developed areas. Thus, villages in PRD became area of diffused urbanization. Image 1, although not from PRD, captures this change in action in a similar coastal area. In the picture, there are two sides: one with tall residential buildings in construction, one with existing village houses. The background of the right side, however, differs from the foreground in that there are already some newly built apartment buildings. Therefore, this is a village that has quickly developed through trade in TVEs, and large amounts of residential space is needed to accommodate the migrant workers contributing to the industrialization process. The wide and fresh-paved road provides evidence for the development of traffic infrastructure that Cenzatti claims to be necessary in the PRD urbanization model (still like to learn what type of model it is).

Image 2: Wanbo City, Panyu County
Image 2: Wanbo City, Panyu, Guangzhou. Developed by Guangzhou Wau Shun Investment Management Co., Ltd.

On the other hand, cities expand under the financial and political ambition of the municipal governments. Rural land is converted into “city” land as the only way to accumulate government wealth. (yes, can you make an argument based upon the comparison between the locally built urban villages and officially managed urban complex) The money raised is then used to build place-making projects such as monuments, museums, theaters, etc. Again, traffic infrastructure remains an important component here to help connect the larger city and to move migrants and workers between villages and cities. Eventually, villages get absorbed into cities as an industrialized district and not villages in cities. The author gives the example of Guangzhou and its Panyu County to prove this point. Panyu County started as a small village, but the open-door policy and development of transportation infrastructure boosted population and economic growth. On top of that, all those changes were planned and financed by the local government. By underlining the role of government, Cenzatti hints at how village governments can decide the fate of the village themselves. Image 2 shows a computer-rendered image for the plan for Wanbo City in Panyu County. It shows a residential, recreational, and commercial complex with skyscrapers, row houses, and large parks — all characteristics of an urban area. The fact that the Panyu municipal government can now afford to entire urban complexes proves that trade and transportation is a good way out for villages that might be on their way to be absorbed by the city.

Cenzatti presents the PRD model in a fairly positive light, where villagers, migrants, and the city all win because of the urbanization of villages. However, there isn’t a clear theoretical start for this development. Cenzatti attributes the economic development in PRD villages largely to the open-door policy in the 1980s, but it can be a lot more difficult for villages to compete with big businesses nowadays. Without the starting capital, it can be very difficult for villages to escape the fate of becoming a village in the city.

City-in-the-Village: Huanggang and China’s Urban Renewal


Huanggang village before the development of Shenzhen.

Huanggang Village, located in Shenzhen, China, shows how villagers themselves can be in charge of transforming a village-in-city from rural to urban in order to match the evolving urbanization of the surrounding city. However, it also shows how these transformations can erase village history and culture in pursuit of economic gain for those in power: the village shareholders company. (clear thesis statements)

Village gate after first renovation. Security checkpoint located just inside the gate.
Clocktower and jumbotron, located in the central plaza of the village after the first renovation.

The first renovation of the city, completed in the late 1990s, was headed by the village shareholders company and aimed to urbanize in a way that counteracted many of the stereotypes of the villages-in-the-city. They increased the security of the village by having a gate (see photo) and security officers keeping track of everyone entering and leaving the city. (purpose of doing so and how to support your thesis claim) They also installed cameras all over the village and claimed that the new security measures made Huanggang safer than the surrounding neighborhoods of Shenzhen. They also built several symbols of urbanization, including a jumbotron in the town center, a Vegas-style fountain and a European townhall style clocktower (see photo for jumbotron and clocktower). (again what the built architectures speak for?) Additionally, many of the villagers constructed “self-built” apartments in order to profit off their land by renting to migrant workers. Therefore, they too recognized the high demand for housing and the power they could hold in taking the initiative upon themselves. The renovations in the late 1990s were meant to symbolize to the city and the villagers that Huaggang was modernizing in parallel with the surrounding city.

Ancestral Hall in the foreground with modern high rises towering over in the background.

In this first step towards urbanization, the village shareholders showed how with the villagers themselves in charge, the renovation was able to strike a balance between honoring the village’s rural past while also celebrating its urban future (good points). The primary way it did this was with the construction of the ancestral hall, located in the main plaza of the village. The Ancestral Hall serves as a historical monument in terms of traditional architectural style, centrally located site and its use of traditional materials. In the photo, there is a clear contrast between the past and the present, making the hall stand out amidst the modern architecture and only further emphasizing the unique roll the hall plays in the culture of the village as well as the greater city. In addition to celebrating traditional Chinese architecture, it was also the first museum dedicated to village history in the nation. This enabled visitors and villagers alike to memorialize the village’s past in light of its ever-evolving urban future. Overall, the first renovation successfully combated many of the negative stereotypes held against villages-in-the-city and was also able to maintain identity and historical memorialization of the village while simultaneously modernizing with the times. (this is a strong section)

Plans for the second renovation of Huanggang, none of the original elements of the village will remain.

The plans for the second renovation show how economic gain can outweigh the value of maintaining the village as a place of culture and history. As the photo demonstrates, the latest plans for Huanggang are to demolish almost all of the existing structures in order to build high rises. These high rises are modern in material and will erase the at that site village entirely. Not only will this displace the villagers that live there and the migrant renters, but the space will likely cease to be residential at all, instead being filled by office spaces and losing the sense of community that previously existed. The central location of Huanggang, at the bottom of Shenzhen’s main north-south axis, has resulted in pressures for the village to become something else entirely. The first renovation of the city seemed like a compromise between these urban demands and the villagers. This second renovation, however, seems entirely driven by the economic gain at stake. The land can be made much more profitable with the construction of sky scrapers compared to the low rise, “self-built” apartment buildings. Therefore, Huanggang will no longer represent a harmony between the city and a village-in-the-city. Instead, it will disappear and homogenize into the city landscape around it, and with it erase the history of the village.

Overall, Huaggang has experienced many phases of being a village-in-the-city. At first, it represented a progressive and proactive approach by the villagers themselves, who were willing to change with their changing surrounding city in a way that still celebrated the village’s existence and cultural significance. However, the location of the village eventually outweighed this original compromise, subjecting it to the fate of many villages-in-the-city: demolition for the economic gain that comes from skyscrapers and office buildings.

City modernity and the VIC landscape – Shenzhen, China

While it is important to acknowledge all four VIC landscapes, the discussion of visual aspects of each would require a lengthier medium, rather than a visual analysis post. My contribution for last week’s topic focuses only on two VIC landscapes: Gangxia, Shenzhen and Dafen, Shenzhen. Images from Laurence Liaw’s essay and from various photographers aid in a conversation of how VIC spaces respond to forward-reaching efforts of development and modernization, or, more generally, city modernity.


Laurence Liaw’s “Village-in-the-City as a Sustainable Form of Social Housing Communities for China: A Tale of Four Villages in Shenzhen” captures the existence of four very different Village-in-the-City (VIC) settings, Songgang, Gangxia, Dafen, and Honggang. These VICs have similar histories, broadly, but their persistence through time is subject to distinctly specific influences and adaptations, or lackthereof. Liaw spends most of his time documenting the evolution of four VICs as a way of emphasizing the loss, and subsequent importance, of social housing in Shenzhen, China. Coupled with the imagery within and beyond the article, Liaw’s argument allows for an understanding that VICs indeed are individual landscapes, but their presence, persistence, and battle against modernity is shared (Image 1).

Image 1: Gangxia, Shenzhen. From Laurence Liaw’s “Village-in-the-city as a sustainable form of social housing communities for China: a tale of four villages in Shenzhen”


Image 2: Computer-generated image of Gangxia (center) and developed high-rises of Shenzhen (peripheral buildings). From https://grabcad.com/library/shenzhen-gangxia-china-city-mass-study-1


Gangxia and Dafen have both been encompassed by development, but these two spaces have responded in contrasting ways. The VIC of Gangxia is towered by surrounding high-rise buildings and modern developments (Image 2). In contrast, residential village spaces are ostensibly limited to set heights, around three-story height, often times with dilapidated housing frames/construction. Gangxia’s history is strongly influenced by the construction of civic centers and government spaces; the developing peripheral space has suffocated the development of the VIC community through high demand for housing and high land-costs. Dafen, though similar to Gangxia, has persisted through modernity in the formation of a collective VIC identity. As a symbol of this, the state of Leonardo da Vinci stand, encompassing Dafen’s core identity as a global art powerhouse (Image 3). From mere images alone, we understand that Gangxia and Dafen are responding to modernization in starkly different ways. While Gangxia crumbles to the ground (Image 4), Dafen thrives (Image 5). The collection of visual representations of these villages transforms the identity of the VIC spaces away from mere villages. We could argue that Gangxia will cease to remain a village in the near future and that Dafen, because of the communal core identity, appears to have molded into a thread of the larger city-scape.

Image 3: Statue of Leonardo da Vinci in Dafen, Shenzhen. From Laurence Liaw’s “Village-in-the-city as a sustainable form of social housing communities for China: a tale of four villages in Shenzhen”

Image 4: Man sleeping next to pile of concrete blocks, Gangxia, Shenzhen. Imaged by Jesse Warren. From http://www.shenzhenparty.com/blogs/shenzhen-party-info/66118-gangxia-west-village-photo-colle


Image 5: Corridor covered with various oil paintings in Dafen, Shenzhen. From https://www.szcchina.com/blog/dafen-oil-painting-village.html

Through images alone, we understand the liveliness of these two built landscapes. Gangxia is crumbling; its beige, neutral concrete blocks are strewn in piles throughout the closely-packed village area, while Dafen is vibrant. The paintings produced in Dafen paint Dafen, itself, in a bright light. Photographs of these built landscapes demonstrate two responses to city modernity: one that has fallen victim to pressures of development and another that has managed to remain autonomous and ostensibly self-sufficient. (if this is the central argument, then introduce it at the beginning) Can we expect all pockets in a city to persist through time? Perhaps not. We may be able to assume that there is some degree of persistence, whether that persistence is fostering continued housing and residential living or whether that persistence is through ruins. The persistence, regardless, is an aspect of city development. In the case of Shenzhen, visual reminders of different VICs and city-scapes continuously serve as a means of detailing how different communities have responded to the same pressures. It would be easy to assume all VIC spaces have responded in the same way, but these visual moments in time allow us to understand that each VIC, though similar with its original history, are not all that similar with adaptations to modernization and continuity with city modernity.