Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Guangdong Model of Urbanisation: Collective Village Land and the Making of a New Middle Class

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Guangdong Model of Urbanisation: Collective Village Land and the Making of a New Middle Class

Article excerpt

Avast number of industrialising villages in the Pearl River Delta region, containing many millions of native residents, have been able to re- tain their land and have prospered as a result. This is also true of the many villages-in-the-city (chengzhongcun Ü^tt) that today lie within urban Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The same phenomenon of retained land is also found in other major regions in China, but this collective retention and redevelopment of land is so prevalent in Guangdong that it can be la- belled the Guangdong Model of urbanisation.

Origins of the Guangdong Model

Guangdong was the first province in post-Mao China to experience a wave of export-based industrialisation, due to its proximity to Hong Kong. In 1979 Shenzhen, a small county capital on the border with Hong Kong, was de- clared a Special Economic Zone, and it rapidly began to expand. Initially, the zone authorities expropriated the land needed for city streets, new neigh- bourhoods, and industrial parks, offering modest compensation, but this en- countered resistance from local villages. Especially since Shenzhen was in the national limelight, the authorities soon decided it was better to avoid confrontation, and so they enlisted cooperation by giving villages a stake in property redevelopment. While the Shenzhen authorities continued to appropriate village fields, the rural collectives were allowed to retain a por- tion of the land to develop themselves, and villagers were allowed to retain their housing sites.(1)

As Hong Kong companies in the 1980s began seeking sites beyond Shen- zhen to construct factories, villages got an even better deal. In the 1970s under Mao, China's villages and rural townships had been officially encour- aged to "self-reliantly" (ziligengsheng) develop small industry and sidelines. The new opportunity in the 1980s to construct factory buildings on village land for rent to foreign companies was perceived in this light by village and local higher-level officials. In the mid to late 1980s, travellers on the roads leading from Shenzhen toward Guangzhou could see frenetic construction throughout the area as village after village competed "self-reliantly" to throw up factory buildings to rent out. While village residential areas re- mained in place, the agricultural land was becoming covered by a crazy- quilt of small improvised industrial parks.

Under Mao, this land had been owned collectively by "production teams": clusters of 15-50 households who worked the land together and divided the harvest earnings based on how much labour each member had con- tributed. Even after farmers turned to household farming in the early 1980s the production teams (re-titled villager small groups [cunmin xiaozu]) re- tained ownership of the land, with member families independently allowed to cultivate the land apportioned to them without any rental charge. When presented with an opportunity to rent land out as factory sites, in some cases villager small groups did so as the collective owners, while in other cases, in order to create a larger and more effectively planned industrial park, the villager small groups agreed to pool their land into a village-wide property collective.

On the far side of Guangzhou, at a distance beyond where foreign man- ufacturers were willing to locate, industrialisation of a different sort sprouted in the Pearl River Delta. Local villagers there were allowed to establish small private factories starting in the mid-1980s, which sometimes grew during the following decades into substantial companies. From the start, the own- ers paid rent for their factory land sites either to a villager small group or village-wide collective.(2) In short, local collective retention of industrialised land became the accepted pattern in that part of Guangdong, too.

Elsewhere in China, urban expansion and these types of industrialisation arose at a later period. Officials there could look south and see that land conversion in Guangdong had been highly profitable. …

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