Academic journal article China Perspectives

Making Neighbourhoods

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Making Neighbourhoods

Article excerpt

Independent thinking of the general public, their newly developed penchant for independent choices and the widening gap of ideas between different social groups will pose ... challenges to China's policymakers

... A harmonious society should feature democracy, the rule of law, equity, justice, sincerity, amity, and vitality.

(President Hu Jintao, 26 June 2005)

The setting of boundaries is always a political act. Boundaries determine membership: someone must be inside and someone outside. Boundaries also delineate space to facilitate the activities and purposes of political, economic and social life.

(Blakely and Snyder, Fortress America, 1997, p.l)


Every day, in a public-housing residential community in the former heartland of China's socialist industry, the city of Shenyang, a group of 31 elderly ladies and one old man patrol the two gates of an old residential compound now inhabited by large numbers of laid-off workers and their families. Their main concern is the incursion of rural migrants into the compound to sell their services in competition with the informal "courtyard economy" of shoe repairers and fruit stalls that the local government allows laid-off workers to operate inside the residential compounds. In a different city, Beijing, at the same time, in a gated middle-class neighbourhood, a group of homeowners are putting the final touches on a newly-built garden. It is, in fact, not just a garden, but a community-funded memorial to the four years of struggle necessary to force the real-estate developer to complete the original park. At the centre of the small area, engraved on a large white stone, are the characters shouwang huayuan - "the garden of vigilance."

The two communities watch over spaces that are socially, economically, and politically distinct. The grannies in Shenyang mobilise to protect (from a competitor in the residual economy) their entitlement to what is left of the once allencompassing welfare reserved for China's industrial working class. The homeowners watch over their right to see a contract honoured and their aspiration to a better and more autonomous lifestyle fulfilled, at least in their backyard. Both act in the limited, shared interests of their own community and contain their grievances within the gates of their compound. They use, however, radically different framing arguments: on one side, the relatively new political rhetoric of consumer rights produced by the state and its media in the attempt to guarantee consumers and increase overall consumption rates; on the other, the traditional arguments of socialist entitlement on which the socialist state has based its moral legitimacy for decades.

The two strategies and framing discourses are concretised in specific spaces that are the result of a radical transformation of China's cities. Rather than being solely an outcome of the commercialisation of urban space, the new spatial distinction within the city is the result of planning and governance strategies.

In this paper I investigate the effects of these spatial arrangements on the production of citizenship rights. My first objectives is to show that, beyond the imperatives of economic growth, there is a direct relationship between the Chinese state's goals of maintaining social stability and containing social conflicts and the re-zoning of urban residential spaces; different lifestyles (enshrined in specific residential forms) often translate into different techniques of government. My second objective is to investigate the role that these spaces and their new governance arrangements play in justifying loyalties towards the state. The social classification produced by statusdefining spaces contributes to the state's ability to address both the demand for limited societal autonomy expressed by the middle classes living in self-managed gated communities, and the claims to support and basic welfare from disgruntled workers still anchored to the traditional neighbourhoods by their dependence on state subsidies. …

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