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Posts tagged ‘缙绅化 gentrification’

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“In defence of… Gentrification”
By Igor Rogelja

My first doubts and concerns over how the term gentrification is used didn’t arise so much from a discussion on the applicability of the term in different socio-economic contexts. Neither were they stoked by the oft-cited misuse of the term by social observers, or by a desire to go against the grain of critical urban geography’s canon of work.  While these are all issues I’ve worked with, the first time I actually, physically, flinched was when a city official from Kaohsiung, a Taiwanese port city, used the term in an overwhelmingly positive way, leaving no doubt that such a spatial restructuring was desirable: gentrification as a tool for development. There are of course several possible explanations – maybe the term was simply misused. Perhaps it is a rare and naïve display of candour that city bigwigs in most Western cities have long since learned to avoid, using instead either vacuous terms produced by PR departments or hiding behind complicated urban planning argot. Or both.

And yet, the notion of gentrification as a function of urban development opens new insights into the ways in which cities (especially in rapidly industrializing and developing countries) are being altered, with municipalities increasingly mimicking the input required to set off a gentrifying chain of event which, presumably, result in pleasant streets populated by attractive coffee-drinking people. In a manner that is both real estate-driven and top-down (and thus markedly different from real estate-led gentrification in New York, or the gentrification ground-zero of London’s Islington, where Ruth Glass first coined the term), it is as much a modernist state project, as well as a distinctly free-market driven process. Within the tension between these two loaded terms, project vs. process, I however see no inherent contradiction. Indeed, one finds an analogous shift within the mode of governmentality1 of the contemporary state, where broad societal visions (the project) are being complemented by a web of communities, stakeholders and interests, often reinterpreting the work of the state into a facilitator of personal (and corporate) aspiration, i.e. facilitating the process. Within this new city, whether we call it neoliberal or late-capitalist, gentrification has come to be seen as a central process (or culprit) by which spatial restructuring takes place and by which dilapidated housing stock is replaced, rejuvenated or otherwise shifts from the poor to the aspirational – often with at least the tacit support of the planning authority. Detected all over the globe and discussed in different academic fields, it is no surprise the term is both over-used (spurring Loretta Lees (2003) to upgrade it to ‘super-gentrification’), as well as maligned for its lack of clarity and tendency to obfuscate other important issues – a case which Julie Ren makes in a previous post about Beijing on this blog.

If we however suppose that the radical spatial restructuring in Asian cities is ‘something else,’ especially in the time since the idea of the creative city travelled there via epistemic networks in the late ’90s and 2000s, this requires a back to basics approach. My intention is to try to vindicate the use of the term even in contexts as varied as Beijing, Bangkok or Kaohsiung by looking at gentrification as a function of a late-capitalist spatial restructuring, especially when symbolic capital (Ren Xuefei, 2011) is taken into consideration and the producers of the symbolic meaning, Florida’s ‘creative class,’ become important actors in the field. What this means in practice is that gentrification by culture has become the dominant trend in Greater China, though it can be broken down further to identify both state, commercial and independent actors. Whereas ‘galleries, cafés and artists’ was a well-known gentrification cocktail in the West, these are now joined by an entrepreneurial state, advised by an epistemic community of planners and businessmen, and often following pre-existing templates.  While examples ranging from Beijing’s hutong chic to Shanghai’s Xintiandi have been variously termed as commercialization, preservation, adaptive re-use and gentrification, they have in common a transition from being a place of local (and often marginal) meaning to (replicable) places of consumption and source of pride for the city authorities. Such also, is an example of Kaohsiung’s Park Road, once a messy stretch of hardware shops which has recently been redeveloped, as the jargon goes, into an artsy park as part of a city-wide effort to catch the creativity bandwagon.

Formerly, the area was known as Hardware Street (Wujinjie) and was very much a proxy for the city’s economic history – Taiwan’s dirty, sweaty port city where ships were disassembled, sugar exported and naphtha cracked. It is also a uniquely diverse city, as the rapid industrialisation pulled in large numbers of rural workers into the city – unusual for Taiwan’s otherwise rather tame rural migration. Since the late 1990s however, and for reasons deeply connected to Taiwan’s two party system (Kaohsiung is traditionally the bastion of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party), the city has embarked on an ambitious plan to rebrand itself from cultural desert to cultural hub. In itself, this is nothing remarkable; Manchester, Liverpool, Bilbao, Detroit have all had such turns in urban policy, successful or not. Rather, what is of interest in this case is the micro-level to which the city was engaged in the project of beautification and revitalization of the ailing blue-collar neighbourhood through which Hardware Street cuts. With its cluttered shop floors, oil slicks and loud noise of clunking metal, the street had been earmarked for ‘beautification’ in the run up to the World Games in 2009 in order to create a tourist corridor towards the Pier-2 Art Centre (a reused set of warehouses housing a municipal modern art complex) and to complete a bicycle lane network across the Yancheng neighbourhood (another strategy to attract the ‘creative class’). The demolition was divided in four stages, with the first one beginning in 2007 and the last one completed in 2011. Though the land is publicly owned and a park had been loosely envisaged in the area for decades, the issue here is not so much of legality – in any case the Taiwanese 1998 Urban Renewal Act grants municipal authorities ample powers to reconstruct urban areas, especially on publicly owned land.

Rather, the motivation for the decision is the key to understanding the way in which a gentrified ‘creative Kaohsiung’ is being constructed, not only as a physical space, but also as a space of identity and a new authenticity for Kaohsiung – a city of industrial heritage and a creative future. In this case, the radical restructuring of the abstract space of the plan caused the demolition of over 400 shops and adjacent living quarters and the forced historicization of what was very much a living industry. Thus, shops selling and repairing machine parts were replaced by public art and street furniture constructed out of the very parts which were the hardware shops’ livelihood, commissioned by the municipality and produced by local artists, many of whom have been intimately involved with the setting up of the nearby art centre as well. The area is now a showcase of Kaohsiung’s authenticity, its gritty industrial character now cleaned up for public consumption.

Faced with questions of identity and the allocation of space, the ‘authenticity’ of the area fragmented, as Sharon Zukin has shown on the case of New York’s gentrifying neighbourhoods (2010). In this case, the lived authenticity of the chaotic metalworking shops and the illegible network of unmapped lanes and gaps in the organically (illegally) grown neighbourhood is substituted by a planned authenticity of a different kind – in itself an important trait of gentrification. The industrial character of the area is translated through the instrument of public art into a dizzying array of street furniture and installations, all of which explicitly reference the history of the area – the irony is not lost on the remaining shopkeepers: ‘They took the things that kept us alive and made them dead,’ noted Mr. Bai, a hardware shop owner, while an elderly resident took things one step further, calling the park a place for dogs to shit where rich people can jog around, adding she has no time for such leisurely activities.

Though not explicitly expressed in city planning documents, the notion of authenticity is crucial to this neighbourhood from an economic standpoint and explains the effort to gentrify the area, rather than raze it completely or simply build a new part of town. Not only is the city government promoting mass tourism in the area, but a planned creative industry park also relies on the area’s authenticity to attract investment – most recently a large Hollywood digital effect firm. The firm, Rhythm&Hues, was initially being groomed by the municipal economic development office to occupy a suburban software industry park, but decided to base itself in an old warehouse instead, embracing the industrial feel of the building, which was inaugurated by Ang Lee in November 2012. The area thus gained a new role as a creative park and tourist attraction, though many residents are demonstrably cool towards the weekend crowds, and have moreover found alternative uses for some of the artwork as chairs or even places to dry laundry.

While property-owning residents might financially benefit from the long-term revitalization of the area, the displacement of poorer residents by wealthier newcomers is of course never a total or complete process.2 What is striking is that what had occurred in Kaohsiung has all the outer marks of gentrification, with old shops closing and giving ways to design boutiques and artisanal coffee shops, followed by a 30% increase in real estate prices. And yet, this was a top-down initiative with clearly stated goals, an agreed timeline and due process in the city’s council. It was a project that relied from the outset on the collaboration of the city’s artist community, as well as the approval of the construction businesses, which were granted permissions to construct taller residential buildings in the area.
Gentrification by fiat, if you will.

What then about this example from one Asian marginal city is relevant to the rehabilitation of ‘gentrification’ as a useful term in describing the changes befalling Asian cities? Is it not simply a project of demolition, an Haussmannian echo of sorts? The simple answer is yes, that is precisely what it is, but within it lies the idea that art and creativity can and will change urban space, and beyond that, that they will change it in a way that accommodates ‘Soho-style living,’ as the city’s urban plan bluntly puts it. The legacy of a gentrifying New York or London does not necessarily live unchanged as an endless repetition of successive waves of real-estate price hikes and demographic changes. It manifests itself also in the ordered representations of space of the urban plan. But when aimed at working class neighbourhoods, it is (and always has been) a deproletarization of space; pausing on whether it is ‘planned’ (slum-clearance) or ‘organic’ (gentrification) is in many cases distracting from the point that the displacement typical of gentrification is not only the displacement of people, but in a Lefebvrian way, of the lived space of a neighbourhood for financial and political gain of established elites. To reiterate, the imposition of new conceptual space upon the city is not a natural or spontaneous process. Seeing such changes outside of the social and spatial context is not only incomplete, but also conservative in that it perpetuates neoclassical economists’ insistence on the emergent qualities of gentrification or slum-clearance, endowing urban restructuring with an air of unavoidable, organic change – precisely what Kaohsiung’s municipality tried to convey by consigning to history and artistic representation the living, clunking workshops of its waterfront.

Going back to gentrification as function of development, I suggest the baggage with which the term is burdened is what gives it the critical punch needed to make sense of the spatial transformations in Asian cities, where expectations of development clearly exhibit a tendency to create both the disinvestment needed to create ‘gentrifiable’ areas, as well as a pool of gentrifiers. While the debate between production-side and consumption-side explanations of gentrification thankfully no longer rages, we will be well served to remember that both explanations agree that gentrification as a phenomenon is essentially conditioned by a late-capitalist system. In China especially, where a retreating state has left municipal authorities dependent on land-dealing and thus with a clear interest in rising (or raising) land values, a race towards ever greater exploitation of urban space may manifest itself as either commercialization, gentrification or simply urban development, all of which are apparent not only in the physical space, but in the abstract, conceived space which seeks to impose itself on the city. Viewed in this light, the opening of a café or gallery may not be as serious a sign of gentrification as the commitment of district chiefs to pursue creative policies, though how far the market-driven side will progress remains to be seen. In Kaohsiung certainly, gentrification by culture remains a tool in the arsenal of urban policy.

1) Miller and Rose’s “Governing the Present” (2008) is a great look at the questions of governmentality in advanced liberal democracies, though many nuances equally apply to non-democratic states in advanced stages of development. 

2) While the displacement of working class residents with middle class newcomers is the usual hallmark of gentrification, I reject notions that this substitution must be complete. Vast stretches of London’s Hackney or Islington still remain predominately working class, while in other cases, such as on Broadway Market in Hackney, the mainly Turkish immigrant landlords have benefitted from rising commercial rents. Despite this, both areas remain clear-cut cases of gentrification.

Igor Rogelja is a PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His research is focused on the role of creative city theory and art in urban redevelopment in Taiwan and China.


On the Problem of Transplantation
Julie Ren (julie.ren@hu-berlin.de) visited HomeShop in 2012 and spoke with Elaine W. Ho and Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga about the various issues around initiating and sustaining art/project spaces in Beijing and Berlin for her Humboldt University dissertation research. While gentrification is not her area of research, it is something she is trying to approach critically, especially as a dominant framing of urban change. In preparation for an upcoming publication on the topic, she continued the discussion with Michael Eddy.

Julie: I’m still doubtful about applying the gentrification lens to Beijing, and I plan to focus my contribution to the book on the problems of transplanting urban concepts. To me, it’s a hermeneutic lens and it reflects the need to interpret urban change in terms of dominant academic canons—whether it’s global/mega cities, cosmopolitanism, network societies, mobility paradigms… or gentrification.

My doubt is two-fold. First, I’m skeptical about its being an accurate means to interpret the socio-economic and demographic changes in Beijing neighborhoods. Sure, many neighborhoods are visibly changed, there is high turnover of residents and prices are increasing. But is this the result of an urban gentry moving in to displace residents with a lower average income? With a view to neighborhoods such as Gulou and Wudaoying within the 2nd ring, this seems more a top-down business development scheme rather than a residential real estate-driven change. Especially in the Hutongs, I wonder about the issue of demographic change – to what extent is it income and to what extent is it elder residents being replaced with younger residents? To what extent are they being displaced, and to what extent are Hutong residents moving out to become new landlords? 

Secondly, I’m concerned about the embedded normative question of: Should we interpret urban change in Beijing in terms of gentrification? As I stated above, I think it’s a hermeneutic instrument that reflects the academic background and experiences of those seeking to understand urban change in Beijing. Moreover, there are assumed notions of urban inequality and social justice accompanying the term that allude to the realities of a neoliberal city in which mobility and privilege often function in tandem. Yet mobility in Chinese cities is a fraught issue, often a result of broad macroeconomic changes driving rural poor to find work in cities, exacerbated by remittance obligations and a lack of legal status. (A much more pressing issue of urban inequality might be Hukou reform rather than neighborhood-level change.) 
It just seems to me there are fundamental assumptions about gentrification that fail to account for the realities of the urban context in Beijing. I can understand why especially the growing international community in Beijing might be thinking in these terms, but I wonder if it doesn’t have more to do with them, than the city in which they live?
Michael: As for your first doubt, it is well-founded. However, I wonder where you can draw the line between the good-intentioned BoBos and top-down gentrification, even in Beijing. If you think of the Richard Florida school of thought and the thousand waterfront loft conversions and creative districtings it inspired toward the “creative cities” obsession, I would still need to consider the relation of that to possible forms of gentrification.

Perhaps I misunderstand the technicalities of the terms. But it is on the one hand often a rebranding and intensification of the gentrification already at work somewhere, as well as not totally predictable as to its effects. Some go with it and profit from it—but maybe now I am thinking of the experience of being in China. Mai Dian (a friend from Wuhan) has been involved in projects about development around East Lake, notably the privatization of once publicly accessible lands, including “Our East Lake.” For his contribution to the recently-released Wear journal 3, published by HomeShop, he discussed one of the problems in the activists’ resistance to the developments: that many of the farmers and other landowners who they would have hoped to share some solidarity with, had been more disarmed by the imagoes of “contemporary living” presented by the developments and ideas of progress than gathering together a concerted resistance.

Because of its action of government-aided corporate appropriation of large tracts of land, maybe it is not realistic to call this gentrification; my only curiosity is in this imaginary relation to development and contemporaneity. Maybe it would be absurd to humor the idea of a kind of “self-gentrification” though. This imaginary to aim for is brilliantly embodied in the fetishization and commodification of culture—with contemporary art sitting near the top. In many places, including China, art is braided within this tension; it is hard as an artist not to fall on the conspirators’ side at least sometimes.

Richard Florida’s insistence that the economic category of cities could be assessed and enhanced by the number of “creatives” (and homosexuals) is not totally inapplicable if you look at urban change in Beijing, which is not to say that his theories are correct (look at Martha Rosler’s text for an overview of the problems relating art to real estate).
To take a tasteless example, the 798 art district taking over the factory spaces near Jiuxianqiao Road was “authentically” started by artists, and only much later became an art district by edict. Art-inspired rebranding of a place with actual roots in artists first settling there is also taking place in Tongzhou, Caochangdi (which has so far miraculously managed to avoid being razed for at least 2 years since I heard the threat) and other far-out places. In these places, complex cooperation and co-existence between migrant workers, landlord and the art world takes place, though it surely totally disfigures their original states. I guess you could say these also launched a thousand top-down developed gated communities themed on art as well.

In our experience at HomeShop, it is a slightly different story inside the 2nd Ring Road. To some degree, there are the local administrative plans—and in some areas, like Dashilan, I should also mention there are at least nominal attempts to retain local character and occupants at least for the foreseeable future as an architecture firm (sorry can’t recall name at present) develops the area—but the aspect of cultural tourism predates that. (For instance, Nanluoguxiang, which is now the pinnacle of hutong tourism, may have been initiated by some locals, though at present I can’t substantiate this beyond hearsay and less than rigorous journalism.) You also see local hutong-dwellers making adjustments to benefit from the potential returns of tradition (Elaine mentions this in one of her posts on the HomeShop blog, though the residents she mentions aren’t well-to-do by most measures).
HomeShop also adds to the ingredients of the area, of course—I am not sure whether I mentioned an architect friend took over the space across the hutong that used to be an old Shouyi shop? I feel that is a pretty textbook gentrification move, assisted by our presence there to some degree, even if things like this only happen in pockets—but that’s how it happens, if I understand correctly.

So I agree that it is different in China, for instance these several levels co-existing sometimes precisely because they are so different (in the cases of migrant workers living next to fancy condo complexes… at least temporarily), and because of government involvement awkwardly fitting, but I do not think it is a normatively inappropriate to use the term in selected circumstances, especially those relating to culture.
“Artlife,” an upscale mixed use residential development under construction on a stretch of highway near Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.
Julie: I’ll pick up with the idea you suggest at the end, of a selective application of gentrification to culture. The example of the architect displacing the Shouyi shop could certainly be a part of gentrification, but is it culturally-led gentrification? Or is it more simply economic? Gentrification and culture are connected in a multitude of ways, but I think most commonly, culture is seen as a driver of gentrification. And it’s this conceptualization of culturally-led or culturally-driven gentrification (in its pioneering activity) that most directly, most explicitly implicates artists and creative industry workers. It is rare, let’s say, for an artist or graphic designer or architect to push out a low-income shop in London. More common would be for them to inhabit available spaces in unkempt neighborhoods, rendering them attractive for the middle classes, the urban gentry, who in turn do the heavy-lifting in terms of displacement. This is at least the “common” example, but perhaps this is how Beijing differentiates itself – artists/creatives can directly displace lower income people. Whether the Shouyi shop pushed out or they moved due to the cost of rent, I’m assuming from the example that the architect was able to pay more rent than the Shouyi shop, implying the rising cost of the area, and ensuing displacement. What I find dangerous is simply attaching “gentrifier” to anyone who lives in/moves to a city and works in a creative field.

The Hutong neighborhood changes definitely deserve more attention. But I wonder if the changes in areas like Nanluoguxiang and Wudaoying (which you described as Hutong tourism) should really be understood in terms of gentrification. Why don’t we interpret it in terms of commercialization? I also don’t think enough attention is brought to the longer view – the issue of preservation in the context Hutong evisceration. In German there is the term “Aufwertung” which means “revaluation, giving something additional value,” and I wonder if those changes can’t also be interpreted in terms of simply urban regeneration. This is what I mean by the “gentrification hermeneutic” – that it is a way that people interpret changes, because that is how urban change happens in the cities we are most familiar with. (I mean, it’s its own canon of urban theory!) Of course, the commercialization comes at a cost to the neighborhood, to what it looks like, to what people do there, to the transformation of a residential area into a leisure destination. But, like the case above, I don’t want to label all architects moving in as gentrifiers, and I don’t want to label any street with a cafe as a gentrified area, unless they are really participating in an active process of displacing low-income residents with a higher income group of residents. But, like Elaine said, it’s often the residents themselves participating in these new commercial ventures, so I wonder about actual displacement…

In relation to the attempt to preserve “local character” I want to put in question the idea of an “authentic” art area. From the interviews I did last year, there is broad consensus about the development of 798—from its initiation to its Disney-fication through to the current state. The grassroots nature of its initiation is legendary, especially in the broader scheme of centralized urban planning in China, and served as the inspiration for starting my dissertation. Beyond the consensus about the history, however, the views of artists and curators I interviewed about the nature of artistic space are widely divergent, often contradictory. What is authentically creative seems to at times contradict the very nature of having a stable, long-term, protected, sustainable space. By that I mean, many artists seem to fear stagnation, and I wonder if the very idea of an “authentic” art area is not temporal? Maybe an art space can only be authentic for a moment? Is it maybe in the nature of artistic practice to also be pioneering in terms of occupying or selecting new space (BEYOND the cheap rent argument)?

Michael: Indeed, I use the word “authentic” with great reluctance, and only in the face of the top-down approach, whether that is government or Florida-inspired regeneration. I agree with your assessment of the term otherwise, and how artists are not really looking for it, or expressing or embodying it.

I also realized I had skipped over the point of commercial vs. residential change, which I think is harder to say. Unless we very narrowly define them, figuring out the precise dynamic of the distinction between commercialization and gentrification in that sense would be quite difficult though! It suggests misuse of the terms by many commentators.

Oh, and though this would not represent a very general trend, the issue of how foreigners interact in local economies is something else, both influential (defining standards, prices) and powerless (subject to higher prices at times) at the same time. Really quite marginal though, unless on symbolic level.

Okay, that’s just a quick reply, gotta run! Cappuccinos 加油!

The neighboring Shouyi shop, photographed July 13th, 2012.

Mashipo  馬屎埔

It was a surprisingly cool mid-afternoon as our group finally reached what had once been the Mashipo wetlands, which used to cover the area from the river to well beyond the Fanling metro station. We lingered on the sidewalk looking over the densely grown bushes and jerry-rigged assemblages forming the boundary fencing of individual plots. On first inspection, it looked like a vital place: there was a hand-painted sign indicating an organic farmers market near a sheltered post-box unit, and an intermittent flow of pedestrians and cyclists of various ages maneuvered down the concrete paths that strayed into the lush interior, where well-kept houses of corrugated metal were guarded by zealous dogs. Finally our guide, a 60-something year old retired land surveyor (“Not for the developers!”) named Raymond, came out on one of these paths to meet us, and swiftly led us in along toward his land. It was late February but the plants we passed appeared to be in mid-growth (perhaps only notable if you consider the several months until the soil in Beijing takes on the appearance of anything but desiccated silt). Raymond halted briefly at a series of several quadrants where the ground was fastened with tiles and concrete. Here had once stood shacks housing families. Henderson, one of the largest real estate companies in Hong Kong, had been buying up such properties, piece by piece, and either flattening them or smashing them out like gaping lifeless examples in order to unsettle those who still remained.  Raymond’s eyes sparkled as he explained his plan (in perfect English, for my sake): to occupy one yard with festival tents or other makeshift shelters, and refuse to leave until the real estate company took them to court to force removal; then—gesturing gingerly with his arms—he would move the entire occupation a few meters over to the yard “next-door,” repeating the process whenever they received a new notice, and then start all over, therefore dragging any possible removal into some indeterminate future. I asked him whether he had tried this tactic before, and he smiled and said, not yet, but I think it should work.

Moving along, we stopped near an area of turned earth that had been sprinkled with a white powder. Raymond indicated that this would be where they would grow yellow ginger to sell at cost to the pregnant mothers of Hong Kong; without a profit, he stressed, so that the people will understand what our purpose is. And this was just the beginning of the plans for the lengthy strip of land on which we were standing. Raymond’s father-in-law had occupied this government-owned land as tenant in 1960, which was then, ironically, licensed to him by the government in 1970, when it was zoned for agriculture. In the last few years, as was mentioned above, the land has been leased (land can only be leased from the government in Hong Kong, as in PRC) in portions to Henderson to develop apartment high rises. Even if the area we were standing on did not itself become a construction site, development of the sections that had already been bought would basically render the area unfit for cultivation because of the shadows the buildings would cast. The consultancy period for the development of the area had been due to be completed in 2012, but already resistance to the plan had resulted in a delay to the project of 4 years. In the meanwhile, Raymond and his family, as well as a group of young activists and others, are planning a number of projects to further resist and delay the development of the area, involving as many parties as possible. 

As it stands, there are a number of others farming the land, not all of whom have necessarily signed on for the resistance to Henderson and the government. Some of these (apparently mainland Chinese) people come from the large complexes across the road and just want a spot to grow their own vegetables. But lacking knowledge of organic or traditional methods of growing or land management, they have no second thoughts about using pesticides or about lopping off the branches of a perfectly healthy lychee tree (that now had rubber boots inverted on the branch stubs). Such practices were all more self-evidently faulty to the people who had actually been living on the land next to the growing crops. And indeed, not many people actually live on the land anymore. This marks the endeavor of Raymond and his allies as somewhat different from other well-known examples of agriculture, activism and culture uniting in civil resistance against the loss of farm lands and traditional lives at the hands of government and developer collaboration. One of the most well-known of these struggles was the opposition to the Hong Kong–Shenzhen–Guangzhou express rail link, which caused the demolition of Choi Yuen Tsuen and displaced its villagers in a process spanning from 2009–2011. Though the loss of the village is long foregone by now, the resistance actions that included petitions, protests and artistic/activist cultural projects are still felt through a legacy of publications, documentaries, online discussions, and more importantly, through a lasting coalition of efforts that came together and carries over to other fields and new challenges. “There are hundreds of Choi Yuen Tsuens,” I was told, and some of the spirit of possibility carries over to Mashipo. The plan of Raymond and the others, however, is not only based on the injustice of displacement, but about proposing an alternative to the craze for destroying green and natural areas: “a showcase for traditional agriculture.”

Winding our way along a path past a giant mulberry tree and the small house where Raymond’s 90-year old father lives, and through a field of blossoming dill, chamomile and other flowering vegetables, we came to a grove of banana trees and a thin corridor of tall grass on the edge of a stream hidden by undergrowth. Raymond described his plan to construct a mud and straw house in a traditional Guangdong style, his tone sounding urgent since this is best done in the winter. This house had to be built now, but so did the many other initiatives that would go nowhere if brought as proposals to the government first; the key was to simply start doing things. Other ideas included a fish pond, which would also demonstrate cultivation of aquatic flowers, a community kitchen and a composting process, and in the fields, an emphasis on local herbs and vegetables; in short an eco-system that would make good use of this fertile soil. One of the city-based organizers involved in the Mashipo project, Kim Ching, showed me their layout for an edible garden. I asked whether they were reaching out by organizing an allotment system for people to come and grow, or by holding farmers markets or some sort of experimental farming school. (Raymond kind of groaned when I mentioned the sign advertising the organic farmers market I had seen back by the road, explaining that he and others had started it but that now, run by different people, mostly cheap organic produce flooding in from from Mainland China is sold there.) But I was quickly corrected: “Not only a farming school—but everything, public gatherings—in fact, almost everything is related to farming.” 

The impetus behind Mashipo, then, is the construction of public space, in light of (or in spite of) its decimation by the CEOs of both Hong Kong’s administration and its corporations. This form of awareness and discourse was refreshing in a place that is effectively under control of the mainland Government, which also makes it seem fragile. As we looped back toward the street, the heavy evening sky darkened and fused with the curtain of mountains that form the backdrop for the skinny high rises clustering the New Territories. We turned around toward the north and Raymond pointed out some towers looming in the distance spelling out words with LEDs on their ostentatious surfaces. That’s Shenzhen right over there, he said. You can see how convenient it will be to drive down and stop here overnight before getting on the metro to your meetings in the morning, he mused rather reasonably. This observation betrayed no ignorance of the forces they are up against. And with my limited knowledge, I considered how unlikely this situation would be back in Beijing or elsewhere on the mainland: a 4-year delay because of complaints? Was this the patronizing local government appeasing environmentalist nostalgia for the sake of an appearance of validity, or what? (Could it actually be a soft-spot for democracy?) Setting aside doubts about the potency of the deputy authorities and their games, such a delay would certainly be grasped by the citizens of Hong Kong for its possibility to cultivate much more than a few feral papayas. Much more.

Hi Grandpa,

How are you doing?
Far too long since we have spoken.
I just got your new email address by Nina forwarding a message with some nice old pictures you had taken.

I am still over here in Beijing, China. I have lived here almost 3 years, once fall arrives.

Just yesterday, I had a very funny experience. I went to a fake “Jackson Hole” north of Beijing, past the Great Wall. Supposedly, the developers copied the master plans directly from the Wyoming town, and just plotted the whole thing down onto some hilly countryside on the border of Hebei Province (the province surrounding Beijing). As a development including more than 1000 new homes, it’s not finished yet but there are already a few weekend “cowboys” living there.

We were there because of some interest the developers had shown in supporting our organic farmer’s market—but I found it incredibly difficult to get past the innocent and yet eerie surroundings (innocent, because what do they know about Jackson Hole? and so an innocent delight in surfaces; eerie because of such enthusiasm for surfaces—but I suppose the same could be said about the “real” Jackson Hole!).
Most of the wood was just imitation, made of plastic; although our guides claimed the rocks were real, and kept asking me as we toured a house “Is this how you live in America?

After the tour they gave me a cheaply-made bolo necktie with “Jackson Hole” on it.

They couldn’t tell me which house was a copy of Dick Cheney’s.

I thought you would like to see some of these images.
I hope all is well!

Love Michael

Hi Michael

So good to hear from you. I talked to your father yesterday and he told me who or where you were in that group picture that Nina sent to me. I would never have known you with all those whiskers.  Is that Emi beside you?

I am sending you some pictures of Lupine in the Big Horn Mtns taken on July 9, 2011. We had lots of snow in the Mtns this past year so the wild flowers are flourishing. We also made a trip to Jackson so will have to send you a few of those pictures. The pictures you sent about building a replica of Jackson Hole are interesting. Cheney, I believe, is still in the east. Think he has to be pretty close to medical assistance and he isn’t that popular.

I thought that was fun looking back at pictures when you and Nina were little. I thought she may have been interested.

Arleen and I are doing quite well. We take trips into the mountains quite a lot. She is legally blind with macular degeneration but she does very well. She has had quite as few sick days since you and Emi were here.

Lets keep in touch Michael, it’s so good to hear from you.

Love, Grandpa Eddy

(Note: Grandpa Robert Eddy lives in a town called Cody, Wyoming, named for the 19th century showman “Buffalo” Bill Cody, and situated at the eastern gate of Yellowstone National Park. Last time we visited Grandpa Eddy, he took us south to the Grand Teton mountain range and into a valley called Jackson Hole, where the small elite ski town of Jackson was home to ex-US Vice President Dick Cheney and John Walton (son and heir of Wal-Mart founder), and where nobody looks twice when Sting, Sandra Bullock, or Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston whiz down Dick’s Ditch on snowboards.”)

QU may ask, “What is your purpose in doing this?” And so if news can never be fully objective, there must be an agenda in there somewhere, or at least a tendency, an implication. “Gentrifier” could be one in this case, as per recent discussions at HomeShop, the Other’s guilt, or being accused of cultural colonialism. Production of any sort could then be nullified, re-organised, rendered meaningless…but to muster up the words—oh!—now wouldn’t that be amazing?

The press was seen as a tool, a transmission belt for public opinion, a marketplace of ideas. It was the platform for public discussion of issues of local as well as national importance. Hence the Chinese government “is well advised to consult public opinion” through newspapers. Pictorial evidence from November 1907 ironically underlines this point. A huge pot is filled with a burning substance labeled 舆论 yulun, “public opinion.” The characters on the lid read: “The power is with the court.” It is apparent, however, that the fire inside the pot will not easily be controlled. Public opinion seethes visibly in spit of attempts to “put a lid on it”: clouds of smoke and flames escape not just through the gap between the pot and the lid but also from a hole at the bottom. [p. 16]

Of course it seems ridiculous to say ‘subversion’, just as it is to render pure identity, forms like ‘global’ can never be slick surfaces but would rather seethe like pots.

“The past is being drafted (consciously or unconsciously) into the service of present needs and purposes.”
—Paul Cohen

A cartoon that appeared in the 申报 Shenbao in October 1907 depicts the role of that alien medium, the newspaper: the caricature shows two buildings, an elaborate one labeled  宫庭 gongting, “the court,” and a much simpler one named 民间 minjian, “the people.” From the court,  秘密消息 mimixiaoxi, “the secret news,” is being transferred by telegraph to the people–but not directly. The node at which the telegraph line from the court and that leading to the people meet is labeled 外国 waiguo, “the West”. This image echoes a declaration made by the Shenbao in its first issue: “新闻纸之制疮自西人搏舆中土 The making of newspapers has been transmitted by Westerners to Chinese lands”. [p. 23-24]

Maybe that time of trying to ‘integrate’ can be laughed at now in retrospect, dynamics change here all the time and I’m just trying to keep up. Would it be possible to propagate from the perspective of distance (BJ to GZ), without being thrust into a commune-like resort of separatism? Words gather for the sake of themselves, sadly just another kind of branding, but what other pretext can there be for the gathering, words and identities on paper, another party?

Since the foreign Xinbao 新报 (= new bao) was a bao just the same, it was bound to be seen as akin to the Jingbao 京报 (capital bao). Foreign-style newspapers were aware that their audience’s perception of the newspaper was conditioned by their familiarity with the jingbao. They were quick to exploit this expectation: among other things, they reprinted the court gazette, imitated its format and punctuation, and adopted a name (xinbao, literally new announcements) formed in analogy to that of the court gazette (jingbao, literally capital announcements). They evidently felt that this foreign medium needed some “Chinese” legitimation. Why, then, did they not pursue the potentially convincing argument that the newspaper was really just a continuation of a indigenous Chinese tradition? Since by the late Qing finding Chinese origins for Western knowledge to be introduced to China (西学中原 Xixue Zhongyuan) had become a well-established rhetorical practice,  would this not have been a striking argument? [p. 25]

The principal difference, then, between foreign papers and their indigenous counterparts is the fact that the newspapers spread news by everyone from everywhere, whereas the Chinese papers report only official news. Naturally, the number of its readers was small and continued to dwindle. Moreover, the increasing centralization of politics, which peaked during the Qing and which was accompanied by a rigid system of secrecy laws (preventing the spread of all the “secret news” hinted at in Fig. I.2) confined the Jingbao to only the most commonplace court news and thus rather “boring” information. [p. 26]

Hurrah to boring news from everyone, all the time. Is it impossible to find a ‘new’ language starkly founded in realism, unimaginative?

… the Xinbao, the new(s)paper, was neither sold nor perceived as a foreign import. Instead, there was a strong tendency to domesticate it for Chinese use and Chinese understanding, for only thus—so it must have appeared to China’s newspaper makers—could it be an effective agent of change. [p. 31]

Indeed, however much the Shenbao may have profited from its foreign background, more often than not it had to defend itself against charges that it was a foreign medium or that it was pro-Western. this is the reason for its insistence that it relied on a Chinese readership and was thus written in Chinese by Chinese according to Chinese customs to be sold to Chinese. Like many other foreign-style papers, the Shenbao took pains to adapt to Chinese “idiom” (kouqi 口气). In the process, it created a “new” language with a “new” syntax that made the newspaper an acceptable and understandable means of communication. [p. 32]

Badiou, truth, new. Trajectory, 你的目的是什么?

All quotes above taken from A Newspaper for China?: Power, Identity, and Change in Shanghai’s News Media, 1872-1912.

By Felipe Escudero and Deborah Tchoudjinoff

(点击放大 / click to enlarge)

Che Fei and CU OFFICE’s trans-community: Jin Street Model

Trans-Community space usage distribution. 金街模型空间利用展示。


Gentrification and the Everyday

By Edward Sanderson

Part 3: Everyday Life

Occupation, as I talked about in the previous part, is an expression of the Everyday and an important part of Everyday Life involves the active occupation of space, for example in the way the HomeShop has come to occupy its new site. The consequences of occupation threaten institutionalisation, which may lead to gentrification in its imposition of permanent change on an area.
On the other hand institutionalisation protects HomeShop’s work from over-ephemerality or instant dispersal. The positive side of this comes from an example of activism, as Isaac Mao points out:

“… In China, many dissidents and activists are opening up their personal information. Why? Because previously they just wanted to close it down to protect themselves without being tracked by the government. Someone might want people to know his position so he can do things secretly. But now many are opening up this information because they see the social power. Once they’ve opened up their position, home phone, and travel plans, more people in the cloud know where they are at the same time as the authorities. He is protected even as he is tracked.”

Gentrification and the Everyday

By Edward Sanderson

Part 2
In the previous part, I ended by providing a definition of gentrification, as I believe it is generally understood. But, going beyond this and thinking affectively, my original comment on Michael’s post suggests:

“…an insidious insinuation and transformation of a situation, initially through a process of ‘filling a gap’ or perhaps ‘taking advantage of an opportunity.’ At that stage not necessarily a negative activity, but one which opens the door—provides justification—for the ‘real’ ‘gentry’ to usurp those conditions which initiated it…”

In that comment I went on to question whether the Heyri community in Seoul was gentrification per se. This broader definition of gentrification is something I’ve begun to come to terms with in my alternate example of New Malden (brought up in Part 1 of this series).

I also suggested that the nature of the changes typical of the strict definition of gentrification perhaps more applicable to the Beijing situation in which HomeShop finds itself (a subject that Michael began to deal with in his original post), in terms of the socio-economic changes that it represents.