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Keywords:

  • China;
  • cities;
  • postsocialism;
  • Shenzhen;
  • urban space;
  • special economic zones;
  • urban villages;
  • semiotics

ABSTRACT

This essay examines the ongoing process of postsocialist transformation at the intersection of cultural and economic forces in an urban environment through the example of the so-called “urban villages”(chengzhongcun) in Shenzhen, China, a booming southern Chinese city and former Special Economic Zone next to Hong Kong. This essay ethnographically examines the role of former rural collectives encircled by a city that has exploded from farmland to an export-driven city of over 14 million people in little over one generation. These villages form an internal other that is both the antithesis and the condition of possibility for Shenzhen city. By co-opting the market economy in ways that weave them into the fabric of the contemporary global city, the villages become as much an experiment as the Special Economic Zone itself. This essay analyzes the urban–rural divide as complicit in each other's continued production and effacement and explores how village and city exploit the ambiguities of their juxtaposition in the making of Shenzhen.