chapter  13
17 Pages

‘Three olds redevelopment’: advances in urban upgrading in Guangzhou


As is well known, China has been witnessing tremendous changes in all spheres of society, politics and economics since it started opening up to the world in the late 1970s. During the fi rst stages of rapid development, the Chinese government fi rst and foremost gave attention to economic growth and – in the realm of urban planning – to urban expansion, making use of the easy approach of green-fi eld development on former agricultural land expropriated from peasants living in villages surrounding the city. Only built-up residential areas were left to those expropriated farmers – usually consisting of around 10 per cent to 12 per cent of the former territory of the whole village – and further managed by the village committee and the village collectives. The villagers, in this way deprived of their sources of agricultural income, had to strike new paths in order to make a living. According to the land regulations promulgated by the provincial government of Guangdong in 1989 in the ‘Regulations of Guangdong Province on Administration of Planning and Construction of Townships (Towns) and Villages’ (Guangdong Province People’s Government No. 134, 1989), the utilization of rural land can be decided upon collectively by the rural population. In 1993, the State Council issued Regulations on Village and Town Planning and Construction Management (State Council PRC No. 116, 1993), suggesting that village and town governments take on the responsibility for planning land utilization. However, despite these regulations, village committees usually ignored the guidelines. As a matter of fact, there is no formally established land planning in rural areas. How the land is utilized is wholly decided by village committees and the villagers themselves. In order to cope with their new circumstances as a jobless and low educated population, the villagers took the opportunity of renting out their residential property to the migrant workers streaming into the villages seeking for cheap accommodation. The more the migrant population increased, the more the villagers arbitrarily enlarged their houses to accommodate more people and get more income. This way, densely built-up areas emerged, with extremely narrow passages, ‘handshaking houses’ ( woshoulou ) or ‘kissing houses’ ( louwenlou ) that lie closely next to or even touch each other, and are of poor quality. With the passing of time, the urban area grew incessantly until many of the former villages were totally

surrounded by the city, now being transformed into collective enclaves. Thus, the so-called phenomenon of ‘urban villages’ emerged. For a long time, this unwelcome outcome of massive urban growth and its related problems was ignored and neglected by different governments, as the benefi ts of urban villages providing housing for urgently needed fl oating workers outweighed the negative effects.