Defending the commons and acting for the 'public good' in a Chinese urbanized village
(Université de Lausanne)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines how the public good is defined in a former village that has recently become part of Shenzhen city. It focuses more particularly on mobilizations initiated by the community to defend commons that were threatened by government plans in the process of urbanization.
Paper long abstract:
This paper focuses on notions of the public good and public goods provisioning in a Chinese village-in-the-city. In China, many rural villages have become engulfed by expanding cities and host large numbers of temporary migrant workers. Collectives are still in control of the real estate income drawn from their collective land and as a legacy of a long-standing urban/rural divide, they are also in charge of the delivery of public goods - welfare and public services. The level of public-goods is therefore often very low, and is generally restricted to village natives, excluding migrants. The literature on villages-in-the-city often depicts them as victims of the absence or low involvement of the state in ensuring proper public good provisioning. Here I look at how the public good is defined in a former village that has recently become part of Shenzhen city. Its native inhabitants form a closely-knit community almost entirely constituted of same-lineage members. The notion of gongyi shiye (public good) is commonly used in reference to projects that contribute to the community's welfare and prosperity. I examine two collective mobilisations that were initiated locally to counter decisions made at higher levels of government in the process of urbanization. These decisions threatened the existence of two of the community's commons - the founding ancestor's gravesite, and the elementary school. I reflect on the uses and understandings of the notion of the "public good" and what it reveals about the particular ways in which the newly urbanized members of the community claim a "right to the city".
Governing urban commons