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Panyu: Rural Becoming Urban?-Margaret Crawford,Max Hirsh,Dorothy S. Tang

2015.11.19

Lying at the heart of the Pearl River Delta, Panyu is neither here nor there: an in-between landscape­­­­ of industrial estates, villages, and farms, superhighways and ancient canals, populated by villagers who have deep historical roots in the region, and by more recent migrants who have flocked to Panyu’s workshops, factories, and office parks. Located on the fringes of larger urban centers such as Guangzhou and Dongguan, Panyu’s polycentric landscape is often overlooked, or worse, discounted as a backwater, filled with reminders of Guangdong’s rural past that have ‘not yet’ been modernized and urbanized.

We argue, however, that it is precisely these overlapping ‘in-between’ valences—between rural and urban, between agriculture and industry, and between villagers and migrants—that make Panyu an excellent lens for interpreting broader changes in the social, aesthetic, and economic landscapes of China’s megacity regions. Rather than charting a progressive and irreversible urbanization of the countryside, our study of Panyu demonstrates how the creative juxtaposition of rural, urban, and suburban functions has produced an exceptional heterogeneity of spatial arrangements and village transformation strategies. 

In this exhibition, we introduce four archetypal forms of village development. Through the productive combination of visual, archival, and ethnographic research methods, we aim to advance a new understanding of the present conditions and future potentials of China’s megacity regions. In so doing, we question prevailing ideas about the future of Chinese cities—which envision an intensification of high-density urban cores and a counterpart decline of outlying regions—by drawing attention to the diversity and dynamism taking place in periurban zones such as Panyu. An exploration of four villages thus increases our awareness of social and spatial experiments that are being conducted on the margins of major urban centers, and that open up the possibility of alternative development models that an excessive fixation on high-density urbanization might otherwise foreclose.