Trapped in Transformation: Negotiating Inner City Redevelopment in a Chinese Coastal City
Speaker: Philipp DEMGENSKI (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Time: 12:30 p.m., 6 March, 2015 (Friday)
Venue: Room 401 Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK
Philipp Demgenski’s seminar focused on the process of attempted redevelopment in Qingdao, China. Qingdao was a colony of Germany for 17 years, and this historical period marked the start of city planning and development in the region. There have been various plans since the 1990s to redevelop the downtown to make use of this heritage. Yet, the redevelopment process has currently come to a deadlock, which is not normally seen in China. Demgenski’s ethnographic research investigated into the reasons contributing to and the consequences of such stagnation. The liyuan (裡院), where lots of different families had resided, was his field site in Qingdao.
Philipp Demgenski discussed the different “groups” that had substantial influence on the redevelopment process — the Government, the residents and the old town protectors. The three groups held different views and concerns about the varied benefits or disadvantages urban planning might bring them. Government officials wished to create a “preserved” and “scenic” neighbourhood in the area similar to Xintiandi (新天地) in Shanghai (a kind of “soft” urbanisation), and they believed that success of this project could directly affect their mobility in the hierarchy. Residents would like to have a good compensation and improvement in their living conditions. At the same time they refused to cooperate due to the notion of “self-reliance”, the feeling of being “left behind” and the disappointment caused by the non-transparency and broken promises of the government. Old town protectors were enthusiasts that called for “authentic” preservation of the inner city. They believed in “absolute historical truth” and saw old buildings as the “extension of a fixed and unshakable past”.
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The varied perceptions of different “groups” towards urban space had hindered the progress of redevelopment project; and Demgenski referred the discrepancy between the “imagined Xintiandi” and reality as a kind of liminality. He concluded that the stagnation in Qingdao redevelopment project should not be understood as having a single cause; instead, a number of circumstances contributed that had taken place simultaneously.