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Who Makes the City? Beijing’s Urban Villages as Sites of Ideological Contestation

Hayward, Jane; Jakimów, Małgorzata

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Jane Hayward


Inside Beijing are hundreds of urban villages. Originally farming villages, now engulfed by urban expansion, they persist due to China's segregated urban-rural property system. Inhabitants are often still classed as 'peasants', despite being inside the city. Since most have had their agricultural land requisitioned for urban construction, they instead build multiple extensions to their houses to rent to rural migrants seeking cheap accommodation. In some cases, village populations have increased ten-fold as migrants have flooded in, causing cramped conditions and overloading village infrastructure. Urban villages have in recent years emerged as key sites of ideological and political contestation. For local officials and planners envisioning gleaming world cities brimming with advanced technology and highly skilled workers, these are dirty and backward 'urban cancers', enclaves of the ‘low-end population’, and obstacles to their visions of the city as embodiment of global modernity. An opposing set of scholars and policymakers view these villages as essential to city life, channels for low-cost labour to service urban elites, and gateways to modernity for those formerly excluded. Within the urban villages, groups of migrant-activists defy the statist vision of the city. Through cultural performances and visual representations, they struggle to promote an urban modernity in which they are included as active participants. This paper explores how Beijing's urban villages constitute a key site of ideological contestation over what the city should be, and whom urban life is for.


Hayward, J., & Jakimów, M. (2022). Who Makes the City? Beijing’s Urban Villages as Sites of Ideological Contestation. positions: asia critique, 30(3), 455-477.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 8, 2021
Online Publication Date Aug 1, 2022
Publication Date 2022-08
Deposit Date Feb 8, 2021
Publicly Available Date Feb 9, 2021
Journal positions: asia critique
Print ISSN 1067-9847
Electronic ISSN 1527-8271
Publisher Duke University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 3
Pages 455-477


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