Villages in the City

Hui Xie
Visiting Scholar in St. John’s University
Associate Professor
Graphic Design

School of Art and Design
Shenzhen Polytechnic
XiLi Lake, Nanshan District
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China

“Men and women do not want to move back, but the mark of youth has been branded in their heart. This is not their hometown, but with a deep nostalgia as well.”

As a unique specimen of Chinese urbanization, the villages “DaChong” and “GangXia” in Shenzhen, China represent a bridge between rural and urban. With the huge gap between disadvantageous groups and mainstream society, the existence of villages in the city created a buffer zone between low-income workers and the high cost of living. Unfortunately, in recent years because of ongoing urban renewal development, the villages have been razed and are now flat ground. Victims of high speed economic development, the villages of Shenzhen are disappearing, and because of their absence the names “DaChong” and “GangXia” are becoming as meaningless and vague. The multimedia installation “Villages in the City” incorporates vernacular typography used for signage with phrases like “ I LOVE YOU” and “I MISS YOU” to explore what should we learn and remember from these places.

The names “DaChong” and “GangXia”and shapes used to create their Chinese characters are data carriers as are the handwritten advertisements found on the walls of buildings. They provide with a wealth of living information about daily life in the most densely inhabited district in Shenzhen. Documentary photography, neon and stainless steel characters are used to create compositions, which reveal traces of the environment where immigrant working class citizens used to live. Text and imagery of messages from people for looking for or advertising jobs, information about selling Chinese herbal medicines, and telephone numbers of movers are combined with house numbers, street names, and the price tags from street foods to produce site-specific installations which serve as constructive links to former residents while recreating memories of village nights. “Villages in the City” is a memorial for the loss of history and an exploration aspect of village life that should be remembered.