Urban village (China)

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Urban villages beside skyscrapers, near Huaqiangbei, Shenzhen circa 2005

Urban villages (Chinese: 城中村; literally: "village in city") are villages that appear on both the outskirts and the downtown segments of major Chinese cities, including Shenzhen and Guangzhou. They are surrounded by skyscrapers, transportation infrastructures, and other modern urban constructions. Urban villages are a unique phenomenon that formed part of China’s urbanization efforts.

Urban villages are commonly inhabited by the poor and transient, and as such they are associated with squalor, overcrowding and social problems. However, they are also among the liveliest areas in some cities and are notable for affording economic opportunity to newcomers to the city.


Modern life in China's urban village is vastly different from the traditional agricultural way of life due to the lack of farmland. A new lifestyle has developed in which landowners build multi-story houses (which is allocated by the village collective) and rent them to the city’s floating population, who are not able to afford an apartment in the better parts of the city.

Urban villages are not regulated by any form of centralised urban planning. Most of them are heavily populated, intensely developed, and lack infrastructure. Some villages' building density is greater than 70%. They are composed of crowded multi-story buildings ranging from three to five (or more) floors, and narrow alleys, which are difficult for vehicles to pass through. Inside villages, it can be dark and damp year round and lighting may have to be kept on even during daylight hours. However, many villages have designated areas at their core which house cultural facilities and examples of historic architecture, while others have special shopping and market streets, sometimes reserved for pedestrians.

On the one hand, the villages serve to provide cheap accommodation for the impoverished population who come from the rural areas to try to make a living in the city. On the other hand, they have become the breeding grounds for social problems such as crime, drug addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution. Some consider urban villages to be a form of slum with Chinese characteristics. Whether these issues are a function of economics or spatial realities is up for debate.

Causes and solutions[edit]

Although perspectives vary, the household registration system of the People's Republic of China is considered to be one of the fundamental causes for the development of urban villages. The villages used to be located on the outskirts of the city, but with the expansion of the city, farmlands formerly cultivated by the villages were compulsorily purchased and turned into urban land by the government whereas the villages themselves were reserved due to the high social and economic costs: to compensate the villagers for their lost dwellings, the government had to arrange jobs and larger apartments in the city for these unskilled villagers. Such inefficient planning was usually abandoned during the early period of China's reforms.

Soon after their purchase, the villages tend to be surrounded by rising skyscrapers. though situated in the midst of the urban area, they are still "rural" and villagers still share a rural household identity in terms of municipal administration. Consequently, the villages become de facto independent kingdoms, outside of urban planning, infrastructure construction, and other forms of administrative regulations and public policy.

Because of the prosperity of the neighbouring area, the value of the villages' land also increased dramatically. Village landowners became rich landlords and built much larger buildings in the villages, making any urban renewal planning impossible due to the huge corresponding compensation that would have to be paid. While the villages are often a hub for a transient population, authorities are wary of any plans to rapidly remove them, fearing possible negative social effects and instability.

See also[edit]


  1. 罗赤,透视城中村,出自《读书》,2001年,第9期。
  2. 马星,“城中村”问题的形成与更新改造,出自《特区经济》,2007年1月。
  3. 代堂平,关注“城中村”问题,出自《社会》,2002年,第5期。

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