‘Nice apartments, no jobs’: how former villagers experienced displacement and resettlement in the western suburbs of Shanghai

Blog by Yanpeng Jiang, Paul Waley and Sara González

2 Mar 2018, 6 p.m.
Yanpeng Jiang, Paul Waley and Sara González



The vertiginous process of urban expansion in China has led to massive displacement as people find themselves dispossessed of their means of making a living and moved into new resettlement housing. This has created dissatisfaction and protest in countless cases while at the same time being met with a level of passive acceptance and even apparent welcome in others. In the case that we introduce here, that of Hongqiao in the west of Shanghai, displaced former villagers were deeply dissatisfied with the compensation they received and with what they saw as the failure of local government to provide them with the means to earn a living.


In 2006 the municipal government of Shanghai began work on the upgrade of its transport hub in the west of the city and the construction of a new commercial centre to rival Pudong in the east. The scale of the Hongqiao project was massive, even for a country that is used to bombastic urban projects. As a result of this project, over 11,000 registered villagers and countless more unregistered migrants lost their home and their means of subsistence. Our paper uses a questionnaire survey and interviews to gauge the situation of the displaced villagers in their new resettlement housing  compared with their previous lives. In overwhelming numbers, the displaced villagers told us that while they appreciated their new surroundings, they had lost their main source of income from renting out housing and so faced serious problems in making ends meet. Our research leads us to conclude that the state failed to provide the displaced residents with adequate sources of income after their resettlement.


In this part of semi-urban semi-rural suburban Shanghai, local villagers earned often substantial amounts of income by renting out accommodation to migrants in quarters that they themselves had built without official permission (Figure 1). The compensation package they received failed to reflect the extent of this contribution to their income, and most of them found it totally inadequate as a foothold into a new life. For its part, however, the local government believed that it had satisfied its obligations to the residents by making available the purchase of additional new apartments at subsidised prices and by providing various public facilities for the residents (Figure 2).


Resettled residents expressed to us their frustration at being unable to rent out their new apartments and disappointment at the lack of help from local government. Typical of the comments we received are: “We are surrounded by luxury properties and office towers. Our [Resettlement] Community has become a new village-in-the-city”. And: “The land and house we have lost were the source of our livelihood. After demolition, our life has no security.”


Each resettlement project differs in crucial ways, even within one city, making generalisation difficult and leading to wildly different research conclusions. It is important to recognise this variability, as indeed we have done in our paper. We need too to acknowledge the fact our respondents were not unanimous in their dissatisfaction. Not only that, but our first-named author was involved in numerous conversations with local government officials, some of whom he has known for many years. We were thus able to appreciate the considerable difficulties under which local government laboured, its hands often tied by factors beyond its immediate control. Nevertheless, we believe that as researchers we need to convey a central message from our research, one that relates to our understanding of the broader picture of urban change in China. In that light, the following quotation from a resettled former villager encapsulates our findings and resonates with our sense of wider experiences in China: “We are treated as problems to be dealt with rather than [residents] to be served.”


Figure 1 Villagers’ housing before demolition. The white house visible in the middle ground of this photograph, rented out to migrants, was built in the courtyard of the red brick house on the left. Source: Huacao Township Government.


Figure 2 The apartment blocks of the Hongqiao resettlement housing. Source: the authors.


Read the article ‘Nice apartments, no jobs’: how former villagers experienced displacement and resettlement in the western suburbs of Shanghai on Urban Studies - Online First.



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