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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Creating Emergent Futures in Chinese Communities
4: In Search of Community on Beijing's Urban Fringes
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
International College of Innovation, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (Republic of China)
This paper examines why the concept and practice of “community” has emerged in Beijing’s urban villages. The everyday life of migrant workers, as temporary residents in urban villages that are doomed for demolition, has been experienced as remote, alienated, and transient. Challenging such dominant images of migrants’ future, activists founded several grassroots community service centers (shequ fuwu zhongxin) to create an atmosphere of solidarity. What does it mean to call an urban village crowded with rural migrant workers a community? How are the bottom-up migrant community centers in the urban villages different from the top-down community building (shequ jianshe) in urban neighborhoods? How is the boundary between the rural and the urban reconstructed through migrant community development? I examine how “doing community” (zuo shequ), or developing a sense of community among rural migrant workers in their neighborhoods, has guided an endeavor to contest different imagination of community. Utopia, NGO enclaves, and home to bandits represent three categories of spaces where the imagination of community competed and reconstructed social work, migrant life, and urban governance. Meanwhile, spatial enclosure in the form of lockdowns has intensified social exclusion in post-pandemic Beijing. Rather than merely displaying contentious state-society relations, the dynamics of contested imagination signal the future of the migrant community that is simultaneously ideal, constrained, and bitter.