Unexpected Laboratories Within the State-Sanctioned Laboratory: Shenzhen’s Urban Villages

  • Michael Castle-Miller Politas


When Deng Xaoping announced his special economic zone “experiment” in 1979, few could have predicted the startling growth that would occur in Shenzhen. In just over three decades, the collection of fishing and agricultural villages on the border of Hong Kong grew from a population of 300,000 to 14 million (Feng, 2011). Surprisingly, Shenzhen’s growth did not come at the expense of displacement of the original population as zones in India and many other countries have (e.g., Cook, 2013). Instead of squashing the small, rural clan-based villages, the city was forced to build around them and the villagers became a rare,elite landowning class in a country in which all urban land is supposed to be owned by the government. Despite the Shenzhen government’s efforts to erase and absorb them into its own vision of city civility, the villagers resisted and held onto their lands, remaking them into chengzhongcun, or “urban villages.” The urban villages became accidental experimental enclaves within the larger planned experimental enclave of the city. Today, about seven million indigenous villagers and migrant tenants inhabit the 318 remaining urban villages. This paper argues that, in keeping with the experimental ethos of Shenzhen, the urban villages should be viewed as their own inadvertent experiments that demonstrate the ability of relaxed planning and residency regulations to promote equity, inclusion, and economic development. Part one will describe Shenzhen’s rapid growth and the formation of its urban villages. Part two willdiscuss the dominant discourses concerning the urban villages. Part three will explore the effects of the urban villages as means of economic growth and inclusion for both indigenous inhabitants and migrants

How to Cite
Castle-Miller, M. (2022). Unexpected Laboratories Within the State-Sanctioned Laboratory: Shenzhen’s Urban Villages. Journal of Special Jurisdictions, 3(1), 48-59. Retrieved from http://ojs.instituteforcompgov.org/index.php/jsj/article/view/42