Blog

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Women and Land Rights in China

Posted on by Tina Novero

 

By Susan Moffat, Project Director, Global Urban Humanities Initiative

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China promises women equal rights. But in reality, many women have to petition for years to secure equal legal rights to their village lands. Their dogged persistence is a striking example of the way quiet, long-term activism can bring about changes to people’s “right to the city,” said Lanchih Po at a recent talk sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley.

“Their activism is not photogenic,” said Po, an associate adjunct professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley, who described women who singly or in groups of two or three show up at village offices without banners or fanfare month after month, or bring lawsuits that can stretch on for decades.  “They are considered a headache by local officials…they are persistent for years and years. They just don’t go away. You should see the faces of the officials when the women show up—it’s like they’ve seen a ghost.”

Po studied a town where a woman named Hui protested at the village office three to four times a week for more than ten years.  “I’m so angry - I have difficulty breathing…I can’t stand how they look down on women,” Hui said.

For several decades, Po has been conducting research on villages in southern China’s Pearl River Delta, focusing on the activism of women seeking their share of rights to communally-owned rural land. In the fast-urbanizing, densely populated area around Guangzhou and Dongguan, just up the Pearl River from Hong Kong, these citified “rural” lands often generate significant income when used as sites for factories or real estate development.

The activism of women takes place in the jurisdictions known as “villages,” which have far more autonomy from the central government in China than “cities” do–even when the villages are surrounded by metropolitan sprawl and physically look quite urban. There is an ongoing battle for power between these islands of village government and the central government.  

The villages jealously guard their right to self-determination, including the right to limit the number of villagers who are named as members. By limiting who counts as a citizen of the village, the more-or-less democratically elected village leaders maintain the value of each citizen’s share of the communal land and the revenue it generates.

Excluding village women who marry men from outside the jurisdiction is a key strategy for reducing the dilution of shares.  But in recent decades, these “waijianü”  or “out-married women” have been lobbying for their share of the villages where they or their ancestors were born. When the village claims women are no longer citizens of the village because of divorce, widowhood, or “outmarriage,” the women find they are counted as aliens in their native place.

So they petition higher levels of government for protection, much as African Americans in the American South looked to the Federal government to protect their rights against discrimination by local authorities.  Still, the central government struggles to enforce national laws.

“In China there is no shortage of beautiful laws, whether environmental or relating to people’s rights, but the problem is always implementation,” says Po.

Po says the protesting women in the villages are asserting their rights in a way that is rare in China—by citing the Constitution. “They are asserting their right to the city and their right to change the urbanization process not only through issues of resource distribution but by demanding acknowledgment of their membership in the community.”  These issues are not unique to China, said Po, noting that this kind of “politics of recognition” (following Charles Taylor) does not solely have to do with economic benefit, but also the right to political visibility.

On the one hand, urban village jurisdictions in China represent important zones of resistance to central state control where unique urban physical form and social relations flourish. On the other hand, they are sometimes bastions of discriminatory local customs. When local elected officials deny the citizenship of people in their midst and more distant unelected state officials seek to force that recognition, the picture of democracy and the right to the city becomes very complicated, indeed.

You can see Po’s research on other aspects of Chinese urban villages here:

Asymmetrical Integration: Public Finance Deprivation in China's Urbanized Villages,” Environmental Planning A, Vol. 44 Issue 12, January 1, 2012.

Property Rights Reforms and Changing Grassroots Governance in China’s Urban—Rural Peripheries: The Case of Changping District in Beijing,” Urban Studies, Vol. 48 Issue 3, February 2, 2011.


Reflection: Using Bodies to Measure Public Space

Posted on by Ashley Hickman

Environmental design starts with the body as well as the site. In the course Cities and Bodies, taught by Global Urban Humanities Project Director Susan Moffat, students from a variety of disciplines are exploring the physical dimensions of urban form and experience. On September 27, 2016, choreographer Erika Chong Shuch and urban designer Ghigo di Tommaso led the class in exercises designed to sharpen awareness of how we use our senses to understand space and place. They also discussed their cross-disciplinary course Public Space: Placemaking and Performance. Undergraduate Architecture student Ashley Hickman describes the two-hour session: During the presentation, Chong Shuch said she was a performer who…


Publication: No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life

Posted on by Anne Jonas
Filed under: Art, Geography, Los Angeles,

The first Global Urban Humanities research studio, “No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life” took place in Spring of 2014, co-taught by Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Anne Walsh (Art Practice). With six PhD students, three MFA candidates, and one undergraduate student from a diverse set of disciplinary backgrounds, the course took on Los Angeles and the multiple themes generated by the concept of mobility (and its inverse: immobility). Over the course of the semester, students visited LA multiple times and explored the city via car, bus, light rail, walking, and running, focusing on the circulation of bodies, stories, designed forms,…


Rue Mapp on Outdoor Afro and the Nature of Race

Posted on by Crister Brady
Filed under: Oakland,

The stereotypical American explorer of wilderness is usually portrayed as a white male. The word “urban” is often a code word for “black.” Oakland native Rue Mapp stands stereotypes on their head. She grew up with a deep appreciation of nature developed over summers at her grandparents’ ranch in rural Lake County. She has become nationally recognized for her leadership in encouraging fellow African Americans to get outdoors. On September 13th, she came to speak to the course Cities and Bodies, taught by Global Urban Humanities Project Director Susan Moffat. Crister Brady, a student in the class who is pursuing…


Reawakening the Sensory Network

Posted on by Susan Moffat

On Saturday, February 27, Ava Roy, Artistic Director of the We Players site-integrated theater group led students in a workshop at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge to learn methods of using movement and bodily awareness to investigate public spaces.  For a complete description of the workshop, which was sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and other experiments in dance and architecture, see this blogpost. REAWAKENING THE SENSORY NETWORK by Jason Prado, Master in Landscape Architecture candidate My recent fascination with Lawrence Halprin's design process and the development of my studio design is what brought me to Ava Roy's…


On Choreography, Power and Public Space

Posted on by Susan Moffat

by Susan Moffat, Project Director, Global Urban Humanities Initiative How do bodies construct and inhabit public space? In the past week I had the opportunity to participate in three transformative workshops—two sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative--that used dance, movement, and mindfulness to explore public space. Teatro Campesino in Wurster Hall, the Central Valley and Mexico City 2/25/2016 In a narrow, high-sided concrete courtyard hidden in an outdoor corner of the Brutalist Wurster Hall, Kinan Valdez of Teatro Campesino asked students and faculty to growl and shout; to walk, crawl, and leap; and to engage with props such as…


Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Keynote Presentation

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Mexico, Symposium,

Click here for VIDEO of the Keynote Presentation. The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based…


Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Panel 1 | Modernity in Process

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Mexico, Symposium,

Click here for VIDEO of the Panel 1 presentations. The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a…


Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Exhibit(ion)s and Publications

Posted on by Genise Choy

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and…


Art+Village+City: The Website

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art+Village+City,

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta was one of two interdisciplinary courses sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio utilized a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta. Students from the Art+Village+City studio have been working hard over the summer to turn the class's experiences and documentation into polished products to share with the world, in the form of a catalogue, a website and…