小谷围 Xiaoguwei: Development 1 Art 0

The 小谷围 Xiaoguwei artist village in Southern Guangzhou, home of the Lingnan School of painting where almost 200 artists, architects, professors and designers from Guangzhou, Hong Kong and the city’s fine arts universities have lived and worked over the last 10 years, building their own houses is under threat from corrupt local government plans to demolish the whole area and turn it into the biggest University City in the country. While officially the University City will be a new campus area for the city’s nine universities, the mundane truth is it will be a vast image project and much of the land is being sold off to commercial interests. The residents are hoping the newly amended constitution, which offers protection of personal property rights, and an administrative review to seek exemption from the acquisition will preserve the village before tomorrow’s deadline.

The controversial development is receiving attention as unlike many other similar requisitions where the dwellers are the urban and rural poor, the residents here are well-respected and have high social and economic status. Radio Free Asia reported yesterday:

Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer representing the owners’ interests in the battle against the Guangzhou municipal government, said the entire University City concept was simply a way of earning money for the local authorities, now that Beijing had cracked down on the recent craze in “development zones.”

[Beijing-based civil rights activist Hou Wenzhuo] said all the Xiaoguwei artists received property and land deeds in 2002, which should entitle them to the land for 70 years. “The deeds are legal documents and should be taken as commitments made by the state,”she said. “But the municipal government of Guangzhou has unilaterally invalidated the legal documents and announced that it will retrieve the land owned by the state to develop a University City.”

In addition to this village, the suburb of 沙河顶 Shaheding, is also home to many of the city’s performing arts companies, artists and musicians. 15 years ago, the move to this part of town put them on the poor outskirts, and neighbouring 天河 Tian He was still shaking off its rice paddy history. Now Tian He is a dead-ringer for Hong Kong, with 90 storey Borg Cube Skyscrapers, and development is edging its way towards and into the artists’ enclave. A decision like the Xiaoguwei acquisition in Shaheding would in one single stroke wipe out much of the contemporary art in Guangzhou, and observing how the municipal government behaves, it would seem they wouldn’t really care.