Villages and historical sites
Since renovation and modernization stand for development, local governments have rather few incentives to preserve the architectural, cultural heritage that is still left in the villages of both rural and urban areas after Mao’s “cultural revolution” in the 1960s and 70s. The government’s aim is to keep up with the modernization of other industrial countries rather than conserving buildings that, in their eyes, stand for underdevelopment. The focus of the government lays on economic growth and modernization, of which, like everywhere in the world, large cities are the center.
But when I think of European cities, usually having an ancient quarter and a historic town center, this does not portrait underdevelopment, since improvement of infrastructure and the combination of historic with modern elements have been pretty successful, in my opinion. Tourism is boosting, look at Cologne, Germany, Bozen, Italy, Paris, France, Rome, Italy or Barcelona, Spain. Their history and historical sites give them a certain flair and make the cities so famous. Historical sites have become a “must see”.
However, and obviously, values and attitudes in different countries differ. During the Mao period and his mobilization of the youth, also known as the Red Guards, to destroy most cultural buildings between 1966 and 1976 in the country, many relicts got lost – they wanted to get rid of everything related to culture – for reasons of power. And since economically, China has long been behind other nations, it is now a high priority to invest into economic development and growth. Cities are the window of the international world, and villages are the window of local culture.
As I saw today in Hubei village, local culture and historical sites are obviously being abandoned in some parts of this region. People there might be used to the conditions there, but they live and eat in very few space, the sewerage system and waste management are not in good functionality, as well as the condition of the buildings. The banners we saw said “this is our home”, and they want to make it a better place. Imagine, the banners are from the government! So, the “home” needs improvements, which is in the government’s opinion nothing but modernization demolishing the old buildings including their history and everything relating to it. But I feel like, when you call a place home or the German word “Heimat”, then it has a meaningful intangible aspect to be considered as well. Identity and history cannot be reconstructed by means of refurbishment and modernization. They require time – and life.
In Hubei village you can find the largest concentration of historical architecture in Shenzhen. It is about 180 meters wide and 120 meters long. There remains a family shrine, a village gate, wells and about 200 old residential houses. There is the old part of Hubei, a few hundred years old, and a new one rebuilt (ancient architecture has been demolished) in the 1990s. The ancient part of the village has a village plan common in Guangdong region containing three major north-to-south streets and eight east-to-west alleys.
The family shrine in the Hubei village was built in 1840 and it is the only traditional architecture that has a granite framework.
In the past, it served as a place to hold lectures for workers and the community party. Also, workers involved in a social movement in Guangdong used to be welcomed there. The family shrine has wooden tablets with the family’s men’s names on them. The bodies are being buried a few kilometers away from the village. A Chinese village usually starts with a family, and when a girl gets married, she moves out into the village of her husband.
Many residential houses are built with greenish grey bricks and decorated with light reliefs. Hubei’s architecture is very typical for Cantonese villages. Today, the village also serves as a cheap place to live for those who work in the surrounding restaurants, shopping malls or hotels.
Now, we are probably planning a guided tour in Hubei.