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Collective spaces and local identities — A case study on workers’ villages in Northeast China

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11:00 AM, Mardi 30 Août 2022 (20 minutes)
Workers’ villages in China are housing compounds and districts linked to a factory or factories . They were built for state-affiliated enterprises’ employees, under the assistance from the Soviet Union during the 1950S. These mixed Soviet-Chinese style dwellings and compounds served as a crucial container for -at the time- the novel community life in synchronization with the ideology of the new upcoming Chinese State. Collectiveness played an important role in that ideology. The very small dwelling units were compensated by a collective infrastructure and collective spaces to empower communal life linked to the factory identity. Northeast China was the strongest base for heavy industry starting to experiment with workers villages. Today however, like other rustbelt areas, it underwent a sharp setback since Chinese economic Reform and Opening Up in 1978. During recent decades, this process resulted in deterioration and poverty in its post-industrial zones, especially in the former glorious workers’ neighbourhoods. Also, the ambitions towards ideological communal life from the State have partly changed. However, they are often still seen as an asset by the local inhabitants. Those changes are putting pressure on the collective spaces and facilities, and by this on the communal life within a cultural heritage identity. As large-constructed social housings for industry, workers’ villages are an indispensable part of the industrial heritage which witnessed the political, economic, social, and cultural socialism transitions in China. Those historical blocks and buildings are also part of China’s recent heritage built with and for a community, adding qualities to urban neighbourhood life and place identity. It is important to understand those qualities in function of future strategies. Based on the case study ‘Village of Powers’ in Harbin City, this article will briefly introduce the background of workers’ villages in Northeast China. Secondly, by literature review and oral dictation, it will present the construction history. The main focus of the paper however is on the exploration of the connection between the contemporary residents and today’s public/collective spaces in their community in this industrial heritage setting. (1) Who are they, (2) where do they meet, (3) what are they doing there, and (4) when do they use these spaces, will be detected. The article will explore the morphological and functional components, including spatial types and elements, as well as its uses and appropriations. Finally, through in-depth interviews and a review on the inherited collectivism from Mao’s China, the last part seeks to analyse present inhabitants’ memories and attitudes towards collective spaces and life towards a strategy for a sustainable future for that industrial heritage. This paper is a part of an ongoing PhD research with the objective to obtain insights on the collective spaces in workers’ villages in Post-industrial Northeast China, and how this knowledge can be projected towards innovative regeneration strategies in function of a socio-cultural sustainable neighbourhood future development.

Yiping Zhang


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