The city was one vast construction zone. New streets were literally smashed through buildings. Half-demolished buildings dominated the cityscape. Roads were ripped apart and mountains of rubble piled up.
Much of this will sound familiar to anyone living in China today. In the eyes of the Chinese media, a village that stands in the way of lucrative high-rise property development is derided as an “eyesore”, “cancer”, an “ill” that is a “scar” on the city. The residents of these poorer areas are labelled as filthy, as burglars, drug users and even murders.
As in Second Empire Paris, so too in China today: governments exercise their power of eminent domain to seize land. It is a contest, naturally, with the state and its development allies against those who stand to lose their apartments. Importantly, it is also a struggle between the state and private developers over profits. For urban real estate redevelopment can be spectacularly lucrative, whether in Paris or Shenzhen. Money, as much as vision, drives urban change.
This review was originally published in the Asian Review of Books. Can be accessed here.