Chengzhongcun is a Chinese term meaning ‘village within the city’. Popularly known as ‘urban villages’, the densely populated neighbourhoods are composed of tiny alleys filled with small businesses and residential housing. The apartment buildings are often called ‘hand-shake buildings’, as they are so close that next door neighbours could easily reach out and shake hands through the small windows.  

Until the late 1970’s, when the development of Shenzhen started, much of the Pearl River Delta in south China was just swamps and undeveloped rural land. Mega-city Shenzhen developed in just four decades, swallowing up villages in its fast and often unequal modernisation. The chengzhongcun are symbol of this fast development, a connection with the past, but they are threatened as they have enormous real estate value.  

In this series I photographed Hubei, a chengzhongcun dating from 1466. It’s an urban village that reservationists, architects and engaged citizens are trying to restore and preserve, or at least part of it, from the threats by real estate speculation and  the pressures of an ongoing expansion drift.

This series is an entrée into this colourful micro world of Hubei and its inhabitants, mostly poor migrants who brought their culture and traditions from allover China to Shenzhen.  

This series  was produced for the International Urban Images Festival, Shenzhen, China, 2016

Watch the Hubei, an urban village short-documentary