Michael Leaf and Daniel Abramson
UBC Centre for Human Settlements
2206 East Mall
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z3

Tel: (604) 822-9295
Fax: (604) 822-6164
E-mail: leaf@interchange.ubc.ca

Edited version published in:
Southern California and the World, edited by Eric Heikkila and Rafael Pizarro (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002), pp. 153-178.



1. Introduction: Cities and the Network Paradigm of Globalization

2. Quanzhou in Its Networks

3. Fenxiang Networks and the Temples of Quanzhou

4. Global Networks in Quanzhou's Urban Landscape

5. Continuity and Discontinuity in Quanzhou's Redevelopment

6. Conclusions: Connectivity, Urban Space and Civil Society




Global investment practices are often shown to be a source of cultural homogenization and a threat to civil society in the shaping of cities in both the developed and developing world. The model of development represented by Southern California in particular has drawn fire. In this chapter, we examine the city-building and urban-governance implications of global networks, including linkages to Southern California, through an analysis of ongoing urbanization and change in Quanzhou, in China's southern province of Fujian. The restoration of neighborhood temples, the robust private home-building economy, and the local challenges facing conventional Chinese government-led "restructuring" of city center land use, are examined in particular. As the place of origin for long-standing out-migration, Quanzhou has been able to draw upon its overseas connections - an incipient although important form of globalism - in order to offset the pressures of centralized state control. The chapter argues that in some cases global linkages may actually help to preserve important elements of local identity and lay foundations for civil society in a context of traditional strong state control over social institutions and associations.

1. Introduction: Cities and the Network Paradigm of Globalization

In considering the interactions between globalization and local governance, the argument has been put forward before (Leaf 1999a) that although decentralization may be implicit in current processes of globalization, it does not necessarily imply an opening up of democratic governance at local levels. Instead, the strengthening of local states - i.e. municipal governments - which has resulted from globalization-led decentralization, may be coupled with greater local social control, a tendency identified in the Chinese context as "state sprawl," "local state corporatism," or the "decentralized command economy" (Chen 2000; Leaf 1998; Shue 1995). Other observations of the impact of global capital, skills and managerial approaches on China's larger cities have also emphasized the new opportunities afforded to local governments in the creation of new urban centers, or in the "re-making" of urban cores (Olds 1996; Gaubatz 1995), often with no regard for existing social or physical structures (Abramson 1997a).

In this chapter, we would like to further explore the interactions between globalization, governance and city-building, by looking in particular at the way global or transborder influences can support local identity and provide conditions for the growth of civil society. In this instance we look to the case of one specific Chinese city, Quanzhou, an historic city in southern China's Fujian province, to examine how local civil society is shaped by changing local-global linkages, and how it in turn influences the on-going spatial development of the city. In order to undertake this examination, it is necessary to first clarify such ambiguous terms as globalization and urban governance.

The concept of globalization is certainly contentious, and we would not hope to deal here with the diversity of meanings which this term has now come to hold. Instead, our emphasis is on the form of analysis which is implied by Castells' (1996) notion of the "network society," which allows us a point of continuity between the diverse strands that are seen to constitute global connectedness in socio-cultural terms as well as economically (i.e. as the global expansion of capitalist relations). This network perspective is critical to understanding the geography of globalization, in particular the growing emphasis on cities as the specific locales of connectivity, the spatial nodes in the global network.

The role of cities in the global ecumene has in particular been recognized and expanded upon by a significant body of analysis since the publication of Friedmann's "world city hypothesis" (1986). As Douglass (1998) points out, the significance of this discussion lies in the reconfiguration of development theory which it implies, with the movement away from earlier formulations which emphasize the nation-state as the fundamental unit of analysis. How specific cities and urban societies articulate (or consciously seek to articulate) with globalization, particularly the global economy, is a critical although so far under-studied question, in that such connectivities certainly underlie the historical processes of what Douglass refers to as "world city formation".

It should be remembered, however, that conscious attempts at long-distance interconnectedness by cities and through cities are by no means only a recent phenomenon, as seen in interpretations of the rise of the city in Western Europe (Lees and Hohenberg 1988; Braudel 1984) and in the expanding frontier of nineteenth century North America (Boone 1998). The acknowledgment of the historical rootedness of such processes is important, as this underlies to a great degree the specificity of place, and thus determines how a locality engages with the global (Leaf and Pamuk 1997). This is certainly the case with the city of Quanzhou.

Another concept which we wish to highlight is the particular traditional mode of urban governance which characterizes local state-society interactions in many Asian localities. Here we use the term "traditional" not so much to imply the historical roots of such governance practices, but rather in the Weberian sense to stress the contrast with modern, rationalized, bureaucratic structures. For this we rely upon the metaphoric use of the pyramid to illustrate not only the formal hierarchical administrative structures, but also to emphasize the essential verticality of power relations within these governmental systems. Thus, the pyramid of governance refers to both the formal administrative system composed of a nested hierarchy of geographic spaces, from the central state down to the local neighborhood, as well as to the web of clientelistic interpersonal relations which are overlaid upon this formal framework (Leaf 1999b).

Reflection on these concepts raises the question as to whether the widening and deepening of network-based globalization has the potential for opening up cracks in the lower strata of the pyramids of governance, thereby challenging the dominance of the central state at the pinnacle. Lower echelons in the hierarchy of governance may now be able to take advantage of new opportunities which arise through the aegis of globalization, opportunities which increasingly may be accessed directly while circumventing the center entirely. The generalizations implicit in this argument require examination at lower levels of the hierarchy, and yet we know that among localities there is great diversity. The specific means by which any particular place engages with the global will be shaped by its own particular circumstances.
Like "globalization", the concept of "civil society" is also both compelling and problematic, and we could not hope to give a full recounting of the diversity of definitions of the concept here. Broadly stated, the term refers to the composite of social organizations and institutions which function outside of the direct control of the state. Civil society is a long-standing concept in the political economy literature of the West, yet it is striking how discussions of civil society have been revived, or even invented anew, in light of recent theorizing regarding globalization. One prominent stream of argument which has arisen from the alternative development, or "empowerment", literature presses for a view of the rise of civil society as being in direct response to or in opposition to forces of globalization (Friedmann 1992; 1998; Sandercock 1998). A network view, as we are putting forward here, can help us get beyond this narrow dualistic framework of local versus global. Following Castells, the emphasis is on the characteristics of network connectivity which underlie both the expansion of globalization and the perceived rise of the institutions of civil society. The question of autonomy remains central to the discussion, and, in fact, may be seen to be even more problematic, as the potential for intricate networks of personalistic connectivity at local levels may obviate the possibility for true independence of civil society groupings from the myriad agencies of the state.[1]

This would seem to apply especially to China, where networks of interconnectedness between the agencies of the state and the ostensible institutions of civil society work through a diverse set of channels. Despite the identification of such new creatures in the civil society bestiary as "semi-civil society" (He 1997) and the seemingly paradoxical "state-led civil society" (Frolic 1997), autonomy remains elusive in the understanding of Chinese social structures. In his analysis of this "search for civil society" in China, Gordon White differentiates between political interpretations of civil society and a sociological view which emphasizes more broadly the associational structures within (non-state) society, rather than focusing on explicitly political organizations and actions (White 1996). This emphasis on the associational structures of Chinese civil society prompts a line of thinking first formulated by de Tocqueville in his interpretation of 19th century American civic culture and championed in recent years by Robert Putnam in his the influential work on Italian politics (Putnam 1993). By Putnam's analysis, it is the horizontal linkages inherent in social organizations which allow for the development of trust or "social capital", creating a counterweight to the verticality of traditional political structures.

The value of such an interpretation of social relations based upon the networks of individual actors is that it helps us to break apart monolithic views of "the state" in relation to society. Any individual actor may experience multiple webs of relationships. Leaders of community organizations, in particular, may have both strong vertical, personalistic connections to local officials and important horizontal linkages to others within their organization. From liberal theory, it is the dominance of horizontal linkages in aggregate which is at the root of a strong local civic community and which underpins civil society (Putnam 1983), an idea which is helpful for thinking about local governance in Quanzhou, a city whose development trajectory indicates a divergence from state-dominated forms elsewhere in the country.

In the case of Quanzhou, the current situation derives as much or more from the city's history of international linkages as it does from the present economic reforms of the Chinese state. In the following sections of this chapter, we will therefore look at the connectivities of Quanzhou and its people to cities around the Pacific Rim, and examine how certain sets of linkages, such as those associated with the restoration of the city's many neighborhood temples, are presenting new challenges for local governance.

2. Quanzhou in Its Networks

No visitor to any part of Quanzhou today would mistake it for Orange County, or even Monterey Park. That this should be so is by no means self-evident, however. The city depends heavily on foreign investment, and Southern California has an important place in Quanzhou's ties to the world beyond China. According to the Quanzhou Municipality Overseas Chinese Gazetteer, more Quanzhou-originated emigrants to the U.S. live in Los Angeles than in any other American city, and, of a number of specific "well-known" entrepreneurs with roots in Quanzhou who are listed in the Gazetteer, 40% are in Los Angeles (pp.118-126).[2] Quanzhou has discussed becoming sister cities with Monterey Park, a major new Chinese-American "ethnoburb" of Los Angeles (Zhuang et al 1991; Li 1998), and many of its listed businessmen in the U.S. are also active in kinship associations and cultural organizations like Chinese language schools. The same Indonesian-Chinese tycoons who are central to the "crony capitalism" that has imported Southern Californian models of development to Jakarta are part of the Overseas Chinese community originating in Fujian, and their conglomerates have invested heavily in their Chinese "hometowns" (qiaoxiang): Riady (Li Wenzhang)'s Lippo Group in Fuqing; Sudono Salim (Liem Sioe-liong)'s Salim Group in Putian, and Widjaja (Oei Ek-tjong)'s Sinar Mas Group in Quanzhou itself (Waldron 1995; Lever-Tracy et al 1996). These and other ethnic Chinese (mainly Fujianese) investors from Southeast Asia and Taiwan also figure prominently among Asians investing in Southern California (Time 1996, p.45; Darlin 1996; Global Finance 1998).

Nevertheless, links between Quanzhou and Southern California and even the entire US are slender, sparse and indirect, compared with those connecting it to Southeast Asia. Looking at the receiving end, the bulk of American Direct Investment in Quanzhou is small, and limited to toy, clothing and cosmetics manufacturing. In real estate, there is comparatively little direct investment from outside mainland China, and no investment from the U.S. at all (Quanzhou Municipality Overseas Chinese Gazetteer, p.220). The story of Quanzhou's links with the West is much older and more complex than any simple listing of current investment amounts and sources could tell, and yet an appreciation for this story is necessary to understand the way these links have influenced the city's urban development patterns.

Quanzhou's position as a cosmopolitan trading center began at least over a thousand years ago, before the Tang dynasty (6th-9th Centuries). By the end of the 14th century, Quanzhou was the most prominent port on the Chinese littoral (Schintz 1989; Clark 1991; Selbourne 1997). Like Venice, at the other end of the "Maritime Silk Road", Quanzhou was an entrepreneurial city with strong global linkages, long before globalization was identified as an historic force. In more recent times, this outward orientation has been expressed in the city's role as a place of tremendous out-migration, with the descendants of Quanzhou's migrants now accounting for large portions of the Hokkien-speaking population of the Chinese in Southeast Asia (Zhuang, G. 1996).

It is useful to contrast these sets of Quanzhou's overseas connectivities with the linkages implicit in being part of the modern nation-state of the People's Republic of China. In comparison to what might be put forward as being typical of Chinese urbanism today (Leaf 1998), Quanzhou exhibits an number of exceptional qualities, derived from its specific historic and geographic circumstances. In this, three basic factors may be identified: (1) the relative lack of state investment in the region during the period of the centralized command economy, due to what was seen as Quanzhou's vulnerable position directly across the straits from Taiwan; (2) the high degree of private control of property in the city, even during the most radical periods of China's recent past; and (3) the importance of the city's huaqiao (Overseas Chinese) connection, i.e. that Quanzhou has been a place of great out-migration with actively maintained connections to overseas relatives.

Each of these three factors is tightly intertwined with the other two, giving rise to a particular political economy of development that differs from what might be considered to be the Chinese urban norm. This underscores the need to carefully examine local factors within the Chinese polity in order to understand processes of development and change. To give an example, the low level of central state investment in the area translates in practical terms into a lower proportion of state sector ownership in the local economy and a significantly less developed presence of danwei (work units) in the city. The "front line" position of Quanzhou across the strait from Taiwan has thus been a contributory factor to the persistence of private or collective ownership throughout the period of state socialism. One instance of this is that, unlike most of urban China, the Quanzhou government never carried out a program of housing collectivization. By the end of the 1970s, more than 90% of the city's housing stock was still in private hands.

Private ownership at the household level is linked even more importantly to the influence of the huaqiao connection, in that city officials have always worked to maintain good relations with overseas expatriates, and have therefore been careful not to implement policies which could be seen as disenfranchising those components of the local community who have connections to the outside. The former mayor who, more than any other single official, was responsible for the city's decision not to implement housing collectivization during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, roughly estimates as much as 40% of inner-city residential property was wholly or partially owned by Overseas Chinese.[3] The local government generally estimates that more than five million Overseas Chinese (mostly in Southeast Asia and Taiwan) can trace their roots to Quanzhou and its immediate environs (Zhuang, G. 1996; Dai 1996). The investment and development implications of the huaqiao connection are historically rooted, with major initiatives for development and change originating from returned expatriates in the 1920s and 1930s, and a special district of elegant mansions (the Huaqiao Xincun) set aside in the 1950s to reward the wealthiest overseas supporters of the Revolution. In short, the huaqiao connection has long been crucial to the local economy. In the context of low levels of central state spending, it has provided the local government with a significant degree of leverage vis-a-vis the central government in Beijing.

The transborder connectivity of Quanzhou is thus critical for both local politics and for the local economy. For analytical purposes, flows of overseas money into the city may be looked upon as falling into three categories. The first is foreign direct investment; this is what shows up on the record books and attracts the attention of businessmen and scholars and others who are interested in the vicissitudes of international trade and other matters of consequence. The second is what is often seen as charitable donations, and this results in new schools, new roads, rebuilt temples and so forth. This shows up in different record books and hence is much more difficult to get a handle on, although it may be no less consequential than foreign direct investment. In certain respects, it may be somewhat spurious to pretend that there really is a clear separation between the first category (business investments) and the second (charitable donations).

The third category, referred to as household remittances, is even harder to track, as this does not necessarily show up on anyone's record books. The city of Quanzhou is at the moment undergoing tremendous reconstruction and reworking of its historic urban fabric. Much of this is resulting from household by household redevelopment. The three- four- and five-story white tile buildings - the physical expression of household remittances from overseas relatives - are transforming the old city of Quanzhou (Figure 1). For Quanzhou's planners and administrators, this form of capital movement is also of great consequence, even if it is not an issue that has heretofore attracted much research attention. The urban impacts of the remittance economy, like the charitable donations and the foreign direct investment, are all indications of the continuing connectivity of the city and its region with the rest of the world.[4]

Figure 1. Private houses built in 1994, and a traditional courtyard house in Quanzhou’s Old City (photograph by Daniel Abramson).


The globalization of Quanzhou which is implicit in these observations has implications for local social structures. The historically rooted and contemporaneously continuing flows of capital, people and ideas shape the local character of social relations, and, in particular, underlie the establishment and maintenance of autonomous social organizations in the city. Such organizations have long characterized Chinese society, as, for example, the craft guilds, literary societies and native place associations of the late Qing period (Skinner 1977). It was only during the recent historical period of centralized state socialism that state and society were for ideological reasons understood to be exactly equated, and such autonomous organizations were suppressed (Brook 1997). Since the advent of the reforms at the end of the 1970s, China has experienced a flourishing of new organizations, including hundreds of thousands of business and professional associations, academic societies, and recreational and cultural clubs (He 1997). In the following section, we lay out some preliminary ideas about one particular type of organization, which, despite its lack of official recognition, has become prominent once again in the social fabric of Quanzhou - the many local associations for the restoration and maintenance of the city's neighborhood temples.

3. Fenxiang Networks and the Temples of Quanzhou

A notable finding in Putnam's work on Italian political culture is how the vitality of civic community in Italy is negatively correlated with the local presence of the Catholic Church and the degree of religiosity among local residents (Putnam 1993). Thus, the Church was found to play a much more central role in the clientelistic south than in the more democratic north. This interpretation should not be taken as an indictment of the civic role of religion per se, but rather as an indication of the long-standing historical linkages between Church and State in the southern Italian context.

The question of the civic community implications of religion in southern China is much less straight-forward than the Italian situation, owing in part, no doubt, to the historical lack of an institutional monopoly by a state-sanctioned religion. In order to appreciate the complexities of current conditions, it is useful to first point out a few aspects of the role of religion in China's pre-revolutionary past. In his interpretation of late imperial China's religious life, Stephan Feuchtwang (1977) stresses the distinction between the temples of official religion and popular religion. Official religion, incorporating elements of Taoism and Buddhism, utilized a system of temples and rites closely paralleling the formal administrative hierarchy of the state - the traditional pyramid of governance - and designed to reinforce the leading agency of the imperial throne. In contrast, the various sects and temples of popular religion were locally initiated and were able to develop into non-centralized networks of similar temples through the ritual referred to as the "division of incense" (fenxiang), which allows for the non-hierarchical propagation of new temples. In this distinction between official and popular temples we can see very different respective roles, with the temples of the official religion focused on maintaining the legitimacy of the imperial state and the temples of popular religion playing a critical function in the construction of local community mores.

It should be pointed out, however, that when viewed historically, these two aspects of Chinese religion cannot be seen as being mutually exclusive. Feuchtwang, in his analysis, emphasizes the overlaps between the official and popular religions. As the gods of popular religion were almost invariably once living beings who were canonized through the popular religion, good administrative practices from time to time required their official recognition, resulting in the co-optation of certain of the fenxiang temple networks into the administrative hierarchy of the official religion. The Tian Hou Gong temple in Quanzhou is a good example of this, with Mazu, the "goddess" of the temple, now looked upon as a boddhisatva, indicative of the assimilation of Taoist and Buddhist strands in the official religion of imperial China. Historically, assimilation works in both directions, as the practices surrounding the City God (Cheng Huang) Temple illustrate a downward appropriation: this temple is characteristically part of the official religion, yet its ceremonies allowed for broader popular participation than what would be necessitated by formal ritual. As it was at the lowest end of the official religious hierarchy, the City God Temple was thus closest to the citizenry, a factor resulting in adaptive ritual practices over time. Ritualistic celebrations at a revived Temple of the City God in Quanzhou are now characteristically similar to the public ceremonies of other temples of the popular religion.

In contrast to the hierarchy and exclusivity of the temples of the official religion, a "popular temple's area is defined purely territorially - all those within a given territory, whatever their rank or class, are expected to participate in its major festivals, at least by paying the ritual maintenance tax" (Feuchtwang 1977, p. 591; see also Dean 1993, pp.24, 178-80). This inherent egalitarianism allowed for the creation of locally based social capital (i.e. horizontal social ties, in contrast to the verticality engendered by the official religion), and has no doubt been an important factor in the proliferation of fenxiang temples wherever huaqiao Chinese have settled (Schipper 1977). Fenxiang temples served local communities in multiple ways, by functioning as points of focus for a number of different social services and collective undertakings, such as the organization of small scale rotating credit associations (Zhuang, Y. 1996).

In its pre-revolutionary past, the city of Quanzhou contained well over 100 temples. Many were closed down or converted to other uses in the 1950s or before, with many more destroyed as relics of feudalism during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and early 70s. In response to both the interests of local residents and the increasing influence of overseas Chinese after the opening up of China in the early 1980s, a priority list of major temples to be restored was established in the mid-1980s. A major criterion for this prioritization was that the buildings to be restored must be recognized as belonging to one of the five recognized religions in China today (i.e. Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam), which is, in a sense, a new, post-revolutionary definition of Chinese "official religion". Other criteria included historical importance and the expression of interest in restoration by the appropriate body of the religion in China. Thus 27 structures were put on this list, including, for example, the only Arab-built mosque extant in China today. As they are not part of any officially recognized religion, the dozens of other fenxiang temples, ancestral halls and other neighborhood altars were not included.[5] Nonetheless, it is estimated that nearly one half of these smaller temples have at this point been restored and re-opened by informal groups operating within the neighborhoods of the city (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Typical neighborhood temple restored between 1993 and 1997 with private donations from local residents and overseas relatives (photograph by Daniel Abramson).


One may now observe in this region of Fujian a major resurgence of the practices and landscapes of traditional popular religion (Dean 1993). The Quanzhou city government is at a loss as to how to formally respond to the phenomenon of neighborhood temple restoration, as there are no official instructions coming down from Beijing in regard to this. There is, however, a recognition that since this is something which can influence both the social and physical development of the city, there is a need for a management response, and local officials have been surveying the situation for a number of years. At the time of writing this chapter, local authorities are awaiting the outcome of an expected symposium at the central government level on what policy reforms may have to be enacted in response to the revival of popular religion. Possible recommendations include strengthening the charitable functions of popular cults, and using them to enhance connections with Overseas Chinese.

The potential social implications of temple network revivals may be understood from the case of the Ciji Gong temples, one of the most prominent fenxiang networks in the region. The Ciji Gong temples are dedicated to the god Baosheng Dadi, the canonization of a ninth century doctor historically identified by the name Wu Tao. The original Baosheng Dadi temples are located at a distance from Quanzhou, near the modern-day port city of Xiamen, yet the popularity of this "divine doctor" and his importance as a protector of life has led to the spread of Baosheng Dadi temples throughout the region, throughout Taiwan and in the many parts of Southeast Asia where Hokkien migrants have settled. In southern Fujian alone, it is estimated that there are currently more than 300 temples in this fenxiang network (ibid, p. 85). In the past, the ceremonies and rituals associated with Baosheng Dadi were a major source of traditional medical knowledge for the people of the region, a role which the temple has modified and modernized over time. The most prominent Baosheng Dadi temple in Quanzhou today, known as the Huaqiao Ciji Gong, has maintained a free clinic since 1878, serving the people of Quanzhou with both Chinese and Western medical treatments (ibid, p. 91). A noteworthy point is that despite the closure of temples elsewhere in the city the Huaqiao Ciji Gong was able to remain open throughout the struggles of the Cultural Revolution due to its important social service orientation.

The Huaqiao Ciji Gong also functions as a critical point of connectivity to overseas compatriots from the city and its region. The temple has been able to maintain its free clinic with significant funding from other Taiwanese and Southeast Asian Baosheng Dadi temples in its fenxiang network, a point which no doubt was also a factor in being able to maintain its operations throughout China's socialist period. Such networks are important to examine in that they begin to blur the distinction between local and global; in this, the functioning of Quanzhou's fenxiang networks are emblematic of much broader forms of local-global connectivity.

4. Global Networks in Quanzhou's Urban Landscape

The importance in Quanzhou of maintaining Qiaoxiang networks, and the persistence of many of the traditional cultural institutions through which those and other social networks operate, has had a notable influence on the recent development of the city's land and buildings, especially in the historic city center. At first, the municipal and central district governments attempted to follow the pattern of urban redevelopment that began to sweep China in the early 1990s - a pattern that took little account of existing community networks and physical structures. Through typical large-scale demolition, street widening, and construction of mass housing and commercial space, government-sponsored developers succeeded in rebuilding nearly 17% of the Old City. However, while this is a significant proportion of an area that is only about 6.5 square kilometers in its entirety, the redevelopment is remarkable in that it has accommodated to an unusual degree the existing scale of commerce (predominantly small shopfronts on the ground floor of mixed-use buildings), and the existing residents who wished to remain in their old neighborhoods. Although their old houses were demolished, nearly all residents could afford to buy new units on site - a remarkable contrast to redevelopment projects in Beijing, for example (Lu 1997).

Both the design of the public spaces and the architectural style of the redevelopment went to extraordinary lengths to respond to local construction traditions and other local features of the urban landscape: characteristic arcaded shophouses, small plazas for traditional civic activities like opera and amateur Nan Yin performances, and fanciful Minnan-style stone and brickwork on the building facades. Even the small neighborhood temples were given places to rebuild among the new structures. In one telling twist of the typical tale of Southern California-style globalization, a shopping mall that was built by a Philippine huaqiao investor with promises of attracting world-famous American brand-name department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and JC Penney ended up housing only a McDonalds, while the rest of the complex was occupied by local small wholesale textile dealers who treated the interior atrium much as they would a city street, complete with motorcycle access (see Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Developer’s rendering of the interior of a shopping mall proposed for a site in the Old City of Quanzhou, c.1996.

Figure 4.  The mall interior as actually built and occupied by small local textile dealers (photograph by Daniel Abramson).


Moreover, while the developer's prospectus showed the McDonalds in a typical automobile-dominated suburban setting with a towering sign, drive-in and parking lot, the actual McDonalds as built occupied a 3-story arcaded streetfront building designed to respect the neighboring early-twentieth-century shophouses (see Figure 5 and 6).

Figure 5.  Photograph of McDonald’s included in the marketing brochure for a prospective redevelopment project in the Old City of Quanzhou, c.1996.


Figure 6.  Actual McDonald’s in Quanzhou’s Old City, with early 20th-century arcaded shophouses in background (photograph by Daniel Abramson).

Moreover, the actual city-center redevelopment that has been accomplished is far less than the 65% that the local government expected to rebuild by the year 2000 (Tao 1995). A combination of concern for the historic fabric of the city,[6] a reaction by local residents angry over the prospect of demolition, and the sheer expense of relocating a population overwhelmingly of private homeowners, has driven the local government to seek alternative approaches to improving the Old City's infrastructure and environment. Not only private ownership, but also private informal construction, has dominated the Old City of Quanzhou even since 1949. Standard collective apartment-style housing did not appear in Quanzhou in any significant number until 1980. In 1977, work unit housing throughout the entire municipality of 11,015 square kilometers (including extensive mountain areas, six counties and two county-level cities) represented only about one-fifth of all urban housing at the county-level or higher. Within the historic center of Quanzhou proper, xin cun (planned housing estates) only occupy about 115,000 square meters, or 2% of all the land.

Private construction, by contrast, was much more dynamic than the public or collective sector before 1990, and has kept apace up to the present. In 1990, private, "scattered" housing represented 71% of all urban housing in the Quanzhou municipal administrative area. Within the Licheng District, which is comprised of the Old City and some of its near suburbs, individual houses accounted for twice the built floor area of work-unit housing by 1990. In the 1980s alone, private home-builders invested 11.7 billion RMB to build 590,000 square meters - about as much floor area as had been built privately over the previous three decades. Even in the year 1998, after eight years of wide-ranging professional real estate activity,[7] private investment in all types of building in the Licheng District amounted to 136 million RMB, not much less than the 170 million invested by the real estate industry (Quanzhou Municipal Statistics Bureau 1998).

The combination of a dynamic private construction sector and a land tenure system that has continued with little disruption since the first half of the century has produced a traditional urban core that in some ways resembles an informal village, but with an urban density and greater mix of uses. The ground floors or front rooms of many houses have become shops or restaurants. Households have wholly or partially replaced their old one-storey wood structure houses with new granite, brick or, most recently, reinforced concrete structures of two to five storeys. Many of these houses are extremely large (up to 500 square meters) for the small plots of land on which the owners, frequently, have lived for many generations. Moreover, it is not uncommon for large private houses to be partially empty for much of the year. The factors which contribute to this phenomenon include a custom of sinking savings into house construction, and a high frequency of shared ownership or investment. Although Quanzhou undertook quite early to re-establish an open and clear system of property registration,[8] shares in ownership by overseas relatives, like the extent of remittances, is rarely revealed.

Again, therefore, official figures tend to underestimate the importance of huaqiao relations, not only to individual resident families, but also to the overall development of the city center. One further indication of this importance is the fact that the above-mentioned Huaqiao Xincun, a subdivision of lots given to wealthy returned Overseas Chinese to build their own villas between 1954 and 1965, was actually the first planned government housing project to be built within the Old City. Even after confiscating some property for public purposes during the three decades following 1949, a major feature of the Reform era in Quanzhou has been the restoration of such property to original owners, especially if these owners wish to return from overseas. A legal precedent was set in 1979 when Lin Pingguo, a Philippine huaqiao from Quanzhou, sued the Municipality to have his family citang (ancestral temple), in which his immediate family had been living before 1949, returned to him. Built during the reign of Qing emperor Daoguang, the citang had been confiscated in the 1950s for public offices, and ultimately occupied and then demolished by the Bureau of Agriculture. The government pinned its legal defense on the argument that because the property had been a "superstitious"[9] facility rather than a proper home, it was not required to compensate the owner for its expropriation. The court decided in favor of the plaintiff, however, and the government was required to find another plot of land in the city center suitable for the construction of a new home.

This case gives some clue to the complexity of the web of social and political relations in which property rights and the shaping of urban space are patterned in Quanzhou. Since then, an alliance between local residents and overseas relations all belonging to one kinship association has succeeded even against the powerful Public Security Bureau in a dispute over the right to rebuild their ancestral temple on land that had been appropriated by the Public Security Bureau (Figure 7).

Figure 7.  Ancestral temple funded by an international kinship association being built on land previously expropriated by the Quanzhou Public Security Bureau, 2000 (photograph by Daniel Abramson).


At first appearance, the urban landscape of Quanzhou's Old City appears quite chaotic - the jumbled product of a multitude of unrelated individual decisions carried out in the security of established private tenure and relatively high household incomes. This landscape has nothing in common with the accretion of standardized, collective living and work spaces that characterize most other, larger Chinese cities. In fact, Quanzhou's Old City is also the subject of constant negotiation between the interests of local residents and authorities, and overseas individuals and communities. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of embellishing the private home in the world of coastal South China's migratory families. Denise Chong's account (1994) of her own Chinese-Canadian grandfather's obsession with building a house in his home village in Guangdong vividly illustrates the human dimensions of this tradition. Moreover, besides wielding influence as familial relatives, these overseas actors also have an impact as entrepreneurs, as public benefactors or as custodians of cultural traditions that have persisted in spite of radical revolution. And sometimes they have been the purveyors of revolution themselves.

5. Continuity and Discontinuity in Quanzhou's Redevelopment

It is a common misconception that the desecration of temples and the destructive transformation of traditional urban space in China is exclusively the project of the Communist regime.[10] In fact, throughout China during the early years of the Republic, the new Nationalist government undertook to "modernize" China in part precisely by overturning a broad array of urban spatial principles that had come to be seen as sacred by the supporters of the Qing and other yi lao yi shao (young and old cultural conservatives)(Shi 1993). In Quanzhou, the role of Overseas Chinese in this undertaking was especially pronounced. A clique of progressive young huaqiao Nationalists, mainly from the Philippines, established a new bureaucracy to oversee public works in the 1920s, which succeeded in demolishing part of the city wall, replacing the main Song dynasty stone bridge across the Jin River with a new reinforced concrete one, widening the city's existing two main streets and clearing a swath through the center of the city to build a new tree-lined avenue of arcaded shophouses (Wang L. 1963).[11]

The new avenue, now named Zhongshan Road, was designed by Lei Wenjin, an engineering graduate of Cambridge University. He drew heavily on British colonial experience in construction, and the huaqiao entrepreneurs who attempted to capitalize on the new public works also brought physical forms from colonial Southeast Asia to the city. A Vietnamese Chinese entrepreneur who had already built a "French-style" avenue in Saigon and named it after himself, attempted to do the same in Quanzhou by buying up land along one of the major widened streets.

Most of the reformers' schemes were compromised or stopped by local speculators or conservatives, or the inert resistance of existing social institutions.[12] Zhongshan Road, for example, was forced to take many twists and turns to avoid the homes of influential people and important temples. One of the most notable of these was the Huaqiao Ciji Gong, mentioned above. The street was also built narrower than intended, due to the Urban Construction Bureau Director's preference for selling off the land that abutted it instead of providing the commodious sidewalks that Lei Wenjin designed. In 1922, when the Urban Construction Bureau attempted to demolish the ancient Song dynasty Arab-built Qingjing Mosque (now one of three nationally-protected monuments in the Old City) in order to widen the street that ran past it, the local Moslem Hui community protested to a prominent Hui official in the Nationalist government, who successfully interceded.

In this instance of conservation, ethnic networks were far more important than any professional concept of what constitutes valuable architectural heritage. There was no official Nationalist preservation policy extended to the important monuments and temples of Quanzhou. Indeed, the relative importance of various social networks is indicated in the fate of all of Quanzhou's temples during the Republican era. The major ones suffered during the pochu mixin ("eradicate superstition") movement. With the exception of its famous twin pagodas, which were restored in 1926-28 by two huaqiao philanthropists, Kai Yuan Temple fell into disrepair; the Confucian temple's front plaza became a market in 1931 and the buildings occupied by a school; the Tian Hou Gong temple to Mazu, Goddess of the Sea, also became a school. Smaller or more popular Taoist and folk temples like the Guanyue Miao, the Xuanmiao Guan and the myriad neighborhood pujing temples on the other hand, were left untouched for fear of angering too many people.

If DeGlopper's (1977) account of community definition in nineteenth-century Lu-kang, a city in Taiwan populated predominantly by people from Quanzhou, is reflective of Quanzhou before 1949, then we can extrapolate to suggest that the differential treatment of Quanzhou's temples during the Republican era reflected a general weakening of traditional elite or more widely dispersed networks, such as those of the Buddhist orders, scholar-official society, and even maritime society, leaving the more local, territorially-defined social groups in a relatively strong position.

After 1949, the Maoist regime extended the attack on traditional social structures to include the more local institutions. The Taoist Xuanmiao Guan was completely destroyed and, as mentioned above, the number of territorial neighborhood temples declined during the 1950s and 60s to a point during the Cultural Revolution when none openly functioned as such, though a few original structures remained to house health clinics, neighborhood committees, police stations and other secular services. The rapid, unregulated revival of this level of religious space and life after 1980, however, has shown that the social networks associated with neighborhood temples were never eradicated. Rather, the same respected community elders who served on the neighborhood committees and in the secular elderly associations were also members of the temple committees and were in charge of raising funds from local residents for the temple restorations. Larger restorations, like that of the Xuanmiao Guan or the Chan-Buddhist Chengtian Si, have cost in the millions of RMB, and have required significant contributions and political lobbying from Overseas Chinese religious and commercial leaders.

It is ironic that at the end of the twentieth century, this generation of Quanzhou's overseas progeny has reversed the attack on traditional religious space which their Overseas Chinese forebears brought back to the city at the beginning of the century. The reaction is perhaps explained by the greater success that a more home-grown, sometimes-xenophobic brand of nationalism (i.e. Maoism) obtained in continuing this attack. And yet it is striking that in both eras, local social networks in Quanzhou have survived, aided by their own global ties. It is also remarkable, as David Strand (1996) phrased it, how Republican urban reformers "pre-visioned" the end-of-century urban transformation in China. In the 1920s, Philippine huaqiao investors introduced the two- and three-storey arcaded shophouse to Quanzhou; in the 1990s, Philippine huaqiao introduced the glass-atriumed shopping mall. The street-widenings and straightenings; the raising of multistorey buildings; the commercialization of the urban core - all are resumed.

Of course, one important difference is that the preservationist reaction to this is no longer only the expression of an inward-looking, nativistic cultural conservativism; rather, late twentieth-century preservationism also has its global networks and vocabulary, and these are being applied in Quanzhou as energetically as are the global flows of capital. Moreover, these flows of capital are being filtered through the fine sieve of small entrepreneurs and individual households. Zhongshan Road in the 1920s represented a unified urban vision, but was built out bay by bay, house by house; the city-center mall of the 1990s, though presented as a vision of international corporate standardization, ended up also occupied on a shop-by-shop basis with a minimum of corporate regulation applied to it.

6. Conclusions: Connectivity, Urban Space and Civil Society

The city of Quanzhou, like other cities in China, is now in the midst of profound changes, changes driven in large part by the emergence of new actors on the urban development stage, in contrast to the near-monopoly of the state in pre-reform times (Leaf, Abramson and Tan 2000). Intensive and extensive investment in the built environment of the city, from the most top-down construction projects, including widening of roads and upgrading of major infrastructure, to the bottom-up construction of the myriad new individual houses by city residents, has resulted in an unprecedented transformation of the city over the past decade. While Quanzhou's suburban development does include one example of a Western-style villa subdivision and is otherwise rather typical of Chinese metropolitan development with highrises and high-density housing estates, the rebuilding of the historic center itself is taking a different path.

Contrasting the case of Quanzhou to Jakarta, despite the fact that some of the same marketing influences are at work in China as in Indonesia, and even some of the same people are part of the global network that brings Western-defined aspirations to these two cities, the effect of global influence is evidently quite different. Southern Californian and other late-twentieth-century Western influences in Quanzhou are undoubtedly present but indirect, filtered through the aspirations and activities of Philippine and Indonesian investors who were exposed to American influence in those countries, and who then sought to import it to Quanzhou. How are these influences "preservationist" in nature? After all, the usual stated social goal of most investments by huaqiao in China's rural and urban environment is to "modernize" the "backward" place from which they originated. There are three ways.
First, in tandem with efforts to modernize their homeland, many Overseas Chinese have explicitly promoted the restoration of temples, ancestral halls, and other historic structures that are, for them, landmarks and monuments to their roots. Life-cycle rituals like weddings and funerals, too, continue to reflect the influence of remittances sent back by overseas relatives, often to the point of wasteful extravagance in the eyes of local authorities. Second, even Overseas Chinese investment in the modernization of China's southeast coast is, from a cultural perspective, unintentionally preservationist, relative to the development trajectory of China's hinterland and northern areas. Huaqiao-driven modernization is already a relatively continuous, century-old tradition in China's southern littoral; has taken place on a very small but broad-based scale, at the level of clans, villages and individual families; and has enfolded deference to tradition within its progressive tendencies: "Overseas Chinese who originated from Quanzhou have an historic tradition of building [modern] multi-story buildings (loufang) in one's hometown for the glorification of their ancestors (yaozu rongzong)" (Quanzhou Municipality Overseas Chinese Gazetteer, p.220).

The definition of modernization in the rest of China, on the other hand, has been subject to wildly shifting political winds at the level of the central government throughout this century. In Quanzhou especially, where private housing was rarely expropriated for fear of alienating huaqiao relations, the influence of these relations has had a calming effect on the transformation of urban fabric, even taking into account the disappearance of many individual old houses. Although the current preservationist municipal administration considers the unrestrained self-building activity of individual households to be a serious threat to the city's historic character, the plot pattern, streets, and social structure of most urban neighborhoods has remained essentially intact. And even when larger-scale, speculative development is undertaken, it is rooted in the earlier tradition of self-building, and in many ways responds to the dwelling-cultural aspirations of the local market which that tradition bred.[13]

Finally, and most intangibly, the familiarity of local Quanzhou community leaders with the world outside China seems to have engendered a kind of homely cosmopolitanism that allows global influence to co-exist more comfortably with local tradition than in other cities where the mayor, bedazzled by a developer's flashy images of a Bonaventure-style hotel scheme, unilaterally arranges to build it in the heart of the city's historic center. This is not to say that such schemes have not been placed before the eyes of Quanzhou's leaders, or even that certain factions within the local government have not gone ahead and built them; rather, at the same time, a constituency has grown around the idea that such schemes can and should be wed to the local building style and to the urban fabric without sacrificing the city's modernity.

The role of global networks in the preservation of Quanzhou's local identity has implications that go well beyond urban form. This instance of the ability of traditional, community-based institutions and relationships to "tame" state power and global capital flows seems to possess some of the characteristics of civil society. In this regard, the resurgence of interest in temples is particularly useful to examine in further detail for a number of reasons.
First, there is a lesson here about the complex nature of Quanzhou's overseas connectivity. In practice, the analytical clarity implied by categorizing capital flows as foreign direct investment, charitable donations and family remittances becomes blurred. Clearly such flows are imbedded in the web of personal, familial and institutional connections which link Quanzhou to the rest of the world. The high level of household remittances shapes the local economy and makes possible the pervasiveness of temple restoration activities, which notably occur without official sanction. Official charitable donations, as seen, for example, in the much more costly restorations of the major (i.e. official religion) temples of the city, are ostensibly of a different nature, as these occur through the intermediary of local government agencies, follow an official priority list and are duly recorded by the government. Yet the two phenomena cannot really be seen as being any more distinct than the official religion of China's imperial past was from the activities of the cults of popular religion. From the practical standpoint of doing business in this part of China, foreign direct investment, which for the most part is based on connections to "overseas compatriots" (Yeung and Chu 1995), is also intimately linked to local charitable contributions, a practice with deep historical roots (Zhuang, G. 1996).

Second, the restoration of neighborhood temples tells us something about the persistence and vitality of local associational forms. Conversations with members of these informal, unregistered organizations reveal that certain of the social capital-building activities which have long been associated with the fenxiang temples were not fully suppressed during the period of the Cultural Revolution; the large collective feasts and celebrations which are integral to the rituals of pudu, for example, were merely carried out indoors in a much more atomized and dispersed fashion,[14] a practice which by necessity required the passive collusion of local authorities. The question which this presents us with today is whether the persistence of such traditions has the potential to underpin the development of new civil society institutions, and, if so, how the activities of such self-organizing groups will articulate with the needs and interests of officialdom. One might hypothesize that in the case of Quanzhou we are seeing a trend which could facilitate the further localization of state practices within the broader Chinese polity.

And third, this raises the idea that these two forms of connectivity - the transborder connectivity of globalization and the local connectivity of self-organizing civil associations - are not only linked, they are inseparable. At the most rudimentary level of monetary flows to finance the restoration of temples, whether through official charitable donations for the larger temples or through family remittances for neighborhood temples and altars, foreign capital is implicit throughout. Traditional carved stone tablets which publicly record donations now group contributions according to the currency in which they were remitted, whether in Renminbi, Hong Kong Dollars, New Taiwan Dollars or U.S. Dollars. But connectivity is by no means limited to the movement of money. It can be argued that such capital flows are denotative of the much more consequential connections between individual actors, and, by extension, between interconnected groups of individuals. Possible consequences of connectivity may be most visible in the changing physical fabric of the city of Quanzhou. The social, cultural and even political implications may be less apparent, although no less critical for the future of the city and its people.


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[1] This is a theme which is central to Bakti Setiawan's (1998) analysis of squatter communities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. In this study, Setiawan found that the communities which have been the most successful in upgrading are also those which have the thickest web of ties to local agencies. The strength of informal personalistic linkages between community leadership and local officials often overrides specific legal strictures on settlement formation and upgrading, thus allowing for a much higher degree of perceived tenure security than might be supposed on legal grounds alone.

[2] The Gazetteer estimates that a total of about 150,000 Chinese-Americans originated from Quanzhou. The Gazetteer, it should be noted, is a compilation of the Quanzhou branch of the national Overseas Chinese Liaison Association (Qiao-Lian), itself a kind of "government(Party)-organized" non-governmental organization (GONGO) whose mission is to foster relations with Overseas Chinese and attract their investment.

[3] Interview with former Mayor Wang Jingsheng, 15 June 2000.

[4] In his attempt to build a global model of migration and development, Skeldon (1997) places particular emphasis on the global implications of family remittances, estimating that this flow of real capital is second only to that associated with the oil industry when looked at in aggregate. Skeldon also emphasizes the unevenness of the global remittance economy; Quanzhou is undoubtedly one of the locales in the world whose local economy is highly dependent upon overseas remittances.

[5] Although it is notable that three of the major fenxiang temples, including the Tian Hou Gong temple, mentioned above, were included in the list for restoration despite their roots in popular religion.

[6] Since 1981, Quanzhou has been officially designated a Lishi Wenhua Mingcheng ("Famous Historic and Cultural City"), a national designation similar to the international World Heritage Cities list.

[7] Beginning in 1990, for example, commodification of real estate extended to industrial and commercial buildings, mixed-use retail and housing, villas, apartments, etc., and often in the form of comprehensive, large-parcel development complete with infrastructure and social services.

[8] Land and housing property registration was resumed in 1981, a comprehensive cadastral survey undertaken in 1984-85, and the registry open to the public in 1989.

[9] Ancestor worship, like any of the popular folk religious activities that do not fit within the government's five categories of established religions, is officially proscribed in China, despite its widespread revival in fact (Dean 1993).

[10] For example, see Geremie Barmé's Introduction to Arlington and Lewisohn (1987).

[11] We owe much of the following account of the Republican-era urban history of Quanzhou to interviews with Mr. Wang Lianmao, Curator of the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, who interviewed many of the historic actors between 1961 and 1963.

[12] Perhaps the most telling evidence of the passions aroused by the reformers' idealistic efforts was the fate of Ye Qingyan, a Philippine huaqiao leader of the public works bureaucracy: loudly condemned by conservative local scholars and officials for destroying the city's ancestral tradition, he eventually resigned and became a monk.

[13] The Gazetteer states: "As early as the late 19th century in the main cities and towns the landscape is dotted with villas built by huaqiao. But not until the late Qing dynasty did the sale and rental of property become the main purpose of this construction" (p.220).

[14] Dean (1993) gives other examples of the persistence of ritual during this period, albeit carried out surreptitiously in the dark of night, in spite of the closure and dismantlement of temples.