Socialist Ideology, Property System and Domestic Space in Tulou
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
This paper studies the interplay between rural communities and the communist state in shaping rural housing and domestic space during the period of China's socialist transformation (1950s to 1980s). In particular, it examines how changes to the system of property ownership have affected rural housing. I argue that unlike urban domestic space, which was unintentionally "modernized" in response to the state-imposed communist ideology, rural houses were actively and strategically constructed by their collective owners/proprietors in order to maximize their share of public goods.
China's socialist transformation had significant consequences for domestic space. In urban areas, all property belonged to the state. The work unit (danwei) played a vital role in shaping individuals' modern identity through providing housing to its workers. But rural areas, with their distinct population structure and social organization, were administered through another system, the people's commune. The commune system consisted of three levels of land ownership. The lowest level, the production team, corresponded to the original natural village or community. The production team was the basic accounting and farming unit in the system. It owned most of the land and local resources as a collective proprietor.
Buildings known as Tulou have been a communal housing tradition in southeastern China for centuries. When the socialist transformation was launched, Tulou communities directly transformed themselves into production teams without reframing themselves according to communist ideology. They successfully became legal collective proprietors. The commune property system allowed them full access to public goods. They became developer-proprietors of new projects and seized local resources in order to construct real estate in excess of communal needs. This paper studies Tulou communities' strategic responses to state pressures, and the "communist" style housing they created as a consequence.