A Home of Our Own?

A story in today’s Chengdu Daily announces the construction of a “foreigner only” housing complex in Chengdu’s TianFu New City Hi-Tech Zone, in the south side of the city.

According to the report, the complex will cover just over 250,000 square meters of space, house at least 5,000 people, and is geared to service the employees of the more than 850 different foreign enterprises that have offices in Chengdu. The project will cost more than 5 billion yuan and foreigners are only allowed to rent, but Chinese are not allowed to buy or rent any unit in the complex.

“In order to maintain the international district’s ‘blood type’ purity, Tianfu International has decided to use the ‘rent not sell’ method,” wrote Chengdu Daily reporter Miao Qin. “Only thus can the international district ensure that only foreigners will live here.”

Tianfu International District will be completed in October

The new complex, Tianfu International District, is a project of the Hi-Tech Zone and will hopefully bring in even more foreign enterprises with its wide range of high-end amenities, such as a bilingual kindergarten, Western clinic, library, and fitness area, all overseen by a foreign management company. The estimated date of completion for the first part is October 2010 — this part will include apartments and 36 stand-alone houses for CEOs and other high ranking executives. According to the Chengdu Economic Daily, the second part of the complex will be all apartment complexes, housing the majority of the district’s population. The third and final quarter of the complex will be a Sichuan-style “Business Street,” so that foreigners who live here can “better understand this city, and grow to love the city.”

In an interview with the Tianfu Morning, Chengdu Hi Tech Investment Group’s (CHITG) deputy general manager, Xu Liang said, “Their (foreigners) living situation is too scattered and according to the Municipal government’s decision, we built a “Chinese Home” for all of the foreigners in the Hi-Tech Zone.”

Chengdu Hi Tech Investment Group, a government investment arm, is the project’s developer and plans also include an “Enlightened Church” to satisfy any of the tenants spiritual needs. The developer partnered with Canadian architects, Zeidler Partnership, the Japanese architectural firm Kume Sekkei and with an architect named “Weisa Honklin” (??·???) from northern Europe. Through these partnerships and through extensive surveys the Hi Tech zone conducted amongst foreigners in Chengdu, (unfortunately Chengdu Living was unaware of and therefore unable to participate in these surveys), CHITG and the Chengdu Municipal government hope to build the first truly international housing complex in western China in the hopes of attracting even more foreign investment.

Reaction to the announcement was swift and critical in some Chinese media. In this essay, entitled “Chengdu Builds a Luxury Complex for Foreigners Only: A Self-Abasement,” the author, Gen Zhai, writes, “one look and this smacks of the old concessions during the Qing Dynasty, but there is one big difference. Back then the foreigners made us do it; this time we are doing it to ourselves.”

In chatrooms across the country, netizens referred to the news as, “New China, New Concession,” in reference to certain Foreign Concessions in Shanghai and Tianjin that gained infamy with their “No Chinese or Dogs allowed” policy.

We have no plans to move into an “all foreigner” housing complex and we will be conducting our own impromptu survey to see if there is great demand for such a complex among other foreigners living in Chengdu.

27 thoughts on “A Home of Our Own?”

  1. Chinatowns all over the world are an example of Chinese people who left their country for better opportunities, and clustered together to continue enjoying their familiar lifestyle. While it is segregation, and a commodity which I can’t imagine anyone in my personal circle of friends demanding, I have met and heard of plenty of expats who this is directly targeting: families of people here on business and anyone else sucked up by China’s economic Hoover. We can also learn from the Chinatown phenomenon that Chinese people who have never experienced forced-segregation might assume that many foreigners coming to China would opt to segregate themselves into a familiar community if given the choice.

    • I think the concern of Chinese people is the fairness of creating an exclusive community for foreigners which undoubtedly will be of far high living standard than people right next door.

      You raise good points about Chinatown in the US, but I think they’ve grouped together there partly to shield themselves from the hardship of integrating into some of the most competitive cities in the US economically and culturally. In China, foreigners are bigger earners and spenders than locals so it’s a bit of a different situation because the economic inequality is reversed. Most foreigners can live anywhere in Chengdu they choose, yet I wouldn’t expect Chinese immigrants to have many options in San Francisco or Manhattan.

      What surprises me is that they actually expect to fill these houses with 5,000 of the kind of foreigners that you describe: employees of multi-nationals who are just working in Chengdu for the paycheck.

  2. Excellent point, I agree that most of my friends would not want to live in a “segregated community,” but if you think about it — without bringing our inherent ideas of race into it — then it could be comfortable to walk downstairs and have a cup of coffee/tea/chai the way you had it back in your own country, pick up the NYT/China Daily/Hindustani and just ease back speaking your own language. And no sneaky landlords to deal with …

    its just the artificiality of this particular complex that makes it, in my opinion, facepalmingly hilarious.

  3. on Douban we’ve already talked about it.
    most Chinese think it’s totally stupid and ridiculous.
    and if that really happens , we are planning to do some business there such as: opening a whorehouse there.
    plus, i bet that will be a new hunting place for many Chinese girls

  4. Cantonment comes back to life. Perhaps it’s just a useful way to keep all of us together so they can spy on us without having to go all over the city. Phone tapping for corporate secrets anyone? Computer hacking never stopped them why would phone tapping. I’m excited to stay far away from this planned innovation. What’s the point of living in China if you don’t “live in China”. You can get what you need around town. Agreed it’s not all easily reachable as it seems it would be in this place. But people would never get out of the complex. Work is just across the road, Carrefour round the corner no doubt, pubs & clubs opening soon I imagine.

    • Security on the complex and espionage is a good point that you bring up, since they’re aiming directly for those who would be holding valuable information. I wonder how that will factor into large corporations putting employees there. I can’t imagine many others would choose to live there.

    • I don’t think this complex is meant for the kind of person who comes to china looking for a new experience. It’s for people who end up getting shipped out here for work, probably with their families in tow. They will appreciate a comfortable safe hassle free environment for their family.

  5. This kind of thing happens in Korea as well. Some foreigners would like such as set-up. Personally, I like living in the community as just another person. If I had to live in a “foreigners complex” I’d stay home.

    • yeah i can imagine. When i was young i lived in Japan on an Army base and we were completely cut off from the life “off-base.” I was just a little punk, so it didn’t register as much for me as it might now, but i remember going off base and cooking our own food at the local Japanese spot, buying bags of gyoza and drooling at all the cool ass toys the Japanese had — including the first Nintendo.

      I enjoyed both aspects of the life, but its freedom from fear and apprehension and freedom to exchange with the Other that stays with you. Even for expats in a company who want to give their wives a life like back home, the thing they’ll remember will not be the artificial America, but the strange and amazing country they live in.

  6. I’d like to hear from the horses mouth (no offence) about the sanctuary at chengdu which has been created for moonbears. I would also like to know how animals are treated in Chengdu and is it true that cats and dogs are killed there in the markets for their fur? I have heard so much from different sources, but you guys live there so the best ones to ask.

    • Hi Carol,

      I haven’t heard anything about a Moon Bear sanctuary in Chengdu or cats/dogs getting killed for fur in markets. I’d venture a guess that the latter is untrue. If you want to send us a note in the future, please use the contact form at the top of the site. Thanks!

    • Hi Carol:

      Actually there is a Save the Moon Bears movement and they do have a sanctuary of sorts, if you are interested, I can put you in touch with them.

      As for animals, there was a very large trade in furs outside of Chengdu between the Hui traders, Han traders and the Tibetans. This trade went on for a long time and was addressed through a variety of measures:

      The Dalai Lama issued a statement asking Tibetans to cease the trade in furs and Tibetans responded by burning thousands of fur-lined garments. Especially in Kham (western Sichuan), where Khampas wear long winter cloaks with fur-lined insides, the response was dramatic. It is still possible to find fur-lined Tibetan cloaks, but they are increasingly rare and now usually are from sheep, goats or yaks and not endangered species.

      As for the Hui Trade, it is still going, but not as strong as before. If you travel to places like Songpan, you can see some of their wares. The trade is not as heavy in the city of Chengdu, because the government frowns upon it, but the demand is there, so the trade will continue.

      If this is something you are passionate about, perhaps we can do a little story for you or at the least start a dialogue.


    • not sure about cats and dogs for fur, but I doubt it. There is however a rumor that China is trying to ban the use of cat and dog meat. Charlie has the link somewhere, right?

      I think that that is a lost cause for dog meat, but people tend to look down upon cat eaters.

  7. Hello again. I now have the Animals Asia info. and have learned more on Google about the fur and also about the proposed new laws on dog meat. Nevertheless, thank you very much for your help – I should have googled it first, but your comments about the dog meat ban being a lost cause are interesting. I guess a ban from the government isn’t going to change anything overnight, but I do hope eventually that attitudes will change towards animals in general – not just in China either!

    Thanks again and regards, Carol

  8. Great stuff Sascha!

    Carol, the Moon Bear Center is fantastic, and with any luck, will become a model for other animal rights orgs who want to do something in China. Definitely follow up with Sascha or I if you want to visit.

    Re: the foreigner complex, I should echo Ben’s comments. A lot of foreigners sent out here by big companies work hard and long hours, and they and their families don’t have or want the capacity for adaptation. I’m not of this mindset, but there is always another way to look at things.

  9. In the end this is nothing new. You have sort like areas in cities like Wuhan. (all French people working for Peugeot/ Citroen)

    I think this project was created by the government to provide suitable accommodation for expats. It’s just the way it is brought out that makes it sound a bit drastic. If you are sent to Chengdu with your family as an expat, for some people it is hard adjusting.
    Those people will find a great home in a place like this while they are in the Du.
    (I’m here for the China experience, I don’t care what kind of toilet I go to or the fact that my matress is rock hard…).
    Just think that different people have different needs, and for some of them this will be a good option. (I have to admit that I will be checking out the bars and restaurants as soon as they are open, Chengdu can use a couple of new alternatives) But it is a fact that the ‘foreigners only’ will bump on some strange reactions from both ‘foreigners’ and Chinese…

    • I haven’t heard of that place in Wuhan – have you been there? Is it an exclusive area for foreigners only? What I’m curious about are the particular details of a foreigner-only zone. I’d love to go to this development in Chengdu and take some photos and further investigate.

  10. I wonder how many listening devices will be built into these buildings? Every room of every apartment? Industrial espionage is already an epidemic and now this allows the fox into the hen house as far as information collection from a central location. All emails will funnel through some hub, and I can guess the hub will be monitored 24/7 by Beijing’s finest eavesdroppers and info scrubbers. What a dream for Beijing, no more confiscating laptops at the airport for ten minutes while they download its contents as you wait. Now they move all business people into the same central area. More central control, great.

    • It doesn’t really seem unlikely, does it? Recently a lot of major Western business entities are seriously considering taking a step back from the Chinese market due to the sometimes volatile conditions. With security becoming such a major concern in the business landscape of China, moving into a complex like this has to be carefully considered. You really can’t be too paranoid here when it comes to protecting your intellectual property.

  11. Dear Sasha,

    You write:

    “…netizens referred to the news ………….in reference to certain Foreign Concessions in Shanghai and Tianjin that gained infamy with their “No Chinese or Dogs allowed” policy.”

    There never was a “no Chinese or dogs allowed” policy. The story is an urban legend. There is also no evidence any alleged sign stating “no Chinese or dogs allowed” in a Shanghai Park ever existed. It is difficult to believe that the British who built the park would be so insensitive or stupid as to put up a provocative sign like that, especially at a time of civil war and social upheaval.
    My view is that the story was probably a piece of Chinese nationalist propaganda designed to stir up xenophobia against foreigners – a time honoured tactic by Chinese who hate other races.


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