Wastewater treatment on Chongming eco-island: The cultural politics of hydrosocial territory-making

Ran Feng
Division of Geography and Tourism, KU Leuven, Belgium; ran.feng@kuleuven.be

Maarten Loopmans
Division of Geography and Tourism, KU Leuven, Belgium; maarten.loopmans@kuleuven.be

Kim Tondeur
Université Libre de Bruxelles, Faculté d'architecture La Cambre-Horta, laboratoire LoUIsE, Brussels, Belgium; kim.tondeur@ulb.be

ABSTRACT: The introduction of rural domestic wastewater treatment (WWT) installations is part of a grand scheme to realise China’s 'ecological civilisation' on Chongming in the Yangtze Delta region. Taking a cultural approach to hydrosocial territoriality, this article examines why this seemingly well-intended welfare intervention is rejected by rural islanders. The introduction of WWT does not only imply an upgrading of rural services, but is also seen as a top-down attempt at reshuffling the hydrosocial territories in which Chongming villages are embedded. Villagers perceive the WWT project as a forerunner of the greater threat of urbanisation and displacement of rural livelihoods, and also express a cultural reaction rooted in alternative rural understandings of landownership and engrained traditions related to water, waste, and soils. Village resistance forces local village cadres to intervene as cultural mediators between the villagers and the state. This moves the village cadres, against their own will, into a prominent position in the hydrosocial network. The article reveals how hydrosocial territories emerge from confrontations between top-down governance reshuffling and bottom-up manoeuvring.

KEYWORDS: Hydrosocial territory, cultural politics, eco-island, wastewater treatment, rural Yangtze Delta, China