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Student Satellites

March 26, 2012

The Airplane: Main Library at Nanjing Normal University, Xianlin Campus.

One of the big trends for China universities is the wholesale movement of entire campuses to distant suburban areas.  In Nanjing, this means that within the past two decades the city’s university campuses have mostly been shifted from the expensive central urban hub to satellite campuses in distant suburbs that only a few decades before were farmland.  There are now 10 universities located side by side, 45 minutes away from the Nanjing government and financial district, over hill and dale from the political center of the city.  On my teaching days, I take the shuttle bus along with the other graduate students and the handful of teachers who still live in the gritty Gulou district of Nanjing, where stands the venerable old campuses of Nanjing Normal University and Nanjing University.  NNU’s campus in central Nanjing is now host mainly to foreign students and the usual cadre of university administrators, who occupy the aging buildings of the original campus.

Classroom Building, Nanjing Normal University, Xianlin Campus.

One could speculate about the reasons for the displacement of 200,000 or more Nanjing undergraduate and graduate students into the formerly bucolic Edge City of Nanjing.  The first practical reason is fairly obvious: the need for affordable housing to lodge all those new students arriving in East Coast cities from the hinterlands of China.  There are more students in China than ever, and the campuses need to grow in order to accommodate this new wave of learners.  There’s less congestion out here as well, and the air’s a little clearer out beyond the urban center.

Well-heeled faculty and prosperous others are flocking here too, attracted by the healthy buzz of young people at study and play in old pastures now rich with lots of new but utilitarian concrete buildings.  Dorm space and faculty housing are government subsidized out here, but for everyone else real estate prices out in the university satellite areas have gone sky high in the past few years.  Everyone with the means to do so, it seems, is looking for some elbow room away from the bustling hub of China’s congested cities.  Not least the political authorities here, who are still smarting from the political upheavals and violent crisis that racked Beijing in the late 1980s, during which students were so much a part of the short-lived (but doomed) push toward increased openness and democracy.  Saving money on dorm space is only part of the story, though.  Getting everyone from academia out into the green fields of remote satellite campuses may have had what I suspect another intended outcome: putting a damper on student participation in urban-based dissent.

Occupy the suburbs, anyone?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Thomas Argiro permalink
    March 26, 2012 2:44 pm

    Indeed, decentralizing the student population defuses the potential for uprisings and mass protests, which do happen in certain areas and communities, but are typically blocked from world view by the state-controlled media. This practice also reminds students that in order to enter into the society as fully validated participants, they must undergo a transition from the comfortable communalism of student life to the real world of market economics, and thus make their way in a newly individuated and capitalistic society.

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