UP—Reader Villager pedagogies and backpack organisers in Hong Kong ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ 

Urgent Pedagogies Reader.


From the Archive


In the Urgent Pedagogies Issue #2: Urgencies, Ou Ning discusses around the term “urgency” and how pedagogical platforms played a role during Chinese cases of urbanization and gentrification. He focuses on the conflict of Urban and Rural learning and explains the experience of the Bishan Project.

From the Archive re-surfaces pieces that have previously been published as part of Urgent Pedagogies Issues.

People gathered in a room for a poetry course

Poetry Course, the literary activities of 2011 Bishan Harvestival. Photo by Ou Ning, 2011.


Alternative pedagogies and social engagement


Ou Ning



Theory (Text Comission)


December 2020


Jingzhou, China


Community-based, Rural


“In the past two decades, I paid a lot of attention to the empowerment of the ordinary people and the activation of their creative potential on self-organization during the radical changes in the urbanization and gentrification process.”


The Urgency

The term “urgency” came up in 2003 when Hou Hanru invited me to participate in the “Zone of Urgency” section in the Venice Biennale. Then “urgency” became a key word in my projects.

In 2003 I made a documentary about the urban village Sanyuanli in Guangzhou. Two years later I made another documentary film about Meishi Street in the slum Dashilar in Beijing. These two projects focused on the urgent situation of China’s urbanization. It was urgent because there were huge conflicts in the radical urbanization process. I thought of it as a redistribution of social resources. It’s really similar to a revolution. A revolution is exactly about redistribution of social resources. The Chinese urbanization was a radical revolution that redistributed lands, properties and educational resources, as well as the livelihoods of ordinary people.

In Guangzhou and Beijing’s urbanization processes, there were many demolition projects. The governments conveyed the lands to developers, but the compensation was too little for people who used to live there. People would have to protest to ask for more justice and compensation. The protests would put China into a dangerous political situation. Same thing went for the rural areas — when the governments grabbed lands from the farmers and used this for development, they also gave very little compensation. Farmers had to defend their rights. This was the reason why so many weiquan events were produced. The radical urbanization process was putting China in what I consider a very urgent political situation.

Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the local government decided to widen the Meishi Street in front of the Tiananmen Square to facilitate traffic. The government had to demolish the houses around the street. I met a guy named Zhang Jingli. He protested at that time to ask for more compensation for his house. His way of protest was creative and full of humor. I decided to give him a camera. He had never used digital cameras before but I taught him the basics on how to use the camera. It was not like an education, but rather sharing knowledge or skills. He shot footage daily. Sometimes he even became a narrator, shooting and talking at the same time. He was a “citizen journalist”. This project became about how we could evoke the protests in ordinary people, and how we could help them.

Mr. Zhang often hung the protesting banners outside his house. The police would always come to tear down the banners but when Mr. Zhang carried the camera in his hand and put the focus back on them, they stayed still and dared not tear down the banners. The camera “empowered” Mr. Zhang’s protest. This was one example that I could connect my practice to “urgent pedagogy.” I don’t like the term “empower.” I prefer to “activate” the power within people. It’s different from giving power from the top-down to the people.

Whether it was the Sanyuanli Project, Dashilar Project, Bishan Project or the recent Kwan-Yen Project in Yantai, we still had to confront the same urgent situations. After the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the urbanization process in China expanded to the provincial capitals, second and third-tier cities, as well as the wider rural area. The problems emerging in the rural areas were more urgent and radical. The Bishan Project was a response to the urgent situations such as the bankruptcy of agriculture, the atomization of farmers and the depopulation of the rural society.



This text is based on an interview by Michelle Song for Urgent Pedagogies.

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Ou Ning is an artist, film maker, curator, writer, publisher and activist based in Jingzhou, China. He is the director of the documentaries San Yuan Li (2003) and Meishi Street (2006); chief curator of the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (2009); jury member of 8th Benesse Prize at 53rd Venice Biennale (2009); member of the Asian Art Council at the Guggenheim Museum (2011); founding chief editor of the literary journal Chutzpah!(2010-2014); founder of the Bishan Project (2011-2016); a visiting professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (2016-2017); and a senior research fellow of the Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research in Boston (2019-2021). His collected writings Utopia in Practice: Bishan Project and Rural Reconstruction is just published by Palgrave Macmillan (2020).


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