Known as the “Home of the Overseas Chinese”, 

Taishan is the origin of more than 1 million descendants diffused across the globe. Historically, these transnational networks helped fuel the growth of a rural region that is idiosyncratically cosmopolitan. Taishan commons was deeply sustained by the shared customs of ancestral clanship and cosmology principles. The stability and longevity of this commons served not only as the spiritual connector but also as a framework for collective socioeconomic mobility.

In the last century however, this part of the countryside has failed to abate its decline. Its aging population is matched by an equally decaying architectural fabric. Meanwhile, the massive Taishanese diaspora continues to flourish in larger cities nearby and abroad. Its current stagnation belies its cosmopolitan origins. The region’s heyday was, in a sense, the very catalyst of its decline - the migration of residents was accompanied by economic and social opportunities. Familial ties and social organizations that once shaped the region spatially and politically have fallen apart.

With China experiencing its current post-industrial transition, recent migratory patterns show people returning to the countryside to participate in a self-initiated creative economy. In this context, rurality is becoming more heterogeneous and malleable, with varied and contradictory parts, forming a new social construct that is open to cultural difference and fosters global consciousness. The research aims to demonstrate the existing social governance as an unbroken lineage that continues to reconcile the shifting values and interests of people and conflicts over the course of time.

New ideas about revitalization, including regional town centers and tourism economies are pushed forward as models to save these regions economically, but they all too often disregard cultural spatial patterns, historical landscape patterns, and individual or community choice. This project seeks to investigate Taishan as a site for rural futures and new commons. Its agenda, rather than transposing urban solutions for rural territories, is to investigate and imagine alternatives to business-as-usual development in the countryside.



当下,应顺着中国整体的后工业化转型,最近的移民模式表明人们正返回农村并自发性的以新颖的“创造型经济形式”参与着农村复兴。 在这种背景下,乡村的流动性增强,变得更加多样化,并形成了对文化差异更加开放的社会结构。本项目的研究旨在展示台山的社会治理是与其社群传承和其居民不断融合重整的利益导向与价值观密不可分的。


Taishan sits west of the Pearl River Delta, and thus is inextricably tied to that regional prowess,

and increasingly is seeing a westward march of transit and development. Historically, its waterways and Delta ports provided the opportunity for immigration and international trade.

In the region, the dominant role of society was agrarian, and in recent years has included manufacturing, production, and refinement in other industries. The region is in a low-lying valley, crossed by abundant streams its landscape is often flooded, but also ripe for nutrient extraction. Dotted between massive swaths of rice and eel farms are the traditional farm villages, and secondarily market villages. Traditionally these villages, each beholden to a clan, formed a web of catchment areas and agricultural specialty.

Today, new transit corridors, and urban development is attempting to agglomerate the population and provide services and jobs more efficiently. Half-empty farm villages are decaying as the original inhabitants have moved to regional cities or abroad. Disinvestment in the local architecture and urban fabric have led to the precarious situation where many of the structures are reaching their lifetime of structural stability. While some regional tourism projects have generated significant incomes for surrounding inhabitants, they have also evicted the original inhabitants and come at a great cost to familial heritage and property rights. The future of this region can not sustain life as it was, but the erasure or disnification of select sites is also untenable. A new commons must be constituted in order to rethink social connections and urban patterns of living.





Taishan Commons is a multi-dimensional project that aims to elevate the region’s declining social governance while reconstituting the local power as the key stakeholder for rural development. Situated as both a research project and community resource, the platform seeks to record, analyse, and project into the future of Taishan Commons during its post-industrial transition.

Taishan Commons 是一个多维度的项目,旨在提升本地日益衰落的社会治理水平,同时重整地方力量,使其成为农村发展的关键利益相关者。作为一个研究项目和社区资源,此平台致力于记录、分析和预测“台山社会”在后工业时代的发展。


This section is a resource which catalogues community members who are actively engaged in the ongoing heritage & community production of Taishan.


This section houses the theoretical underpinnings with critical historical, policy, and spatial research in Taishan and surrounding areas. It is divided into the following sections:

︎  History

︎  Rural Policy

︎  Spatial Politics

︎  Heritage


This section houses five student group projects from the Harvard GSD Spring 2020 studio “Taishan: Designing the Rural Cosmopolis in China” studio. Each project engages in research & imaginary futures using tourism as a catalyst for rural development.