Dalang: the preserved monument


A gospel school was preserved in the demolition of Dalang. The complex was built and used by the Presbyterian church as a school for young women. The complex was given over to the local authorities and preserved now as a exhibition space, museum and classroom.

The architect in charge of the conservation project shared that they were also trying to conserve some of the houses that were near the complex. However, it was like a competition with the developer as the team also has to buy the house from the owner.


Conserved building in the foreground was bought over from a villager. The left side of the building cannot be conserved because that owner did not agree on the terms.

Dalang: the back story

Dalang is an urban village in Shenzhen.


A deal has been signed with a developer to redevelop the land. Some of the buildings with historic value, such as a watchtower are also marked for demolition.


Some of the buildings in the village are still being lived in. Any marked up building with a number indicates that that household has already signed a deal with the developer. The families left behind live amongst the rubble. One of the signs say ‘demolition site, growing vegetables is strictly prohibited’.

The arts workshop was organised with the intention of gathering more attention to the lost heritage during the redevelopment of urban villages. The artists are invited to listen, record and most importantly respond to the situation in their own interpretation.

Dalang Arts Workshop: a different city, a different approach

Shenzhen does it differently. Dalang Arts Workshop was organised by a bunch of artists, one academic and one architect. It involved them going into an urban village, staying there and acting on the things that they see and hear. Compared to Shenzhen, ‘acting’ or intervening in an urban village is quite rare in Guangzhou. Guangzhou is more familiar with listening and recording, while in Shenzhen, interventions are readily accepted. Chen Zhou, one of the invited artists to the workshop who has been working on urban villages in Guangzhou for ten years, explained to me that Shenzhen is still a much more open city than Guangzhou. The latter is traditional – ceremonies, rituals and rules are important. The former is new – the Bi-City Biennale for one is an example of creative and experimental ways Shenzhen treats the future.


(Image above: the red word ‘demolition’ is often found on walls of buildings marked up for demolition. Artist here has added a word ‘no’ in front of ‘demolition’)

And therefore I was pleasantly surprised when I reached Dalang. The artists started the workshop by walking around, observing and listening to the village and its stories. And very readily they also started working on the site – collecting materials, drawing or making small installations.