Chapter 1: Introduction: neighbourhood governance in context
Changes in the urban neighbourhoods in China have been profound over the last few decades. New neighbourhoods of commodity housing for the newly emerged middle class have been constructed, while old neighbourhoods built by the work units (production or administrative units of the state - danwei) have been privatized and sold to the sitting tenants. The rapidly heating-up real-estate market in the last decade, and the consequent wealth effect on properties, have made homeowners more vigilant about anything that could have an impact on their stake in property. It is perhaps the economic motives in protecting this stake that underpin most of the collective actions of property owners. Yet such actions touch the nerve of local neighbourhood governments as they pose a risk to social stability, whose maintenance has become an important mission at all levels of government in China. The involvement of homeowners' associations in such collective action has fuelled the general suspicion of the state regarding autonomous organizations and has triggered an orchestrated effort to put homeowners' associations under state surveillance, even though the little autonomy they have enjoyed has been confined to property management issues within their residential neighbourhoods. The economic reform brought the danwei system to an end, with residential neighbourhoods formerly managed by the danwei being privatized and the social functions they shouldered being 'socialized' (transferred to families and the market).