Keywords of the Greater Bay Area

China's Mega Projects


Weng Jia

Artificial Islands

In the past 30 years, the Greater Bay Area has developed a high degree of technical proficiency in building artificial islands. Using steel drums to build cofferdams in the ocean, construction crews extracted the seawater from the dammed area and filled it with sand, clay, and earth to eventually form land. Early land reclamation materials came from earth extracted during construction projects. Recent artificial islands are being built further and further from the coast. To construct islands in such locations, people have to use dredgers to extract materials from the bottom of the sea. The oceans were once a legal vacuum, and as a result, artificial islands made it possible to establish self-consistent rules independent from the mainland. In the Greater Bay Area, Shenzhen's early artificial islands were born out of such vacuum. It was not until 2002, when The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Administration of Sea Areas emerged, that the State Council and provincial governments attained the power of land reclamation approvals. Before then, corporation-led land reclamation in Shenzhen, had followed market fluctuation and "the law of the jungle." Since 2002, existing artificial islands have become a foundation for legislation. By 2002, Hong Kong had been reclaiming land for 100 years. The Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Wan Chai are public infrastructure projects built on artificial islands.

Today, artificial islands in the Greater Bay Area are no longer dystopias isolated from the mainland, but solutions to urban problems. Some of them are critical nodes of important infrastructural projects, such as the two artificial islands that house the east and west entrances to the underground tunnel for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. Other such islands will be home to public housing projects intended to alleviate housing pressures, such as the artificial islands A and B in the Lantau development project proposed by the Hong Kong government in 2018. Artificial islands in the Greater Bay Area have weakened the significance of political discourse, defied regional differences, bypassed ideological confrontations, and have physically connected Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau into a singular infrastructural complex. Inadvertently, however, these islands have also destructed and reshaped the coastal ecosystems. In inflicting the same environmental risk to the entire region, artificial islands compel people to overcome disagreements, divides, and conflicts and to reconsider politics, economics, development, and other long-standing issues in the Greater Bay Area from an ecological perspective.

About Keywords of the Greater Bay Area

The "Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area" is a new construction envisioned from a top-down perspective and territorial integration. It is a blueprint for a future urban development based on efficiency, speed, and mobility. What if we conceive the Greater Bay Area as an experiment, an imaginary experiment? On the one hand, there is the question of 'diversity'. When we talk about smart cities, artificial intelligence, automation, ecological crisis, information security, the future of virtual reality, global trade, etc., where does this view of the future come from, and what determines it? On the other hand, a profound political, spatial, historical, and geographical significance is present in the Greater Bay Area. Is it possible to develop a different imagination based on the history and culture of the "Pearl River Delta-Greater Bay Area;" meaning, to consider a development departing from local knowledge production, negotiating with accelerating technologies, facilitating collaborations between art and other disciplines, and reshaping the vision of institutions of art and technology? By exploring the diversity of technologies, human and non-human ecologies, and reproduction of social relations, might it be possible to reposition the "Greater Bay Area" as a pioneering experiment of southern China's technological and cultural imagination beyond a mere economic zone?

Editors: Jianru Wu, Guo Yun
English editor: Christy Lange