Development and Urbanization
“Innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have topped the Chinese government agenda since 2014 as the backbone of the national effort to shift economic development driven by manufacturing to one that is steered by innovation. In response, Guizhou, a landlocked province in Southwest China, has been constructing China’s first national pilot zone for big data industry since 2013. Known for its poverty, rurality and remoteness to the rest of the country, Guizhou is making the most of its natural advantages— mild climate, abundant hydraulic power and lack of earthquakes—to grow a big data industry. With such corporations as Foxconn, Apple, Tencent and Huawei setting up their data centers in the mountains, Guizhou seems to be turning its remoteness into an edge. This paper argues that the ongoing development defies the common techno-utopian claim that technology connects and overcomes marginality; in effect, technological connectivity works through and entrenches marginality in Guizhou.
Centered on contested land acquisition for the construction of data centers in the big data pilot zone, this paper shows that the fact that Guizhou’s mild climate, rich natural resources and lack of earthquakes have been foregrounded as the ideal conditions for the IT industry demonstrates that its location and resources are considered as more useful than its people. Not only does this raise questions about the prosperity promised by the pilot zone, the prospect of labor absorption and the emergence of surplus populations, but also the development trajectory that is further relegating the province to its marginalized position.