Last year Ian Johnson described the staggeringly vast plan for the economic expansion of Beijing and Tianjin into Hebei, creating a megalopolis of 130 million people.
More recently, south of Beijing a new planned Special Economic Zone called Xiongan has been announced, enveloping the Hebei counties of Xiongxian and Anxin. On a par with Shenzhen and the Pudong New Area of Shanghai, it is projected to cover 2,000 sq km—nearly three times the size of New York.
This is the very area where our fieldwork revealed some of the most lively village ritual traditions, such as Hanzhuang.
The news is not just stimulating property developers and investors from all over, but most locals will inevitably be excited about the transformation this will bring to their economic circumstances. Not just 100 or 50 years ago, but when we were doing fieldwork there in the 1990s, it was a poor rural area.
Online, jokes were made about how Xiongan men were suddenly the most desirable in the country thanks to their newfound wealth.
One post that went viral on social media showed a man jauntily posing for the camera, purportedly advertising himself as marriage material.
“Xiongan New Area marriage notice: Male, 53 years old… has two acres of land in Xiongxian,” the caption read.
Like the district itself, this story will continue to grow. Spare a thought for local amateur ritual culture, already buffeted by successive waves of Maoism and capitalism. Ian Johnson’s recent visit is described here.