Migrant/Queer Youth Space in Shanghai Questions What Education Actually Means Outside of Institutional Structures 

“We all know what kind of education we don’t want, but what kind of education do we want?”

Yuqing, the initiator of Temporary Park and a queer Chinese sculptor, opened with this question I was too afraid to ask. Yuqing, along with their fellow artist Yufan, visited Wesleyan on Sunday, April 30th, to hold a presentation and discussion on their journey with Temporary Park, titled “Teenagers vs. Office: Sculpting Together a Precious and Precarious Learning Space.”

As Yuqing presented, “Temporary Park is a community space of floating(migrant)/queer youths and people in the outskirts of Shanghai. Using the scale of everyday life, we create our mutual-aid network in the urban fringe, unfolding more possibilities of the public sphere.”

To understand the context of migrant youths, it is important to understand the rural population influx to urban areas, as Yuqing presented in a map of population change. They showed that migrant workers mostly move to coastal cities for better employment opportunities, Shanghai being one of the biggest hubs, but labor rights and educational rights for their children in the cities are seldom protected. According to Yuqing, migrant workers’ children, even if born and raised in Shanghai, are often not officially residents and cannot enroll in public high schools. Thus, upon middle school graduation, most face the choice of occupational schools in Shanghai or public high schools in their parents’ “origin” towns.

Having volunteered in a migrant youth center, Yuqing has connected with migrant youths who have gone on to occupational schools. They observed that the youths have a lot of free time but no available space or resources at home, school, or in the public spaces. So when Yuqing had access to an empty space in an office building that their family wasn’t able to rent out, they decided to invite the youths to hang out and “see what would happen.” “We want to give a lot of space . . . not just physical space but also space for breathing outside of the prescribing and discipling in schools and families.”

Yuqing approached community organizing as artist and sculptor, embracing the unuseful, unstructured, and chaotic in a city of efficiency and progress. They were also intentional to break the top-down model of charity and teacher-student relationship; rather they wanted a space for mutual learning and mutual aid. So they started from a literal empty room, and youths would come after school to build tables and chairs from “trash.” Yuqing was critical of furniture and architecture, which they thought to discipline people to position their bodies in a particular way. They believed that by having everyone collaborate to build the space from scratch, they could form “a more intimate and non-alienating way with objects/[the] environment” and take ownership to shape the space’s power dynamics. So in the winter of 2021, with the first pool table built, an empty office space that used to be a cram school was slowly transformed into a temporary park where everyone could come and go and turn it into what they wanted.

Since then, with chaotic energy, it has evolved to be an open-access studio, communal kitchen, where members take turns to cook and clean, a place to live away from family, and so much more. Youths have utilized the space to share skills with each other like textile art, painting, and even math, which Yuqing described as “the subject that is hijacked into studying for a score.” They engage in collaborative art-making, like weaving together during a typhoon day and building an installation from used materials to map the city as they see it from its periphery. They question why a class or workshop is the only form we think of when we think about knowledge sharing, striving to change “from teaching to sharing, giving, and collaboration.”

It is not lost on us that Temporary Park is temporary and precarious with uncertainties around member’s post-occupational-school plans and state regulations. The precarity and fugitivity of the space make it even more precious. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid but didn’t think was possible,” said Nate Uberuaga ’25, one of the participants, “But they made it a reality. It’s incredible to see. And their commitment is inspiring.” Another participant, Shaoxuan Tian’23, who had involvement in experimental and communal educational projects in China herself, said “From [Yuqing’s] critique of schooling and their thinking on how to live disorderly yet caringly together . . . I found so much energy and confirmation. I have never been engaged in long-term projects as closely as yuqing and admired their dedication. In the meantime, the realization that we somewhat vibrated with each other in parallel universes made me feel like crying.”

William Lin ’26 admired yuqing’s artistic way of approaching community organizing — non-utilitarian, non-quantifiable, yet deeply genuine. He thought that learning about community organizing globally on campus was especially important because it brings a fresh perspective – “that is like grass wildly growing” – into the activism or campaign structures in the US that tend to be highly formalized. Xingyan Guo’25, one of the co-organizers, chimed in to stress the importance of carving out space for transnational activism. “It provides new possibilities . . . for community organizing across cultures and languages. Otherwise international solidarity is just an empty saying.”

After the presentation, everyone sat around in Boger’s classroom, which the co-organizers intentionally chose as the event location because it is one of the most rigid-classroom-like classrooms on campus. While engaging in Q&A, participants ate cup noodles and melon seeds, a Temporary Park style dinner that disrupted Boger’s architecture style.

I would like to end with Yuqing’s final comment, which is worth quoting in length. It is in a space like Temporary Park, that “unconventional combination[s], absurd collage[s], and unapologetic appropriation of ready-made items” happen. These little things, which Yuqing called “humble little sculptures,” “require a queer way of approaching and understanding the world. It takes the most common items, whose definitions are usually confined in [their] assigned use. And [this] assigned use [is] being disregarded, so we reapproach them again like a curious kid seeing those things for the first time as [a] unique existence full of potential. I do wonder if this is how we start to reexamine the instrumentalized time and space in this ever-turning city and the moments of our lives contained within it.”

The co-organizers—Loren Wang’25, Xingyan Guo’25, and myself—are honored and grateful to have Yuqing share Temporary Park’s full episodes (for the first time!), with us at this institutional setting. The event was generously sponsored by Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Center for the Humanities, Anthropology, and College of East Asian Studies.

Yuqing sharing a moment when Temporary Park members rearranged the cram school’s original Confucian signs on the wall into “Gay Soup.” Image credit to Tracy Wu ’25.

Written by Xiran Tan ’24, xtan01@wesleyan.edu . Xiran is an English and East Asian Studies double major from Guangdong, China. They are involved with campus organizing especially in the Chinese international student community.