Walked Baishizhou yesterday with nine others, a group of tourists large enough to attract the attention of children who thought we were English. Sweaty and somewhat irascible, I countered, “We are German and Austrian, Indian, American, Chinese and Taiwanese.” Indeed. The attention that is paid to Baishizhou grows, even as both demolition and upgrading proceed, albeit in different parts of the neighborhood. So a walk through the eastern section of Baishizhou. The above photograph from the sixth floor building is aimed eastward, toward the OCT to contextualize the walk, and bring int into focus the vanishing act in play.
If memory serves (and it tends to serve some agenda), I first visited Huaqiangbei (formerly the Shangbu Industrial Park) in 1995, when it was still primarily a manufacturing and residential area, but didn’t know what I was looking at. The big ideas in my head had to with workers rights and feminism, and so I was aware of the factories, the state sponsored housing, the few department stores, including the then still operative Friendship store, and the iconic Shanghai Hotel with its surprisingly good Cantonese dim sum. I noticed that neighboring Gangxia and Tianmian were under construction, but glossed this new urban morphology as a “new village.” I didn’t realize that the scale of immigration and construction that happened during the 90s and defined “Shenzhen” for me would be different enough from the 1980s that friends who arrived during the Special Zone’s first decade laughing asserted that Shenzhen was changing so quickly that if they didn’t visit a neighborhood for several years it was easy to get lost; Shenzhen in 1989 and 1999 were two different cities. And that was almost two decades ago.
This past few days I’ve been in Changde, participating in the “Chance Encounter” Contemporary Arts Festival. Its the first of its kind in the city, and attempts to bridge between the city’s rich heritage of carpentry and stone-cutting with the capitalist juggernaut that has made its way to China’s so-called “third tier” cities.
We know that Shenzhen is an immigrant city, but inquiring minds wonder: where do the immigrants come from? Based on the recent release of Shenzhen statistics (for 2015), I’ve come up with the following chart that gives a crude (very, very crude) approximation of where Shenzhen’s residents are from circa 2014. Of note, if Chongqing and Sichuan counted as one place, instead of as a city and province respectively, the area would be roughly tied with Hunan for second most common origin. And yes, this corresponds with my (again vague) impression that Guangdong, Hunan, and Sichuan/Chongqing restaurants dominate the city’s eating!
Yesterday, I heard this story: A 30-something farmer from Lanzhou came to Shenzhen in 2013 in order to make his fortune. He started out working for a relative in a Lanzhou Noodle Shop, and then after a few months decided to open his own noodle shop. After looking around for a suitable place, he decided to purchase the rental rights to a noodle shop in Baishizhou, on the western side of Shahe Road. The shop had been recently renovated and came with a hefty transfer fee—180,000 rmb with a high rent. But the man was enthusiastic. So he sold his homestead land (宅基地) as an initial investment and moved his family to Baishizhou, where they worked. Only his youngest son went to school, while his oldest didn’t go to high school so he could work in the shop. As the last of the buildings in the Shahe Industrial Park are being demolished, he is being forced out without any compensation and no way back home. Continue reading
On Friday September 9, 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Nanting Village, Guangzhou with Professor Chen Xiaoyang, from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. The occasion for the visit was a screening of Zhong Shifang’s film, “From Border to Border,” a documentary on the Chinese community in Tangra Calcutta. I will discuss the film in my next post. Today, I would like to contextualize the screening of the film with a brief introduction to Nanting Village. Continue reading
It’s been a long time coming. Or not. Roughly a decade after Shenzhen targeted urban villages as “dirty, chaotic, and substandard” and less than five years after Gangxia changed how we thought about compensation, the official Shenzhen press has indicated its time for the city to change how it thinks about urban villages. Continue reading