I’ve just realized that all of Xi Jinping’s announcements refer to deepening “reform (改革).” Here’s the thing. Shenzhen has been about reform and opening (改革开放). I know. Quibble, quibble. But. I suddenly realized I wasn’t paying enough attention to the words used. And this in a country where words are serious politics. We were warned about the aggressive closing down of ideological alternatives, but because my eyes glazed over (from propaganda overload) when I got to “reform” in announcements, I unconsciously supplied the “opening” as if we were doing more of the same.
Neo-Confucianism continues to show up in unexpected places. Most recently, cadres are told that “going home for dinner is honorable.” Of note, with the window and the parked car outside the window, “home” suddenly seems uncannily US suburban. I know, inquiring minds continue to wonder: just how “American” is the Chinese Dream?
People agree that art is important to cultivating a creative society, however, there is less agreement about how art enhances creativity. At Handshake 302, we believe that art praxis does not emphasize making something new, but rather emphasizes using materials already at hand in new ways. This is a slight but important difference. We are interested in the creative process more than we are interested in creative products. In fact, artists are simultaneously curious and pragmatic, asking a simple question: what can I do with this? Continue reading
Yesterday, I visited the former Tanglang Industrial Park, which has been rebranded as 集悦城 (SoFunLand), a residential area for young workers. The first floor of the factories have been rented out for commerce and the second to fourth (or sixth) floors have been retrofitted as dormitories. This, we are told, is the future of post-Baishizhou downtown; young migrants can live in the dorms until they secure housing elsewhere. Continue reading
An essay that looks back at the past five years at Handshake 302, “Figuring Post-worker Shenzhen” has been published in Made in China (vol. 3, issue 1, Jan-Mar 2018). In happy coincidence, one of the contributors to Learning from Shenzhen, Eric Florence also discusses representations of migrant labor in this volume (“Rural Migrant Workers in Independent Films: Representations of Everyday Agency,” pp 96-103). The journal is hosted at the website, Chinoiresie.info.
In order to talk about the ways in which urban villages are both the form and content of the emergence of Shenzhen, the mind searches for a narrative arc in the earnest hyperbole of a Sci-Fi universe where the good is still mostly good and the bad drags its slimy tale through fetid waste streams. However recycled and repurposed, we’re still talking about the contradictions that made Fritz Lang’s Metropolis so compelling. Above ground, the Metropolis boasts spires and towers for scientifically enhanced bodies that play in an Olympian stadium and pleasure gardens. These beautiful bodies can only be achieved through exploitation and guided mutation; evil is attractive. Underground, human workers endlessly labor. Unappealing and gaunt, shriveled and inert, these low-end bodies are fashioned through usefulness to the machine and dreary tenement lives.
My recent turn to Sci-Fi is (as were Mary Shelley’s and Fritz Lang’s respective turns) informed not so much by a fear of mad science, but by distress over how technology is produced, distributed and used in neoliberal cities. Technology has been central to the form and content of social polarization in Shenzhen. Urban villages are not substandard living spaces. In fact, when compared to low-income neighborhoods in other Chinese cities and abroad, Shenzhen’s villages are almost middle middle class quality. But here’s the rub. Shenzhen’s urban villages are substandard with respect to the city’s gated communities, shopping malls, and office towers–and the gap is growing.