How many people are there in Shenzhen? No one actually knows and there are many ways of counting–hukou population, temporary population, and administrative population are the three most popular forms. However, according to “Guangdong Mobile Big Data Application Innovation Center,” in November last year an average of 25.67 million people were in Shenzhen. Of course, this population figure is the result of an algorithm, involving Mobile personal users over 18 years old who have appeared in Shenzhen, combined with Shenzhen mobile communication market share, one-person multi-card rate and the number of children aged 18 and under. But still, this figure is circulating on we chat.
When I first moved to Shenzhen in 1995, I lived at Shenzhen University, which at the time was located on the northern banks of Shenzhen Bay and boasted oyster farming on just beyond its campus border. In fact, for the first decade that I was in Shenzhen (1995-2005), land reclamation and the reconstruction of the coastline was one of the major ongoing infrastructure projects, even as the city shifted its economic emphasis from manufacturing to innovation. So for over a decade, I walked reclaimed land. As the landfill settled, grass grew, squatters came and went, and the city itself “washed its feet and stepped on land,” an expression that was used in the 1990s to describe the transformation of farmers into urban residents. Locally, the expression referred to how local villagers left their paddies and fish ponds to become landlords, while in terms of migrants, it referred to migrant workers who left their home villages to work in factories. Continue reading
Several days ago, I walked from Coastal City (海岸城) to Shenzhen Talent Park (深圳人才公园). Previous walks–now long ago and far away, and besides that was a different city–had me wandering the reclaimed land behind Coastal City. However, the new coastline is as firmly in place as anything on shifting sands. What’s more, its a popular destination for families and this popularity deserves comment. After all, people are walking from the old new coastline (at roughly Houhaibin Road) to its newest coastline, a walk that takes at least fifteen minutes one way. Below are images that give a sense of the layout of the new park. In the maps, the purple line is Houhaibin Road, the approximate old new coastline. Continue reading
When I first came to Shenzhen in 1995, the idea was to find a group of people who were willing to be interviewed, fill spiral notebooks with handwritten notes, and return to Rice to write-up said notes in 1996, or at the very latest, 1997 and then writing my way into an academic position. That didn’t happen. Instead, I stayed in Shenzhen until 1998, finished the dissertation in 1999, held a post-doc for one year, and then began the transition from trying to secure a tenure-track offer at a US university to figuring out what an American ex-pat might do in Shenzhen, which was itself transitioning from being a manufacturing hub into an innovation city. Continue reading
Anyone else following the musical choices of the plaza dancing aunties? This year, in my compound its suddenly Beijing opera, complete with drums, high pitched arias, and flowing sleeves. I had accustomed myself to the forgettable blandness of “my little apple.” And now, abruptly I learn that Beijing opera plaza dancing has been a thing for at least a year!
There is this sense or perhaps compulsion to make sense of the city through its cultural history, as if history were the whole story and not some narrative, which has been retrofitted to the needs of the moment. This is not to say that the needs of the moment are unimportant, merely to highlight that what counts as history and when history may come to count (so to speak) are themselves effects of other social processes which may or may not have anything to do with what happened, but are (nevertheless) important to understanding what we think happened. All this to say, answering the question “how did Hakka-scapes come to the foreground of Shenzhen’s current embrace of history?” requires double think: we not only need to rummage around to figure out what happened then, but also to posit why then-and-there have been positioned at the origin of here and now. Continue reading
The first week in ancient Heshun (腾冲市和顺古镇) was a rush to the senses. Clean air and clear skies set off renovated homes and fields of rape flowers, while at night it was possible to count stars. We ate bean porridge seasoned with local chili sauce and stood in line to eat bean cake rolls, and as we left the restaurant we brushed our hands against the cool surface of volcanic stone. Although roads now thread through protected forest areas, nevertheless tourism has transformed Heshun’s “scenic area,” which costs 55 yuan to visit. The ticket includes entry to the town’s main historic attractions. Consequently, “scenic” Heshun is as modern as anywhere else in China: within its narrow allies, tourists navigate a smorgasbord of imported goods and plastic containers, fluffy kittens and easy-going golden retrievers, as well as stores selling luxury items such as Myanmar jade, “southern red” jade, silver jewelry, and local ceramics.