administratively speaking, the term “shenzhen special economic zone” refers to nanshan, futian, luohu and yantian districts. baoan and longgang districts lay beyond what was once called the second line (二线) and is now more commonly referred to as outside the gate (关外). if memory serves, this linguistic shift took place several (2? 3?) years ago, echoing the loosening of border restrictions between the special economic zone and the rest of china. previously, chinese people needed special travel passes (通行证) to come to the sez. they also needed temporary residence permits (暂住证) to live and work here. to enjoy public benefits such as subsidized housing, medical care, and education for their children, they needed shenzhen household residency (深圳户口). as far as most chinese people were concerned, getting into the sez was like getting into a foreign country. thus, perhaps, the reason for another linguistic shift. very early into reform, shenzhen inhabitants (not all of whom were residents) started using the expression the interior (内地) not simply to refer to non-coastal regions (a question of relative geography), but also un-opened areas (a political-economic classification), including parts of guangdong.
(a word of warning on the use of words: when speaking mandarin, i have a tendency to use geographical terms from the perspective of shenzhen. this means i will say “the north (北方)” and mean “north of guangdong” and not “north of the yangtze,” which is more common in other parts of china. in the nineties, i actually heard shenzhen inhabitants refer to guangzhou as the interior, a classification few chinese in other cities would have come up with, let alone used in casual conversation. what’s interesting is that i use northern linguistic conventions when speaking in (admittedly americanized) english, where beijing seems to dominate our cognitive maps of china.)
what was special about shenzhen was that things could happen here that couldn’t happen elsewhere–factories built outside the national five-year plan, foreign investment on chinese soil, the creation of job and real estate markets, and the commodification of pleasure in ways that had once been condemned as bourgeois impediments to the revolution. the designation of land to meet particular political economic goals was common during the mao era. what was special about shenzhen, was that it was more about economic than political goals and this version of zoning spread quickly. in 1984, the government opened the fourteen coastal cities, in 1985 the three special deltas, and in 1992 much of the country.
all this reforming and opening of the interior meant that shenzhen was no longer special. clearly, after the death of deng and the ascension of jiang zemin, it became common to talk of shanghai, rather than shenzhen, as the harbinger of china’s global future. and so, shenzhen intensified the use of zoning to achieve economic competitiveness. at almost every administrative level (city, district, market town, street administration, and new village) as well as ministerial levels, shenzhen has opened various kinds of economic zones. some are simply new village factory areas and have no special status outside the village’s status, others are administratively recognized industrial and free trade zones with corresponding legal perks. thus, one of shenzhen’s three free trade zones, the futian district free trade zone abuts huanggang and shuiwei factory areas, which are roughly two kilometers from what will become the futian technology park.
saturday, i walked through the futian free trade zone. i was struck, once again, by the contradictions of development in shenzhen. this time specifically by that between industrial manufacturing and the city’s mandate to become a green city. the futian free trade zone aspires to be a garden in the midst of the city and in part succeeds. here, large buildings nestle behind landscapes of fake mountains and imported trees, while container trucks rumble down tree-lined boulevards. outside the barbed wire fence that separates shenzhen from hong kong, the shenzhen river burps up less methane than it did a few years ago. i photographed containers in bloom.