historic houhai

July 1, 2007. ten year anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. Unlike ten years ago, when the city buzzed with anticipatory dreams of what two systems might mean for ordinary people, this year Shenzhen has been relatively unconcerned with commemorating the other of Deng Xiaoping’s two accomplishments. When an American friend asked a Shenzhen friend what they were doing for “July 1st,” my Shenzhen friend looked at both Yang Qian and me, trying to figure out what holiday it was.

May 1st is International Labor Day. June 1st is International Children’s Day. July 1st is the birthday of the Chinese Communist Party, although its an internal holiday, so nobody celebrates it. As we counted, everyone got into the “first” spirit. August 1st is the birthday of the People’s Liberation Army. September 1st is the first day of school. October 1st is National Day. November 1st is All Saint’s Day. December 1st? Nothing. January 1st is New Year’s Day. February 1st? Nothing, but February 2nd is Ground Hog’s Day, which might count in a more generous world. March 1st? Again nothing, but International Women’s Day falls exactly one week later on March 8th. April 1st is All Fool’s Day. We turned to our guest. July 1st?

Tenth Anniversary, she said.

Ahh. We knew that, but it hadn’t registrared. Clearly.

Not that Shenzhen hasn’t prepared a major engineering feat to commemorate the Handover. This morning at around 10 a.m., the Western Corridor Bridge (lit up)officially opened, as did the Shenzhen Bay Border Checkpoint. At 6 a.m,. this morning I made my cursory “in the spirit of documenting history” appearance at the site. I walked down the old Nanyou street. At the intersection between the road and the new Houhai Ocean Front Road, police had set themselves up to prevent cars from going in. Presumably, they were also keeping people off the sidewalk. However, about 10 steps away it was possible to walk through the park that had just been put in (also for the opening ceremony). Walking this way it was possible to go around the police and head toward the new Customs Checkpoint and get a closeup of the Bridge.


heading south the banners read: one country two systems, together build a harmonious society; one land, two checkpoints, achieve scientific development

I came back to the house and told Yang Qian that I felt for the police. Not because I think they should be barricading people away from the checkpoint. Not even because they had to stand in weather that alternated between excruciating sun and thunderstorms. But because they were called on to do a job they couldn’t actually do. Anyone who wanted to walk toward the checkpoint and look at the fuss could and did. There were just too many open spaces from which to access the site. All this reminded me of when I tried to get on the Houhai land reclamation site at Number 8 Industrial Street and ended up walking around to Number 7 Industrial Street. And the funny thing is, once on the site, nobody questioned my right to be there. Likewise, once wandering around the new coastline, noone stopped me. This perhaps an important point about cultural assupmptions about belonging. Difficult access, but once in/on a site noone bothers you. How different from the US, where its not enough to get past the guards, but you also have to remain out of sight. Different forms of regulation. Or assumptions about what regulating means.


heading north the banners read: one bridge connects north and south, shenzhen and hong kong add another connecting passage; enthusiastically celebrate the official opening of the shenzhen bay border checkpoint

Once at the new coastline, much about the topography that the land reclamation project has produced fell into to place for me and I could see a whole, where previously I had only seen partial edges. Those already obsolete pictures, took when looking out toward unbounded space have something immence about them. In contrast, from the perspective of the new coastline, the area still looks big, but now seems managable, within the scope of a retrospectively visible and relentlessly mastering plan. As if we knew what we were doing all along. Or somebody did. So, pictures of historic houhai and a sense of just how banal human effort can suddenly seem.

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