dongmen fading


street market, hubei village

yesterday, i walked through hubei old village (湖贝旧村) and luoling (螺岭), both of which are under the administration of dongmen administrative neighborhood (东门街道办事处). hubei and luoling are located on the eastern, not yet renovated part of dongmen. the western side, of course, boasts china’s first macdonald’s and one of shenzhen’s first attempts at historic preservation for re-use, transforming old commercial buildings into modern commercial buildings. back on the eastern side, where property values far out pace the quality of the buildings, baoan ruins abut old shenzhen dreams, circa early 1980. like the neighborhoods in western shenzhen, hubei and luoling suffer from neglect. one of the more telling signs of change in the area: workers can no longer afford to rent housing. instead they are renting bedspace.

bright spots amidst gray concrete: religious items and plastic goods. as friends remind me, only waitresses wear qipao; only the ignorant believe in traditional gods. nor are there high quality goods for sale, instead household items–ranging from stools to buckets and mops–are all made of the same flimsy plastic, which comes in neon shades of green and pink, sometimes easter egg blue. such are the aesthetics of class formation. dongmen’s bright spots don’t really shine in the same in the rest of the city, where glass and imported plants suggest homeowners’ well-cultivated taste. moreover, in comparison to nearby highrises, the village buildings appear stunted at best, but more likely defective, somehow lacking. certainly, these buildings lack the WOW factor that has put the shenzhen skyline on lists that rank such things.

once upon a time, dongmen was the center of thriving cross border commerce. indeed, when deng xiaoping first came in 1984, he went to the top of shenzhen’s trade center, which overlooked dongmen. in that flourishing hub, he saw china’s post-mao future. today, dongmen seems abandoned, and even the renovated parts of the area seem tacky. for those looking to see fifty years of history condensed into a thirty minute radius, you could do worse than visit dongmen, where in addition to old village remnants and early 80s leftovers, some of shenzhen’s glitziest buildings are located.

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