30th Birthday Party Countdown

The countdown for Shenzhen’s official 3oth Birthday (26 August, 2010) has begun. All sorts of events are planned at every level of government, including a three-day weekend for white collar workers (27 Aug will be a municipal holiday). My favorite event is the mass give away of phone cards (15 million!) so that every Shenzhen inhabitant can reconnect with loved ones back home and “introduce them to 30 years of success in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (quote unquote from the front page of 深圳特区报:“发放专门制造的纪念电话充值卡,可以让市民打电话向亲朋好友介绍深圳经济特区30年的建设成果”)”

It’s true, the story of cell phones and Shenzhen identity needs to be written. Not just in terms of individual identity (keeping connected, texting all sorts of jokes, and unofficial rumors, letting a child play games while parents chat at morning tea), but also in terms of the way that the City has used cell phones in soft propaganda campaigns. What’s more, phone statistics seem to be the most accurate way of estimating Shenzhen’s population and demographics.

Also of note is the celebratory language. Other than the obvious resurgence of earlier reform phrasing (特区 this and 特区 that has returned with a vengeance, and 闯 is once again the verb of choice to describe the act of immigrating to and inhabiting Shenzhen), City officials and public intellectuals are appropriating Confucian understandings of proper aging.  Shenzhen is celebrating: 三十而立 成就深圳 (at thirty one establishes herself; successful Shenzhen). Likewise, the next ten years are being discussed as a movement from 三十而立 to 四十而不惑 (at forty one has no doubts / hesitations).

And finally, just a note on polysemy and how the mind wanders. One of the front page articles for the celebration kick-off was: 发挥党代表作用,增强党的活力. At first glance, the phrase means what it says: make full use of Party representatives, strengthen Party vitality. However, in colloquial slang, when one man joins a group of women, that lone man is called 党代表 or Party Representative. So, instead of thinking good thoughts about how the Party is still striving to improve itself, I’m thinking that those Party representatives do need to keep their strength up!

2 thoughts on “30th Birthday Party Countdown

  1. Hah, you’ve got a dirty mind, which is an excellent quality in a person.

    I’m not sure much can be read into the use of Confucian language around the anniversary celebrations. It’s not really Confucian any more, just standard trope language. I’m fairly certain the Big C’s version of 不惑 is a million miles away from Shenzhen’s version.

    • Hi Phil,

      About Confucian language, that’s the point. The ongoing reinvention of what it means to be Chinese is now tied up in the failure of Party language (if not those Party Reps!) and the turn to something old to make new again… Political hegemony is a cultural practice – what language is acceptable even when actual policies irritate to no end? Why, for example, would it be ironic / unintentionally funny to use Maoist slogans to celebrate Shenzhen’s 30th even when Shenzhen was a product of Maoism? These are the questions I ponder (once my mind is out of the gutter).

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