watching the SZ evening news in Tianjin

I have been watching the Tianjin evening news, but last night had the chance to watch the SZ evening news (via SZ satellite television) and the differences between program content were as interesting as the similarities. Impressions below.

Structurally, TJ and SZ news program content was nearly identical –  clips about national and local leaders (in order of rank) and stories about city residents and  nearby places. Moreover, neither mentioned international news, which seems to be synthesized and interpretted on CCTV’s 7 o’clock united broadcast (联播).

The difference between TJ and SZ news became clear, however, during the stories about city residents and nearby places. TJ TV showed stories of local people doing good deeds for each other – a taxi driver who returned a cell phone to a passanger, and then the local police reminding Tianjin people to be attentive to their belongings when out enjoying themselves during the holiday.

In contrast, SZ TV broadcast stories about residents doing good deeds for people in neidi,  raising money for poor children in the two Guangs and Hunan and the City’s worker street dancing troupe (深圳民工舞街团). Of course, SZ TV also had clips about problems neidi people face when vacationing in Hong Kong and the ease that Shenzhen hukou holders have crossing between Shenzhen and Hong Kong (深港两地).

These differences in emphasis highlight Shenzhen’s ongoing efforts to forge a civic identity that is based on the shared experience of migrating to the city, rather than on the shared experience of being born and raised in one’s parents’ hometown. Thus, Tianjin human interest stories created a Tianjin civic identity that is based on the feelings between residents who shared similar values and yes, accents. In contrast, Shenzhen human interest stories highlighted residents’ connections to neidi and Hong Kong. In other words, Shenzhen human interest stories created a Shenzhen civic identity that is based on (1) not coming from the same place (and having a spectrum of accents), but nevertheless sharing a willingness to (2) collaborate on the same projects and (3) visit the same places.

At the impressionistic level of news broadcasts, it seems that belonging predicates Tianjin civic identity. In contrast, doing predicates Shenzhen’s. Now, we all probably knew this. And yet. At a more abstract level, Tianjin’s civic identity becomes quite traditional: knowing one’s place and being happy there (安分知足). In fact, this sentiment was precisely the content of national stories about Hu Jintao’s visit to the Hebei Grandma(老奶奶回忆胡锦涛到访). In contrast, Shenzhen’s civic identity becomes modern in the American sense of the word: creating the place in the world that will make one happy.

Shenzhen civic identity may or may not be a difference that makes a difference in the culture of China’s domestic politics. Nevertheless, Shenzhen civic identity is being represented as a series of choices that one makes. And I continue to hope that this space of choice, however small or fleeting, is where we begin to forge more equitable societies.

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