cultural homogenization in shenzhen. and not.

Most discussions of Shenzhen emphasize that as an immigrant city, Shenzhen is a Mandarin speaking outpost of national culture in the midst of Guangdong Province. However, this description glosses over the historical division of Baoan County into Cantonese and Hakka cultural areas, and how urban development focused on the SEZ (rather than the entire Municipality).

The establishment of Baoan and Longgang Districts in 1992 institutionalized these historic divisions, with a Cantonese cultural-linguistic area (Baoan District) and a Hakka cultural-linguistic area (Longgang District). At the same time, the traditional SEZ (bounded by the second line) formed the core of Mandarin national culture in the city.

Thinking about Shenzhen as a tri-cultural city enables understanding of how cultural homogenization does and does not take place. Today, I’m thinking specifically about the creation of a recognizably “rural” local identity versus an “urbane” Shenzhen identity. In the area surrounding the Universiade Village, for example, these various trends are most visible in ongoing construction and demolition projects.

Construction wise, the planned Universiade Village boasts beautiful, glass stadiums and swimming areas, which reflect urbane aesthetics. Indeed, the nearby 5-star hotels and upscale residential areas lump Shenzheners (the Mandarin nationals) with cutting edge international taste and consumption. This aesthetics contradicts that of the mid-90s generation of handshake buildings that constitute much of the Longcheng Street residential area. Architecturally, it all seems a straight-forward contradiction between rural and urbane Shenzhen, which in turn is often misread as a contradiction between Cantonese and Mandarin spheres.

In fact, walking through a small Hakka Village, like Dawei indicates how recent handshake buildings as an architectural sign of the rural are in Shenzhen. In Dawei, the handshake buildings have been built into and on top of a traditional, small Hakka compound (similar to the one in Sungang). In other words, handshake buildings create a common “rural” or “Baoan local” identity for (once culturally and linguistically distinct) Cantonese and Hakka villages only in contradistinction to a Mandarin identity.

Visual evidence in slideshow, below.

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2 thoughts on “cultural homogenization in shenzhen. and not.

  1. Hi Mary Ann, Nice blog! I stumbled across your site via Roland Soong’s EastSouthWestNorth. I’m the blogger behind Joyceyland in Hong Kong. I’ll add you to my blog roll.
    Speaking of James Watson, I just re-read his book on McDonald’s in Asia, for a story I was writing on McWeddings in Hong Kong.

  2. Hi Joyce,

    Thank you for your kind words. I look forward to checking out your blog! Also, perhaps we can meet up, either in Shenzhen or Hong Kong?

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