渔农村: border lives

Connecting the Shenzhen Metro and the Hong Kong KCR, the recently opened Futian Checkpoint has provided incentive for building higher end real estate for those who live in, on and from the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border. The area teems with residential and leisure developments that target variations of Shen Kong lives.

Yunongcun (渔农村) is one of the closest urban villages to the checkpoint; simply exit, turn right, and walk 500 meters or so. The walk from the checkpoint to the village area reveals layers of history, both in the making and the discarding. One sees, for example, a soon to be razed 90s food street and mid 90’s housing, and then buildings from roughly ten years later, including a large spa and even newer shopping mall, as well as the Shenzhen river, which is guarded and sealed off from pedestrians.

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What one does not see on this walk is Yunongcun’s important place in Shenzhen’s village renovation movement (旧村改新). Over five years ago on May 22, 2006, the Shenzhen government began the movement with a nod to Shekou’s “first explosion (circa 1979),” by detonating “the first explosion” of the village renovation movement and bringing down fifteen illegal buildings all at once. Villagers had put up these buildings as part of their negotiation for a better settlement package. A kind of holdout, but at a much larger scale than the individual family because the area only became prime real estate with the completion of the checkpoint.

From the upper floors of the Yunongcun apartment complex, the view of the border and agrarian Hong Kong on the other side suggest yet another aspect of Shen Kong; in interesting ways, lower and middle class Hong Kong people have benefited from the SEZ’s development. Unlike Chinese passport holders, Hong Kong people have moved freely between the two cities since the establishment of the SEZ. The most telling example of this small scale border appropriation was the “store in front, factory in back (前店后厂)” development model of the 80s and 90s, when small Hong Kong entrepreneurs crossed over to take advantage of Hong Kong hard currency and Shenzhen’s cheap labor.

What remains after the massive demolition and village renovation are traces of pre-upgrade history, upscale housing, and a population mix that includes Hong Kong families who send children to school across the border, second wives and second homes for Hong Kong businessmen, original inhabitants, Chinese families who bought homes in earlier residential developments, and working class migrants who provide the goods and services that make Yunongcun desirable.

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