Yesterday, enjoyed a lovely walk and conversation with Sara, a young curator visiting from Canada. We took a bus to Fuyong, one of the Baoan precincts which abuts the old Guangshen highway and is now more commonly known as National Highway 107. Guangshen / 107 is (in)famous for its factories, migrant workers, and more recently container dwellers, which have entered Shenzhen conversation as extreme examples of the SEZ’s cost of housing problems.
Sara’s interest in urban gardening brought us into conversation with Aunt Xu, who migrated from Fujian to live with her son in Lixinhu (Establish the New) Estates, a 90s era housing development located next to the Lixin Reservoir. Aunt Xu had come to live with her son and take care of her grandchild. But five or six years ago, the grandchild started school and no longer needed childcare. Aunt Xu abruptly had time on her hands. Uninterested in television programs and full of energy, Aunt Xu decided to cultivate peanuts on the banks of Lixin reservoir.
When we spoke to her, Aunt Xu was preparing her plot for planting. Peanuts take 82 days to mature. According to Aunt Xu, she could raise two crops a year, but then she’d have to buy fertilizer and that was too expensive. Nevertheless, one crop could be dried in the sun and eaten for several months. Aunt Xu also mentioned that recent construction on the reservoir banks had changed the way the water flooded the area and so her plot was no longer as fertile as it used to be because it was no longer flooded during the rainy season.
Baishixia and surrounding area reminds us that although Shenzhen has shifted its support from manufacturing to cultural production, nevertheless, many factories continue to operate, migrants continue to come for factory jobs, and manufacturing remains an important element of the local economy. However, as government support has shifted away from industrial manufacturing, Fuyong finds itself in an economic riptide. Manufacturing is still supported in Dongguan, a mere 20-25 minutes further north along the highway, making those factories more competitive than Shenzhen factories. At the same time, Fuyong is too far from Downtown to be interesting to cultural developers — the nearest cultural industry park is F518, roughly 30 minutes to the south in Xixiang.
What to do? First, the area is being developed as a suburb. Not an industrial suburb (郊区), which is what the area technically was before being integrated into the SEZ (2010). But rather as a residential suburb for low-ranking managerial staff or recent graduates. So, along the highway and on the reservoir banks real estate developers including Vanke and CITIC (中信) were building starter homes for the upwardly mobile or final homes for blue-collar workers who had managed to save up a downpayment. The architectural style of these high rise estates reminded me of late 1990s elite housing in Futian and Nanshan; certainly Vanke and CITIC have built more luxurious housing within the old SEZ area, especially in the East OCT and along the Yantian coast.
A memorial wall to Wen Tianxiang exemplifies the distance between manufacturing Fuyong and the SEZ’s ideal of civilized production. The memorial is located just across the street from the Fuyong bus station, extending from a Baishixia arch. Wen Tianxiang, of course, symbolizes Confucian righteousness — he was a Song scholar-general who refused to submit to the Yuan (Mongolian) invasion). There is a Wen Tianxiang-lived-here residence in Nantou and a memorial to the last Song emperor in Chiwan. Apparently, Wen descendants still inhabit the area. However, which Wen or Man or Vun or Bun descendants is an open question because the actual family genealogy isn’t mentioned. This lack of attention to local detail is unfortunately one of the defining characteristics of preservation and official SEZ cultural memory.
In contrast, it bears mentioning that on the Banks of Establish the New Reservoir, where Aunt Xu cultivates peanuts, I saw gravestones and memorials to three generations of the Pan family. The memorials faced the lake, enjoying the good fengshui. In Shenzhen, of course, the Shajing Pans (in Songgang Precinct, about 20 minutes from Baishixia) are known for establishing one of the first post Mao jointly held village corporations, Shajing Ltd. Indeed for a brief moment, Shajing and the Pans symbolized the potential of New Baoan County (1983-1990) to transform rural China. Thus, just after the 1992 Southern Tour, the Shajing Cantonese Opera Troupe commissioned and produced “The Great Tide (大潮)”, bringing a local interpretation of xiaokang history to Beijing stages.