Thoughts on Shenzhen’s New New Districts: Longhua and Dapeng

This past week, when the Center brought the country’s 3,300 provincial, municipal, and county members of the Politics and Law Committee (政法委) to Beijing to learn “what to do and how to do it,” they did so to strengthen top-down unity, or the line from the Center (中央) to the “local (地方)”. Party control of the Politics and Law Committee means that it directly controls the writing of laws, their interpretation, and enforcement. As far as we know, Zhou Yong “Noodle Master” Kang remains the Chair of the National Committee. We hypothesize that Hu Jintao was critical to making the decision to convene a Politics and Law Committee meeting and what would be taught there. Ergo, we are waiting to see whose line actual becomes the standard that will be brought back to Local governments, like Shenzhen.

How does this administrative apparatus shape the possibility of progressive social transformation in Shenzhen?

One way to answer the question is to think of all the districting and redistricting and micro-districting and statutory planning that create what the Municipality spins as Shenzhen’s “Industry First” as ways of side-stepping Center intervention and oversight by giving investors in hi-tech manufacturing, logistics, finance, and cultural industry preferential policies without any kind of political reform.

Longhua and Dapeng (龙华新区、大鹏新区), Shenzhen’s most recent new districts, for example, were designated in November 2011. The justification was the economic success that Guangming and Pingshan demonstrated since their designation in 2007. Like Guangming and Pingshan, Shenzhen´s two new districts are not ¨districts¨ in the strict sense of the word. Unlike Yantian, Luohu, Futian, Nanshan, Longgang and Bao´an Districts, the four New Districts (Guangming, Pingshan, Longhua, and Dapeng) do not have the four administrative organs that define China´s government apparatus — the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (政协), a District Court (法院), a District Congress (人大), and a Procuratorate (检察院).

During District level Two Meetings (and yes, we have to endure them after we endure upcoming post-national level provincial and municipal level two meetings, a thought which truly makes me afraid to even look at a newspaper), Longhua and Dapeng will participate in Bao’an and Longgang District meetings, respectively where political possibility and constraints will have already been shaped by what was taught in Beijing this week. However, in terms of social organization and possibility, Longhua and Dapeng are implementing extensive economic plans, which include razing urban villages, attracting investors, and setting up public commercial spaces. Consequently, Shenzhen and its Districts (both New and traditional) continue to deploy “economic” rhetoric and policies to leverage more influence over Municipal policy and planning.

Point du jour is not that there are no ways around the political Center or even that the Politics and Law Committee can directly shape local life by interpreting the Constitution, but rather that the ways around the Center are complicit with globalization and justified by economic profits. Consequently, in everyday life, the economic seems a space of relative freedom from direct political control, even though the kinds of economic relationships that have been established and enforced remain imbedded in global, national, and regional inequalities without political means of addressing many problems. Thus, the fact of this past week’s Politics and Law Committee meetings  shows up the extent of discord within the Party. Nevertheless, it’s also clear that political reform remains difficult because it has yet to find a voice that is explicitly political and not parasitic on neoliberal economic developments.

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