Today, I am trying to figure how to think about a series of historically discrete events that in retrospect clearly aligned the landscapes of Hanoi, Houston, and Shenzhen.
1) in July 1966, the United States commissioned Sea-Land Shipping to install dockside cranes to unload containers of supplies at Naha, Okinawa. This service was later expanded to call on Subic Bay, Philippines. Roughly a year later, Sea-Land was commissioned to provide similar service to Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam with routes to Seattle and Oakland. In early 1968, Da Nang service was instituted with three C-2 vessels carrying 226 containers and calling at Da Nang, Long Beach and Oakland. Shuttle service between Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon and Saigon[Hanoi] was also provided. Here’s the point: in order take advantage of the empty cointainers returning from Okinawa, Subic Bay and Saigon, Sea-Land began importing cheap goods from Japan, which catalyzed trans-Pacific trade and the migration of factory production from the United States to Japan;
2) at the end of the Vietnam War/ War of Resistance Against the United States in 1975, the first wave of Vietnamese refugees were resettled in Houston, Texas;
3) in 1977, the Port of Houston opened the Barbours Cut Terminal, Texas’ first cargo container terminal, at Morgan’s Point;
4) in the late 1970s deteriorating Sino-Vietnamese relations resulted in the 1979 War Against Chinese Expansionism or Defensive Counterattack Against Vietnam, depending on your perspective. Both Vietnam and China claimed victory in the clash, Vietnam because China retreated without achieving it’s goal of forcing Vietnam to retreat from its occupation of Cambodia and China because the War demonstrated that the USSR would not help defend Vietnam. Many Overseas Chinese from Vietnam were resettled to state-operated farms throughout southern China, including the Guangming Farm in northern Bao’an County and its Branch Farm in Shahe;
5) in 1979, construction of the Shekou container port began in western Bao’an County;
6) in 1980, Bao’an County was designated the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and the first generation of cheap made-in-China goods began to be exported via Hong Kong to the U.S. at its ports in Seattle, Oakland and Houston;
7) by the late 1990s, Shenzhen had begun upgrading its economy to capture more value-add functions within global production chains, which facilated increased investment in factories in Vietnam.
I don’t yet know how to think of these convergences, but they do suggest the extent to which we continue to inhabit Cold War landscapes, whatever else the transition from socialism has brought us. Indeed, an explicitly Cold War technology, containerization has not only mediated this transition, but also been a critical factor in the planning and ongoing construction of Shenzhen.
Last week I visited several of the Guangming urbanized villages that the Vietnamese returnees built next to their former dormitory homes. (For those interested in architecture typologies: these dormitories were slightly different from the Hakka style dormitories built at Tangtou in 1959.) Unlike other urbanized villages in Shenzhen, including relatively underpopulated Guangming (990,000), the returnees’ villages are homogeneous, inhabited by the founding families. The result are peaceful streets and easy smiles, despite simmering resentment amoung the second generation that they have not profited from Shenzhen’s post-industrial real estate boom.
Impressions of Cold War traces in Guangming, Shenzhen below: