Yuan Geng continues to inspire hope for social reform in Shekou. Yesterday, the recently established Shekou Community Welfare Fund mounted the exhibition “Me and Yuan Geng” to celebrate the 98th birthday of China Merchants-Shekou’s first CEO. The Shekou Community Welfare Fund is the 14th such fund registered in Shenzhen, but it is the only one started by community members through donations, rather than through a government bureau. This matters because Shenzhen Municipality has called for the establishment of 100 funds, and we hope for more and more community–rather than government sponsored community–funds to emerge over the next year or two. The format of the “Me and Yuan Geng” exhibition was simple. Fund members Yang Qian and Li Ling collected photographs of and stories about ordinary Shekou people and Yuan Geng. The photos and stories were printed on boards and displayed in the Sihai Park Teahouse, which the Fund has occupied as their office and event space. They mounted 61 display boards, and during the opening speeches indicated that they were still receiving photos and stories from Shekou residents who wanted to be included if not in the exhibition, then in the catalogue that will be published.
According to participants, the exhibition format exemplifies what makes Shekou different from other communities in Shenzhen. In most exhibits, the name of the leader would come first, making the title of the exhibition, “Yuan Geng and Me.” Instead, in Shekou the exhibition is really about “my” Shekou experience and not about how I followed Yuan Geng.
In fact, the Fund grew out of an earlier WeChat group–the Yuan Geng thought research group. The earlier WeChat group organized salons to talk about the forms of civil society that Yuan Geng and early Shekou practiced and imagined. Indeed, for participants in the Fund and its events, the idea of civil society is tied to ideas of corporate responsibility and a clear, unencumbered space not only for action, but also for a more just and egalitarian society. From the exhibition preface:
Old Mr. Yuan Geng always had a dream, it was that Shekou would become the best place to live. Two keywords comprised this hope: one was “humanity”, the other was “comfortable life”. It was a dream for humanity, not just for a minority, and not just for people with money and power. As for “comfortable life”, doesn’t matter how many material goods you have, but instead whether or not you feel blessed (幸福). Old Mr. Yuan Geng had this dream precisely because he saw the same dream permeating the world around him. Today we gather to offer our good wishes to the old gentleman. Perhaps the best gift we could give Yuan Geng is to realize his dream here in Shekou.
Importantly, because the opening was held on Yuan Geng’s birthday, rather than on a weekend, most of the participants were retired. However, the pictures include second generation and 30 and 40 somethings who were at work. The exhibition will be open at the Sihai Park Teahouse daily through the end of May and China Merchants Real Estate has already scheduled to move the exhibition to their headquarters. The Teahouse is located near the northern entrance to the park. Images from “Me and Yuan Geng”, below.