Last weekend I met two young men, 18 and 19 years old, who are filming interviews with and about “Shenzhen’s Second Generation”. We talked about the actual definition of a “Shen 2 (深二),” which I have tended to think of in terms of immigrant generations. In contrast, they were specifying the term also with respect to decades: they consider the 80s and 90s generations to be members of Shen 2, while 70s kids and millennials are not. They also noted that Shekou’s Second Generation (蛇二) is even more precisely defined; these are the children of utopian Shekou, who lived in the old China Merchants housing developments, and attended the original Yucai School.
So what defines Shen 2 kids?
The oldest Shen 2 kids are now 25 years old or so and have just started working; many qualify as members of the Rich Second Generation (富二) and are only children. They are the children of locals and migrants, who attended school together in the city’s earliest schools. In addition to Mandarin, many speak Cantonese and possibly Hakka, depending on either their birth village or the villages adjacent to their housing settlement. Those who are monolingual Mandarin speakers grew up in the earliest danwei developments, where there was no need to enforce Mandarin only policies.
They noted the importance of the Second Line in forming their identities. For those who grew up on the wrong side of the Second Line, “going to Shenzhen” was a big deal, entailing either securing a cross-border pass (if from out-of-province) or carrying the paper hukou identity booklet (if local). They also remember sneaking across the Second Line in an old style van (the “loaf of bread” cars) by ducking down and avoiding the border cards. Outer district Shen 2 travelled between their residence to Shenzhen, but did not travel east to west across Bao’an (and then across Bao’an and Longgang). In contrast, all inner district Shen 2, thought of the outer districts as one, undifferentiated territory.
The organization of education in Shenzhen has significantly shaped Shen 2 and how they see themselves. First, in the 80s and 90s, education in Shenzhen was as experimental and unstructured as the city. A main difference they noted was their English curriculum came via Hong Kong, so they were exposed to international ideas at a younger age. Foundational as well was the relative lack of class structure within schools; village kids and recent migrants went to school together and roamed farmland, beaches, and constructions sites. However, the schools did not accept anyone without Shenzhen hukou, so this generation of Shen 2s have followed a slightly different path.
The Shen 2 who did not inherit Shenzhen hukou form an important subgroup within Shen 2 because they had to earn it themselves by attending either a professional school or Shenzhen University. The top two professional schools that provide graduates with Shenzhen hukou are Shenzhen Polytechnic and Bao’an Polytechnic. Shenzhen Polytechnic is the older of the two schools and a common destination for inner district kids whose college entrance exam scores were too low for Shenzhen University; Bao’an Polytechnic (which is located just north of Baishizhou) is the destination for outer district kids who didn’t get in to Shenzhen University.
All three tertiary education institutions are relatively easy for Shenzhen kids to get into, but difficult for applicants without Shenzhen hukou. With respect to college, until this year, with the exception of several majors, Shenzhen University was not ranked as a first level (一本) university. Shen 2 who wanted to a first-level education had to attend architecture or international finance at Shenzhen University, or leave the city. Consequently, Shenzhen U, Shenzhen Poly, and Bao’an Poly have attracted students ambitious to succeed in Shenzhen. This leads to what Shen 2 consider to be a critical attribute of theirs: they are not book-smart but “good to use”. Shen 2 kids know how to work, they want to work, and they want their work to be meaningful. Indeed, they tell workplace stories of how Shen U and Poly students ultimately rise faster than Beijing U and Qinghua students because they not only work harder, but don’t see work as beneath them.
Shen 2 kids are the children of Shenzhen’s golden age, when anything was possible. Moreover, there was not enough society in place to have a true class structure–everyone mixed together. Differences between children were experienced as artificial–whether or not one had Shenzhen hukou, whether or not one was born on the right side of the Second Line. This is important: Shen 2 kids have inherited the city’s myths of planning and creativity and so they want to contribute to the ongoing social construction of Shenzhen. Shen 2 kids love Shenzhen.
Shen 2’s lack of class conscious during their formative education may be what ultimately distinguishes Shen 2s from 70s kids and millennials. 70s kids came to Shenzhen for middle and high school from ranking schools; if they did not, they migrated to Shenzhen to work and gave birth to Shen 2’s hukou-less cohort.
In an important sense, the 70s generation have grown up as first generation migrants. In contrast, millennials are attending highly stratified schools, where right-to-attend hinges on one’s residence, which in Shenzhen’s booming real estate market means that millennial classmates are also of an economic class. Shen 2 consider millennials to be members of either the Rich 2 or Migrant 2 cohort. They see in millennials class specific attributes: either a sense of entitlement or resignation. Neither of these emotions resonate with Shen 2, who do believe anyone can do anything if they work hard enough.
Today’s pictures: food-porn.