baishizhou: the city’s history through seven micro-environments

On October 14, 2018, Handshake 302 welcome a group of Chevening scholars to Baishizhou. We brought the Chevening scholars to seven of Baishizhou’s micro-environments. Each micro-environment not only illustrates the urban life of Shenzhen, but also represents an important moment in the city’s history.

Sponsored by the UK Government, the Chevening scholarship provides international youth an opportunity to develop themselves as leaders and influencers at British universities. Back home, the scholars continue to meet and discuss pressing issues of the day. What brought Chevening scholars to Shenzhen’s most iconic urban village? What else—a chance to learn about how more than half of Shenzhen’s residents live and work. It’s true, of Shenzhen’s 20 million people, over 10 million live in an urban village. What’s more, this number doesn’t include the tens of millions who have come and left Shenzhen these past 40 years. 

So, where did we go?

First micro-environment: the Baishizhou Bus Station. Baishizhou is located exactly between Shenzhen Market and Shekou. Consequently, during the 1980s and 1990s, it was an important transit station between “downtown” and Shekou. As the city grew, Baishizhou became an important transit station within Guangdong Province, making it the “first stop” for many new Shenzheners.

Second micro-environment: the Tangtou Row Houses and handshake buildings. In 1958, Bao’an County residents began building sections of the East River Waterworks, which would provide drinking and industrial use water to Hong Kong. Tangtou Village was flooded during the construction of the Shiyan Reservoir. The original Tangtou villagers were subsequently split into two new village settlements—one in Shiyan and one in Baishizhou (originally the Shahe Farm).

Twenty years later, Baishizhou was once again confronting historic change. During the first two decades of Reform and Opening, the BSZ five villages and individual villagers hired construction crews to build new homes–first two or three story “villas” and later six to eight story “handshake buildings.” During the 1990s, there were two construction crews active in Baishizhou. Roughly 85% of the construction crew which built most of the Tangtou buildings were from Dazhou. The Tangtou buildings are the handshakes that are visible from Shennan Road.

Third micro-environment: Haozai Hill (蠔仔岭). A staircase heads up the back of the Tangtou Row Houses. As we walked this path, we climbed a hill that used to be an important landmark on old Shennan Road. Indeed, the shape of the land is itself one of the most important memories we have. We see the curve of the mountain beneath the wall that separates Baishizhou from OCT, and we all see its uses in a hidden school for the children of migrant workers, which is now used as a private space.

Fourth micro-environment: the wet market. In Baishizhou, there are supermarkets, small shops, and the wet market, providing Baishizhou’s 140,000 residents diverse economic options. This means that everyday, small vendors sell hundreds of kilos of pork and chicken, fresh vegetables and fruit.

Fifth micro-environment: the Baishizhou Cultural Plaza. Located at the edge between the residential and industrial sections of Baishizhou, the Cultural Plaza includes the footprint of an early factory building and a stage for public programs. The Cultural Plaza is one of the largest public spaces in Baishizhou, and people of all ages relax there: grandpas play chess, aunties practice dancing, and children play.

Sixth micro-environment: Baishizhou Beer Street. In 1980, when the Special Economic Zone was established, Shahe Farm (today Baishizhou and OCT) was  provincial level organization. Consequently, the Shahe Industrial Park was also one of the first official industrial parks in Shenzhen. These two and three-story buildings were mentioned in the 1985 Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Gazetteer as an example of how Shenzhen was pursuing rural urbanization.

Seventh micro-environment: Baishizhou’s diverse commercial eateries. We had lunch at the Chengji Hakka Restaurant, which is one of the older large restaurants in Baishizhou, its layout and decoration reminiscent of the roaring 90s.  We then held a discussion in the Banxian coffee shop, which opened several years back and caters to Baishizhou’s new generation of techies and designers, who work in neighboring OCT and Hi-Tech Park.

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