Shuiwei through an Anthropologist’s Eyes

On March 23 and March 24, Handshake 302 brought the “Urban Flesh and Bones: Futian Edition” project to Shuiwei—one of our favorite urban villages. The Saturday tour was in Chinese and the Sunday tour was in English, but both tours were fully booked and even though the weather was overcast, everyone showed up. In fact, on Saturday afternoon, Handshake 302 led the tour in the rain!

The Shuiwei tour explores Shenzhen’s cultural geography from the perspective of water. We are interested in understanding how wells, rivers, and access to the Pearl River have shaped local history. For example, when Guangdong people want to know where someone is from they ask, “What water did you drink?” Shuiwei villagers answer, “I drank Shenzhen water,” referring to the Shenzhen River. In fact, the original Shenzheners came from Luohu and Futian Districts and the Hong Kong New Territories.

Shenzhen Bay was the geographic center of the “Weitou” cultural-linguistic community that stretched from Huangbeiling in the east to Xiasha in the west, and then continued as far south as Yuanlang and Tunmen. Shuiwei was a community that lived “surrounded by water.” They traded with fishing families, harvested salt at Lok Ma Chao, had fish ponds, and rice polders. Their most important source of potable water was a sweet water well.

Twenty years ago, people said, “Shenzhen has no history.” Ten years ago, people said, “The urban villages are dirty, chaotic, and substandard. Today, people say, “Tell me about the history of Shenzhen” and they go to the villages to learn about the city’s deep history. What’s more, the popularity of the “Urban Flesh and Bones” project suggests that many people care about this history.

Inquiring minds want to know: What’s changed our attitude towards local culture?

Today, Shuiwei is no longer “a small border village,” but a vibrant urban neighborhood. Shenzhen is no longer “Hong Kong’s backyard factory,” but a global IT hub. The people who come to Shenzhen are curious: what can the urban villages teach us about Shenzhen and modern society?

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