In “City on the Fill,” I have been tracking the transformation of the Houhai coastline. Houhai means “backwater” and Qianhai means “front water.” These are terms from over 1,700 years ago, referring to the bays behind and in front of the former yamen at Nantou. Both Houhai and Qianhai have been repurposed in Shenzhen 3.0. Houhai has transformed from being a literal backwater at the edges of Shenzhen 1.0 and upscale suburbs in Shenzhen 2.0 to the new location of the city’s upgraded electronics industry. Qianhai, of course, is the site of the Qianhai-Shekou Free Trade Zone, which has defined development in Shenzhen for about a decade and is itself proposed as the new center of 3.0. (Inquiring minds want to know: will it happen?)
In fact, the area was the site of the 2015 Shenzhen Maker Faire. (You remember that Maker Faire? The one where Lenovo and Microsoft and Huawei and Tencent showed up like they were one of the boys?) Photos from that day suggest how far we’ve come from Huaqiangbei, how professional and middle class these new merchants and their consumers are.
These images also suggest the ongoing reworking of the relationship between formal and informal economies that produced older market areas such as Huaqiangbei, Dongmen, and Shatoujiao. In those older markets, even if the buildings and infrastructure were state-owned, nevertheless there was still space for entrepreneurial occupation and re-appropriations. In contrast, these newer areas have been built to attract corporate clients; individual entrepreneurship (even in IT) has been shunted in favor multi-nationals.