Sometimes, I walk through older sections of the city, and I try to remember what it felt like the first time I walked there. Or, if I can’t track my emotional memories, I try to remember what this place used to look like. Who was here? What were they doing? Did I take pictures or take notes and if not, where has it all gone?
August 29, 2020, I participated in the opening ceremony for the most recent upgrade to Nantou Ancient City. The main street, 中山南街 has been transformed into a high-concept mally experience of luxury shops, museum spaces, and retrofitted handshake buildings. On some level, the upgraded space feels like what the biennale wanted-but-couldn’t-afford to be. There are coy references to Nanyang style architecture and explicit celebration of Shenzhen’s position in the Greater Bay as the “origin 源” of Hong Kong and Macao–“粤东首付，港澳源头.”
I have written about retrospective reclaiming and the ongoing nostalgia for pasts that might have been if not for twists of fate. As if originary belonging justified claiming what happened not only under, but also because of someone else’s rule. Today, what strikes me as I ramble through the staging of Greater Bay history are the absences. The brutality of the imperial salt regime, the trade in exotics that brought Persian and Arab traders to the Delta during the Tang dynasty, the role of Jiaozhi (交趾 northern Vietnam) in the sinofication of Lingnan during Southern Yue, and the enduring contribution of the Austronesians in first making use of monsoon winds to cross the Indian Ocean, bringing cinnamon to ancient Egypt and Greece.