90s futian, or the xiaokang quilt of days gone by…

Not so long ago and not so far away, Futian was known as Shangbu and was considered the rural burbs of up and coming Shenzhen (which was mapped as Luohu-Shangbu). But then (somewhat deus ex machina) Deng Xiaoping appeared in 1992, promising that the experiments would continue. So, during the 1990s, the SEZ boomed and Shenzhen restructured. Old Futian (well, xiaokang Futian), emerged out of all this governmental restructuring and economic booming.

One of the symbolic and far-reaching cultural changes was renaming the Shangbu Management District (上步管理区). During the 1980s, the SEZ’s government and industrial park were located in Shangbu. The downtown area was known as Luohu-Shangbu. However, governmental restructuring also entailed renaming. Shangbu Management District became Shangbu District, and therein hangs the tail. It turns out that to northern ears Shangbu (上步区) doesn’t sound like “Upper Dock District” as it does in Cantonese, but rather sounds like “can’t get up district (上不去).” What’s more, Lower Dock District Temple (下步庙 xiaobu miao) sounds like “going down is inauspicious.” Consequently, Shangbu District was renamed Futian (福田) or Rich Fields District. In terms of development, this has meant that in general terms Futian District comprises three historical areas–Huaqiangbei (1980s Shangbu), Old Futian (the area that developed in the 1990s, including new villages), and Futian proper (the Central Axis area).

Today, I’m thinking about Old Futian, which has been bifurcated by Shennan Road. Futian proper comprises the section of the central axis that lies north of Shennan Road and stretches into Meilin, some of the most convenient and expensive housing real estate in the city. This area was built up beginning in the 1990s and continued into the 2000s. Renovation of the central axis has been ongoing since 2007 (more or less, when the civic center was completed). In contrast, Old Futian begins around the southern gate into Gangxia and stretches south toward Shenzhen River and east toward Shangbu.

To orient the conversation, I’ve modified a 1993 traffic map of the Shenzhen urban district, below. The red line shows the approximate border between Luohu (in the east) and Shangbu (in the west). This map clearly shows the affinity between Luohu and Shangbu, even thought Futian and Shangbu are part of the same administrative district. Also of note, circa 1993 western Futian was still not considered part of the city’s downtown area, although western Luohu was. To locate this map with respect to contemporary Futian, I’ve noted the location of Lianhua Mountain and the future site of the Shenzhen Civic Center as well as Shennan Road. A small map of Shekou is included in the lower right hand section of the map.

Walking old Futian reminds us of several things about Shenzhen’s xiaokang (小康) history. First, the ways in which indigenous and migrant Shenzhen were still entwined. However, the scale of the new housing estates suggests that the new city was increasingly distancing itself from its local origins. Second, although it is common to date Shenzhen eras with respect to masterplan iterations (1986, 1996, and 2010), nevertheless, governmental restructuring and grassroots urbanization within and against restructuring are also useful time marks. For example, the municipal government structure comprising was established in 1990 and the rural urbanization movement, which delimitated village lands within the SEZ occurred from 1992 through 1996. Third, the first thrust of organized development in Futian was a product of 1990s restructuring, and this history is laid out (so to speak) in the narrow, but structured streets of Old Futian and its well-planned new villages, including my favorite foodie village, Shuiwei, but also Huanggang and Xiasha, which embody the cultural landscape of 1990s aspirations.

Below are images from meanderings from Gangxia to Futian New Villages. In between, I pass through the xiaokang landscape of old Futian, including a revamped office / now a museum, which had ceramics display that included vases decorated with Shenzhen architecture landmarks, which are of course, located in Futian proper (on the other side of Shennan Road).

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