tangyan, shangsha: civilized relocations

If you’ve been following the 2022 omicron outbreak in Shenzhen, then you’re aware that Tangyan Village, Shangsha (上沙塘宴村) has been one of the city’s hotspots, continuously generating positive test results. Indeed, since human factors in transmission have been controlled, the next hypothesis is environmental factors. Consequently, on March 17, 2022, the Futian Command Center (福田区新型冠状病毒肺炎疫情防控指挥部) notified residents of designated buildings in Tangyan that they would be relocated for 14 days quarantine and observation (notification #84 第84通告). While residents are quarantined, their building, its water mains and the surrounding area will be disinfected.

Before it became a community ‘community (社区),’ Shangsha was an administrative village (行政村) that comprised four natural villages (自然村). Indeed, what are colloquially referred to as ‘urban villages (城中村),’ in Shenzhen are institutionally known as communities, while the historic villages are ‘natural.’ Shangsha Community, for example, comprises five natural villages–Dong Cun, Tangyan, Yeshu, Longqiu and Jiuyuan (东村、塘晏、椰树、龙秋、九园). These distinctions don’t usually come up in conversations about Shenzhen urban villages because the structures of governance had been in place since the late 1950s. When Futian Commune was organized, for example, it included brigades (大队) and teams (小队). Subsequently, in the early 1980s, brigades became administrative villages and teams became natural villages. Most contemporary urban villages (and especially those with arches 牌坊 like Shangsha) were named after the brigade/administrative village. However, during the 2022 outbreak, these smaller designations abruptly became visible because when cases are listed in daily reports, the listing includes a full address, for example: Yeshu Village, Shangsha Community, Shatou Street Office (or subdistrict), Futian District, Shenzhen City (深圳市福田区沙头街道上沙社区椰树村) (click here for an early post for details about rural Chinese addresses).

Futian District has made every effort to provide ‘warm 温馨’ service during the Tangyan relocations. In addition to organizing teams to attend to the old, young, sick, disabled, pregnant, long-term bedridden and chronically ill, the district has also designated animal clinics to foster family pets during the quarantine. Security measures have been taken to strengthen protection of personal property. In fact, ‘warm’ has become and important keyword in the city’s graduated management program. Hotlines are known as ‘warm service 温馨服务’ hotlines, community volunteers produce gratitude videos for ‘warm’ health workers, and during visits and inspections, leaders are described as acting ‘warmly.’ In turn, Shenzheners are described as responding to this warmth through grateful and compliant behavior.

On 幸福福田’s official WeChat account, residents of Building 7, Alley 10, Tangyan Village, for example, building residents were described as ‘lively and cute young men and women 活泼可爱的小伙子和大姑们,’ who had just joint the Shenzhen workforce. The first to board the relocation bus, the building ‘leader 领头人’ had returned from overseas. He had been in lockdown since February 22 and was reported as saying, ‘I’ve been isolated here [in Tangyan] for a month. I’m grateful to the government staff for taking care of us day and night, helping us get express deliveries, delivering epidemic prevention materials and disinfecting building hallways (我在这里已经隔离一个月了,感谢政府工作人员日夜守护着我们,帮我们拿快递、送防疫物资、进行楼道消毒.)

Indeed, the give and take of warmth and gratitude might offer a working definition of ‘civilized society 文明社会’ in present-day Shenzhen. The government takes warm care of the population, which responds with grateful obedience. Social hierarchy predicates this paternalistic vision of society. After all, there was no debate over the relocation. Instead, the Command Center ‘notified 通知’ residents to prepare for relocation with the expectation that residents would obey. That said, however, this sentimental model of civilized relations also implies that the government must meet residents’ needs during the relocation and will be responsible if anything goes wrong.

Thought du jour: participating in civilized Shenzhen is exhausting for all concerned. Government bureaus and their management teams are on call 24-7, while residents have no means to plan ahead because government notifications take precedence over all previous obligations. Moreover, curtesy is expected during these exhausted and exhausting interactions. Since late February, there have been shutdowns and lockdowns, but no rest for Shenzhen’s weary and frankly speaking, everyone is weary.

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