About

Shenzhen Noted makes legible the city’s shifting cultural landscapes and emergent cosmographies by providing photographic documentation of urbanization in South China, historic contextualization of this transformation, translations of Chinese perspectives on this change, and speculation about what this unprecedented restructuring of the landscape might mean for China and beyond.

A note on navigating Noted. A general introduction to Municipality’s history is presented on the page Shenzhen HistoryCultural History examines debates over whether imperial or state history should form the core of official histories; Education contextualizes how the next generation of Shenzhen citizens are being trained; Fat Bird provides links to the troupes’ performances; Keywords offers confessional moments of how I learned to understand what I thought I was saying in Mandarin wasn’t quite right; Translations is just that, and Urban Villages provides an alternative history of global urbanization from the perspective of the transformation of agrarian Baoan into urbane Shenzhen. Links to these pages in banner line, otherwise clicking any of the tags brings up thematically organized musings on and through and about Shenzhen.

Other Projects

白鼠笔记 is a record of the 2014 Handshake 302 Residency (in Chinese).

all roads will lead you home is a gathering place for music, poetry, visual art, and conversation about the creative process — building on collaborative and independent work over the past ten years but also open to surprises as we move in new directions.

Paper Crane Tea, a series of conversations with Shenzhen activists and intellectuals from the perspective of urban renewal and the razing and evacuation of urban villages.

Handshake 302, co-curated with Zhang Kaiqin and Lei Sheng was accepted as a collatoral exhibit space for the 2013 SZHK Bi-City Biennale of Architecture Urbanism.

Bardo, 2012 dance commission from Da Ken Art Center. Music composed by Robert Copeland, choreographed by Er Gao (二高) and Samuel Morales Abarza.

Boom! Shenzhen, 2011 SZHK Bi-City Biennale of Architecture Urbanism, commissioned by Terrance Riley.

The Vast Unknown (English lyrics, Mary Ann O’Donnell; Chinese lyrics, Yang Qian; music composed by Robert Copeland, 2011 Shenzhen Fringe Festival Theme Song.

LeapingPoems, ongoing.

Two Places at Once with Song Zijiang, Hilda Tam, Steven Schroeder, and Charlie Newman (2010).

A Walk in Shenzhen II with Steven Schroeder (2010).

Temporal Dislocations (2009).

Prosthetic Cosmologies (2009) and gifting chart with inscriptions.

Tianmian – East South West North (2008).

Fieldnote Galleries (2005-2008).

A Walk in Shenzhen with Steven Schroeder (2005).

67 thoughts on “About

  1. Dear Maryann,

    I live in Hong Kong and work for Greenpeace China, and we are looking forward to possibilities in regional environmental campaigns, including projects that link up HK and SZ.

    Have been reading your blog for a while and would like to learn more about Shenzhen from you. Look forward to hear from you.

  2. Hi,

    Heard about your blog from a friend and have a question about people being kidnapped and taken to Shenzhen. Recently, a fried of mine’s mother and sister sent him an email regarding being held at a hotel in Shenzhen while traveling in Hong Kong. Feeling more than just frustration we would like to know if you have any insight on this and what to do to possibly “rescue them”. Please, any advice would be appreciated.

    • Hi Guadalupe, Where did you hear these rumors? Who precisely is being kidnapped? By whom? Most of the kidnap rumors I have heard tend to be one of two kinds. In the first, wealthy but corrupt officials are worried about their family members. In these stories, I haven’t heard of actually kidnappings, just fear of kidnapping. In the second case, wealthy Taiwanese are worried about being kidnapped. With respect to these rumors, there have been several reported kidnappings, but not in Shenzhen.

      I hope this helps.

  3. Hi,

    Probably one of the most eye-opening blogs that I have read that lucidly illustrates the rapid urbanization of one of the many new developing cities in china.

    i am very interested in this city and it’s possible future development into a global economic as well as cultural hub. i actually plan on choosing this city for my architectural senior project, mainly focusing on the “floating population” and a means to solve the inevitable population influx.

    if you do happen to read this comment, i would greatly appreciate if i could conduct an interview with you on your views and hopes for this city.

    thanks for your time,

    juliannliang@gmail.com

  4. Hi,

    Reading about your blog on Shenzhen, I applaud your audacity to be different from everyone else when they headed north. Now, with the growth of SZ on the rise, I’m sure people are seeing firsthand why you chose this city. As the largest expat community website in Shenzhen, we work almost parallel to what you write about. I believe in what you express. I hope we will have an opportunity to work together and help promote SZ as I have faith that Shenzhen has the ability to climb to what stardom Shanghai and Beijing now enjoys.

    Promotion of the culture in the South is what we aim for, whether it’s the party scene that no one believes SZ has or the day time activities that people, friends and families are looking for. I hope I will hear from you soon. In the meantime, do feel free to take a look at our site: http://www.shenzhenparty.com I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Best Regards,

    Lisa Chien

    Editor of Shenzhen Party

  5. Shame that I didn’t find this blog until now. WordPress has been blocked for a long time(earlier than when Blogger is blocked, me think), but here you are keeping writing about Shenzhen. I really appreciate it!

  6. Hi Maryann,
    I have spent a whole night reading your blog and I am so inspired and excited!!
    My parents were among the first-generation migrants who moved to Shekou in 1980s to embrace ‘the superiority of marketisation’ shortly after Deng Xiaoping had declared China’s economic reform.They were both employers of China Merchant Group. I was born in 1985, grew up in Shekou with its core-values, went to Yucai school, and witnessed the change/development of Shekou/Shenzhen. I left Shekou at age 16 to pursue education in the UK and later moved to Australia. While I still go back to Shekou once a year, I often find myself lost in the change of it, and have become 近乡情怯. Sihai四海 park is no longer a place where I would enjoy reading a book, and I can no longer find the the passioness and that special energetic spirit on the new migrants’ faces. Where has the Shekou spirit gone?
    I came across your blog when I was doing some research of the recent Foxconn ‘suicide cluster’ and its philosophical implications of globalisation,in terms of biopolitics, bare life and neoliberalism. Is this really a reflection on the ‘dark side’ of China’s developinment?
    All in all, I have been inspired by your in-depth analysis of Shenzhen and Shekou, and I would like to thank you for sharing these profound and thoughtful blog topics.

    Melissa

  7. dear maryann,

    i’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now and am a great admirer.

    i and some friends in beijing have just started a webspace, http://pangbianr.com on art, music, and various other happenings in china. the poster you designed for the guangdong modern festival is something we’d love to post on pangbianr, as well as some of your other artwork or an article if you’re open to it.

    please contact me if you’re interested.
    sincerely,
    sophia

  8. Hi Mary Ann,

    Back again revisiting your blog which has changed quite a lot since I was here only a month ago. I know things move quickly in Shenzen 🙂 I was interested to reread a post you wrote on the distinction between inside and outside Shenzen. I tried to find it in your new format but couldn’t see it. Do you know the one I mean? and can you please point me there?….I hope all is well. Still a great read….
    Thanks,

    Jacquie Clarke
    University of Auckland

  9. Dear Maryann, I’ve commented on some of your blog posts and always enjoy reading your observations.

    I also live in Shenzhen, I work as a guitar teacher. I’ve written over 30 songs in Mandarin, and have even performed on the street in Nanshan.

    I also intend to write about my China-experiences, when I’m less busy at work.

    KM

    • Hi Kevin,

      My responses to comments ebb and flow with access to wordpress; in short, I’m much more responsive when i don’t have to go through a proxy, than I am when I do! When will you be performing next? I’m often in Nanshan (mostly near my yoga studio near Coastal City and SZU) and would enjoy listening to your music.

      • that was quick.

        I’ve been a bit busy with teaching lately, and I’m looking for a place to give me a regular slot, (I don’t much like playing for drunken (暴发户) because they tend to just shout at me in English, and ignore the fact that I’m singing in Chinese. Some kind of daytime gig would be great.

        I’m saving up to record the songs in a studio, but until then, I keep all of my (admittedly rudimentary) recordings here: http://www.tudou.com/home/mcgeary

        Also on that page is my sporadically updated Chinese blog. I’m trying to write something about the pop-music scene in China: whether the reason for a shortage of very adventurous popular music is Political control,or that the 老百姓 欣赏不了, but I’m still in the gathering information stage.

        Any thoughts?

  10. Hey Mary Ann, Well until 30 secs ago I always thought the song Carrie Ann by The Hollies was Mary Ann So I been singing it wrong for my entire life As in”Hey Mary Ann whats your game girl can anybody play?” Anyhoo I digress and I haven’t even gotten started. Kinda like that with me. BUT I am in Shenzhen and I am LOVING IT as a matter of fact so much that after a month here checking it out I am going to be moving here and setting up a branch of our plastic trash recycling company. Walked around the OCT Loft area and got very excited want to try and secure some raw space to setup the design,prototyping,workspace and crashpad for the Bomasticians(see website for mo’info http://www.bombasticplastix.com) Thanks for your blog its great. Any words of wisdom would be much appreciated. Thanks again for your informative and soulful website. Even more reason to like this crazy place. Sam

  11. Hi Mary Ann, My name is Kevin, and I’m a Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Anthro (working with Nicole Constable) currently based in Guangzhou. I heard about you and your work from Michael Gallagher, who I met through a mutual friend who runs an educational not-for-profit in Hong Kong. Michael suggested that I check out your blog, which I have, and I find it absolutely inspiring. My own research, conducted for the last 2+ years has been on migration, gender, and labor (largely sexual labor at the most difficult levels – street and the like), and prior to that much of my experience was in non-profit social activism around poverty, gender, and health, much of this work related to southern China. I find myself more and more dealing with issues of space, ‘development’ etc. as the physical sites that I worked in 2 years ago are demolished and people I’ve known for years forced to find other places and ways to live. Anyway, I know you must be terribly busy, but I would love a chance to talk sometime, and would be happy to come down to SZ. My email is :kdming@gmail.com. Cheers

    • Hi Kevin,
      Yes, it would be wonderful to meet up to talk and learn about your work. I have tried sending an email. If it doesn’t get through, please contact me here again.

  12. Hi Mary Ann, Haven’t received the email, please do re-send. That sounds great. Would love to hear more about your work and tell you a bit about mine.

    Cheers,
    Kevin

  13. Hi Mary Ann,
    Just want to say a huge thanks for your blog and encourage you to keep up with the quality of investigations throughout Shenzhen. I’m currently an architecture grad student at the University of Hong Kong doing a research which began with slums around the world but started to focus more on the nature of the urban villages in China especially Shenzhen. Your blogs have been exceptionally helpful with my research.

  14. Dear Ken,

    thank you for your encouragement and also the good work you are doing. I will be away for the summer, but when I return (late August) I would enjoy meeting with you and hearing about what you have learned from Shenzhen.

  15. Hi Mary Ann,
    I am so excited to find your blog. My name is Zhang xueshi (Angelo), and I’m an architecture graduate student at Shenzhen University this summer. I knew your blog from Shenzhen and Hong Kong Biennale official twitter at Sina. Heard from the twitter, I knew there is an on-going project named “Shenzhen timeline” . I take great interest in this project but I don’t know whether there needs volunteers or not. If there needs some, can I have the opportunity to be a member among them? I think I would be the preferable one. I have been living and studying in Shenzhen for more than a decade. As a second generation of the immigration, I would like to share my own stories about the city and to participate in your project rediscovering Shenzhen. Hope hearing from you soon.

    Here is my e-mail:
    angelozhang@yahoo.cn

    • Hi Angelo,
      Thank you for your enthusiasm and interest. I have sent an email to you and look forward to meeting you in person.

      Mary Ann

  16. Mary Ann,
    How the heck are you? I was just telling a new friend and colleague about your work and realized how long it has been. My bad, I’m afraid. We are now at Indiana after spending a decade in Miami. Nice place to land, but after it all, I do miss Miami.

    Seeing this website makes me miss you, too. Get in touch when you can — lara.kriegel@gmail.com is best for social stuff. Hope you and your family are well.

    Enjoying flashbacks to (too) long ago as I think of you.
    Love,
    Xiao Lara

    • Hi Mr. Wessling,
      Thank you for contacting me. I have checked previous messages and this is the first I have found from you. I’m curious: what did you suggest?
      Best,
      Mary Ann

  17. Mrs. O’Donnell (strange that my first post did not arrive, maybe I made something wrong; what I wrote was roughly this:)

    I admit that I found your blog only now, and I somehow regret; it is very interesting. It seems we have in some respect similar, in other respect different way of observing (also I am in Shenzhen, strolling streets though not as often as you do, as I am too busy with my business in China)

    Maybe you are interested to look at what I observed which I have put together in a book: “Here I am LaoWei”:

    http://www.bernhard-wessling.net

    The book tells about my personal and business experience in China / Shenzhen (but regarding business mostly outside of Shenzhen), and it shows over 140 photos which I took in Shenzhen showing life here.

    It would be interesting to exchange about our views and observations.

    • Dr. Wessling,

      Congratulations on publishing your book and photo exhibition, which I’m sorry I missed (and by only a few days!) Perhaps, we can get together for coffee and you can tell me about your experiences; I’m curious about the differences as well as overlaps.

  18. Hi Mary Ann,

    I’m very happy to have found your blog! Both Janet Upton (from IIE Beijing) and Nellie Chu had mentioned your work to me. It’s quite interesting to read about your views on art and urban culture in Shenzhen, a city that many has described as culturally vacant to me!

    I’m in Guangzhou for the year, doing a design research project on Chinese design and Shanzhai as a Fulbright fellow. I’ve visited the electronics market in Shenzhen, and definitely need to see more of the city. I will be in Shenzhen again this week. I would love to meet you when you are free.

    Look forward to hear from you!

    best,
    Jia
    hell@fromjia.com

  19. Dear Mary Ann,

    Fascinating blog! I just found it today and look forward to reading more. I’m a photographer and really interested in the hukou reforms. I’d love to speak with you a little more about your thoughts and observations in Shenzhen. It seems they’ve had specific official reforms but I wonder how things are working in practice. My email is sharron.lovell(at)gmail.com. Perhaps we could chat more by mail? You might also be interested to check a project I worked on three years back about migrant and hukou issues in Shanghai – http://vimeo.com/10623328

    • Hi Sharron,

      Thank you for contacting me. Yes, I would enjoy talking with you about differences between hukou in Shanghai and Shenzhen. I also look forward to checking out your project. Yes, will email you. Best, Mary Ann

  20. Dear Mary Ann,

    I have been trying to find your official contact like …@szu.edu.cn etc. But I guess this is the way to contact you. First of all, as everybody says, your blog is amazing!

    I am a M.Arch student from U of Toronto. I am really excited about your research and your insight for the issue of urban transformation in Shenzhen. Right now, I am conducting a research on the current de-industrialization and the potential transformation of the manufacturing landscape in PRD region. I really want to hear your opinion with regards to such a topic. Is the region really going through this de-industrialization process after global economic recession? What will occupy or perhaps gentrify the migrant workers’ current residential areas in the future? More importantly, I always wonder how Shenzhen will build up its cultural identity, as other cities such as Guangzhou in PRD try to render themselves with local Cantonese culture. In fact, I am a native Guangzhou guy, and I always heard about the competition between Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Do you think it really is the case and might become an obstacle for the amalgamation of the future mega-city PRD? It is quite difficult to find resource outside of the Middle Kingdom, so I flew to China and try to do some site visit this Christmas. Hopefully, if you have time and don’t mind answering my questions, I really want to visit you at Shenzhen University or simply exchange idea over emails.

    Best,

    Sunny

  21. Dear Mary Ann,

    I am a M.Arch student at the University of Waterloo, and writing a thesis on public spaces in Shenzhen.

    My supervisor has directed me to your blog, and I am thoroughly enjoying your provocative thoughts and observations.

    I am visiting the city in the first half of April, would it be possible to have a conversation with you at that time?

    Much appreciated,

    Emma

  22. Dear MaryAnn, a fascinating blog. I just came back to shenzhen from a trip near QingYuan where i encountered a very fascinating mountain village of which I am sure will catch your interest. Perhaps you already know about it and could give me a better understanding of the village i have been visiting. Is there any way we can have contact by mail ?

    Thanks in advance !

  23. Dear Mary Ann,

    I recently read an interview about your study on 晶報, and kind of feeling shame on our Chinese, or Shenzhen people. I happened to access a HK podcast two weeks ago, the hosts were saying that Japanese has the completest on the records of Kowloon Walled City and Hong Kong should be shame on themselves because most of them did not realize the value of that historic “city”. That report on 晶報 exactly reminded me of that saying from that HK radio. I am just curious to know that do you have any plan on making a comprehensive record or study on all the temples (both Taoism and Buddhism) in Shenzhen?

    Best regards,

  24. Dear Mary Ann,

    I would like to ask you some questions about Shenzhen. I noticed your yahoo email no longer works as I received : “Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: mary_ann_odonnell@yahoo.com“.

    Is there any other email I can contact you with?

    Many Thanks!
    TM

  25. Hi Mary Ann, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation for you and your blog- it is inspiring, intellectual and informative all at once. My name is Shaun Teo and I am a Singaporean PhD researcher based in University College London doing research on the political economy and urban politics of urban villages in Shenzhen. I would absolutely love to come visit and learn from you about the on the ground happenings in Shenzhen. I have added you on wechat but if that fails would you kindly email me at shaun.teo.15@ucl.ac.uk please? Would really love to hear from you, thanks.

  26. Hello Mary,

    It is nice to see this blog as a Shenzhen “second generation”. I am wondering if you will be interested in “making an inventory” of all the temples in Shenzhen since some of them are really old (some might dated back to Ming or Song dynasty). I was really impressed when I was travelling in HK seeing their temples as well as other historical buildings. Shenzhen is always recognized as a “culture dessert” or “a city of no root” by almost everyone, but I know that’s not true.

    If you are interested, I can try my best to find and translate some Chinese references (as some of the phrases/expressions RE temples might be difficult to understand for non-native Chinese speaker). Thank you for reading, and happy blogging.

    J Lam

    • Hi J Lam, yes, there is much here to discover. If you are in Shenzhen and looking to join our explorations, we would love to have you on the team!

      • Hello Mary,

        I am currently not in Shenzhen. But I will be glad to join your team when I back in town. You have an email address or any IM (that accessible in China) for contact?

        Thank you!

  27. Hi Mary,

    I am a masters of city planning student studying urban design at MIT, and I am currently starting my thesis studying public space use and design in Shenzhen. I would love to have the opportunity to visit you to have a conversation about your perspective on urban spaces and their link to the economic, social networks found in urban villages, namely how different spaces empower or discourage unplanned uses of space. Essentially, whoever designed or built the public space did not intend that use, but people end up using the space to best serve their lives (e.g. informal street vendor or teenagers using a reflective glass wall to practice dance moves).

    I have walked through a few of the urban villages while I was here in the summer working with UPDIS, the Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen, as a cultural exchange intern, and this month, I intend to start a more methodical documentation of these uses and their spaces. I saw you mentioned something about giving a walking tour (unless I am mistaken), but I would also be interested in something less formal such as a conversation as we walk to better understand urban villages from someone who has life and academic experience in them.

    Sorry for the short notice: I am in Shenzhen all of January, except a few days in the middle, but please let me know if chatting or meeting would be of any interest to you! My weixin is phhu3051 and email is phhu@mit.edu.

    Thank you,
    Phillip Hu

  28. Hi Mary. I’m a freelancer writer researching urban planning. Would it be possible to reproduce one of the images on your blog of Dalang’s Youth Dream Center in an article? Of course, there would be a credit, and link to this blog. my wechat is ‘saraho’. Could you come back to me asap, if possible?
    Thank you. Sarah O’Meara

  29. Hi Mary,

    I am a Master of Urban Planning student studying at University of Hong Kong, and I am currently working on my dissertation topic – urban villages redevelopment in Shenzhen. My aim is to do a comparison study on the whole redevelopment process of Tianmain and Gangxia village to find out what makes Tianmain redevelopment process smoother.

    I noticed from your blog that you have recorded the changes of the two villages, so I would like to know if you would mind sharing your insights on these two villages?

    This could be an informal chat or meet up. Please let me know if you are interested! My wechat is car92menc or email me at 3382853407@qq.com

    Thank you,
    Carmen Cheung

  30. Hello Mary,

    Your blog is wonderful, congratulations and thank you for sharing it!
    I am a documentary maker from the UK and will be visiting Shenzhen later this month for a few weeks. I have been to Shenzhen already a couple of times over the years and for all the reasons you are aware instantly became completely fascinated by it. I now have some funding to return and make a film with the co-director of my company ( http://www.lucafilms.co ) .. and we would love to talk to you about your work and perceptions on the city.
    Because of the funding partner the core of the narrative will be threaded through tech and innovation stories but as film-makers we have a special interest in approaching all our films through the lenses of the social sciences and art.. whatever the story so in Shenzhen we’re looking to tell a wider contextual story of the city as an organism and it’s place in the greater economic/cultural/ethnographic/architectural landscape etc. Overall we want to achieve a film that’s also sensitive to and celebrate the local culture and show angles which are more nuanced than the usual sensationalist views of Shenzhen we see in the western tech press.

    Anyway, if you have time, I’d love to organise a skype call or more correspondence ahead of our visit and try arrange some time to talk with you in person when we are there?

    many thanks, look forward to hearing from you.

    Jim.

  31. Hello! I stumbled upon your blog as I researched more about OCT Loft and Shenzhen. I relocated here from Shanghai, where I am pursuing a masters, and would love to meet up to chat over a cup of coffee. Perhaps we can find opportunities to collaborate. Feel free to reach out to me via IG/Twitter/WeChat @RaissaMendes00 or via email. Cheers.

    • Hi Raissa, tried connecting via we chat but didn’t. My we chat is mary_ann_odonnell. Yes, let’s get together and collaborate. Next week organizing some tours you might want to join.

  32. Hi Mary Ann, I wanted to reach out as a fellow Rice alum living in Shenzhen. I completed my undergraduate degree in 2014 and relocated from Houston to SZ in August of 2015 for my job in consulting. Great to meet you virtually!

  33. Hi Mary Ann, your site is fascinating and beautifully put together. I was keen for your input on a journalist exchange with Oz journalists visiting Shenzhen in November. If you’re interested, my email is dfisher@apjc.org.au
    Appreciate!

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