why is shenzhen called shenzhen and not bao’an city?

Just when I thought it was safe to go out in public without having to refute the fishing village myth and the city’s nets-to-riches origins, I attended a meeting organized for foreigners visiting Shenzhen. The host (from England via Beijing) asked me point blank to talk about the city that used to be a fishing village. Clearly, my efforts to get a more accurate first impression into the world have not been as successful as I had hoped. Sigh.

There was, however, an unexpected silver line to this encounter; I’ve streamlined my takedown!

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the new rural

In December 2020, the central government called for speeding up rural modernization (加快农业农村现代化). As elsewhere on the planet, this means industrialization, more Science and Technology R&D, and a new role for Shenzhen in the region! (I know that’s what we care about.) Anyway, a few days ago, I visited the Huizhou City Shennong Fragrant Orchid Valley Ecological Agriculture Science and Technology Ltd. (惠州市神农兰香谷生态农业科技有限公司), which is a grape farm, where no grapes would naturally grow, let alone thrive. So what’s the connection to Shenzhen?

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rock star science

Yesterday, I attended a high table dinner for Muse College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. CUHK-SZ is located in Longgang, next to the Shenzhen Moscow State University-Beijing Institute of Technology University (Shenzhen MIS-BIT) and the Longgang sports stadium, which was built for the 2011 Universiade. Both universities were established after the Universiade through national and international initiatives. The first class at CUHK-SZ entered in 2016, while the first class at Shenzhen MIS-BIT entered in 2017. These collaborations indicate Shenzhen’s commitment to formalizing science and technology innovation in the city. Indeed, these investments have been of a piece with the renewal of Huaqiangbei, where upscale malls have replaced the former factory buildings which housed low-cost storefronts, offices, and workshops on the area’s main strip.

Head of the Shanghai Medical Treatment Expert Group, Zhang Wenhong (张文宏) was the keynote speaker at the high table banquet, which also included a performance by the renowned Cantonese opera singer, Zhuo Peili (桌佩丽). Zhang Wenhong became nationally famous for his role in understanding and controlling COVID-19 in China. Accordingly he has become something of a science rock star, especially in venues like CUHK-SZ, where teachers and students lined up to have their picture taken with him.

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mappy thoughts about “yellow hill”

So, here’s a photograph that confused me for way too long. It pops up on Baidu, when I search “深圳老照片”. It was not immediately apparent to me, however, when and where this landscape existed. And then I stumbled upon a map of Futian Commune and it was like, wow, I get it. Here’s the map:

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rumor has it…about “guanliao”

Here’s a story for a Monday morning: My husband and I recently bought a condo in Dali, where we plan to retire. This past Chinese New Year, we opened the condo, calling the gas company to send someone over to connect our gas line. A team of three people showed up. The best dressed of the group carried a clipboard and explained to us what was happening. One of the electricians set to connecting the line. The third was there to oversee the young man making the connection and insure that he didn’t make any mistakes. The entire process–explaining, connecting, and checking the connection–took about ten minutes. Once they had finished their work, they moved on to the next condo.

I found it ridiculous to send three people to complete the job. However, when I told a 20-something friend this story she half-jokingly responded, “Wow, Dali is really efficient!” She then told me that most government and central enterprises had an even higher ratio of bureaucrats and supervisors to actual workers. At her company, she explained, actual work didn’t start until Wednesday because on Monday mornings top level executives met to decide on the week’s work, Monday afternoons, vice-executives informed managers of their responsibilities, on Tuesday mornings, managers further refined jobs for office heads, and then on Tuesday afternoon, office heads assigned tasks to actual workers. I laughed (as I was supposed to) and then clarified, “You’re exaggerating, right?” And she said, “Not really. There are at least four or five levels of management above my level, where the work actually happens. Even in Shenzhen, it has all become too guanliao.”

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ferrous history

The English and Chinese online introductions to the Steel Structure Museum (深圳中国钢铁博物馆) emphasizes that the history of steel structures is an international story of human progress. The English intro reads: “We are the only museum in China themed steel structure, which is sponsored by CSCEC Science and Industry as an CSR project. Open to the public since May 18 “International Museum Day” of 2017, we narrate the story of steel structure both of China and rest of the world chronologically and in order of technical process, and explain steel structures’ advantages.” The Chinese introduction is a bit more specific but makes the same point: 深圳中国钢结构博物馆是中国唯一以钢结构为主题的博物馆,由中建科工集团有限公司举办。以“行业首创、中国一流”为建馆目标,以历史和科技并重为陈列原则,以实物、模型、图片、文字、多媒体等为展示手段,集收集、展览、研究、教育、交流于一体,融科普性、学术性、趣味性、参与性于一身,旨在让观众了解世界钢结构的发展历程、探寻中国钢结构的崛起之路以及感受钢结构文明的气韵,是建筑科普的重要基地和科技交流的重要平台 (in Chinese).

The museum tracks the use of steel as a sign of human developmental progress, which begins in England, is aestheticized in Paris, flourishes in the US and culminates in China. Important but missing from this march of progress are mentions of Stalin and socialist industrialization via centralized planning and concomitant movements like the Great Leap Forward, where steel was the key (以钢为纲 image below).

Nevertheless, the theme itself is enlightening, especially in the context of global restructuring in the post Cold War era. So, here’s what the museum has me thinking:

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lilong update

Good friend, Jonathan Bach looked up Hilda Nagel, the name on the gravestone in one of the photos from Holy Hill. He found her listed only as the wife of Rev. A. Nagel in a 1910 directory called “List of Protestant Missionaries in China” under the heading for “Basel Missionary Society, Hong Kong, Lilong”. http://divinity-adhoc.library.yale.edu/Resources/Directories/1910_Directory.pdf. He was then able to find the above photo of Rev. A. Nagel titled “Pupils of the Boy’s Boarding School in Lilong (China)” with an annotation “Teacher Tschong, the missionary Nagel, Teacher Tschin”.

Indeed, for those interested in old photos from the Basel Mission, the USC Digital Library International Mission Photography Archive is a fabulous resource.

lilang holy hill

Today is Grave Sweeping Day, so I thought I’d publish something about an historic cemetery–Holy Hill (圣山), which is located in Buji.

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urban flesh and bones is back!

April, May and June, Handshake 302 will be leading tours through the streets and history of Futian Street Office. If you’re in Shenzhen, subscribe to our we chat account to sign-up for a tour!

houhai, impressions of.

I walked from Coastal City to Shenzhen Bay Park via Talent Park. It is a stunning venture, where it is possible to experience the best of what Shenzhen offers–futuristic architecture, sparkling coastline, and expansive skies–without having to deal with the consequences thereof–overbuilding, monopolized waterways, and pollution. Indeed, as in the city’s beautiful parks, this stretch of modern living embodies the goals, aspirations, and ideologies of reform and opening.

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