It’s been a while, but I’m back online, thinking the world through Shenzhen. Most recently, Made in China published a forum–Transformation of Shen Kong Borderlands— about the Shen Kong border. Denise Ho, Jonathan Bach and I co-edited the forum, which introduces the border, its history, and new perspectives on how people have lived within and between opportunities it has afforded.
The intro to the forum reads:
In August 1980, the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was formally established, along with SEZs in Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen. China’s fifth SEZ, Hainan Island, was designated in 1988. Yet this year, the only SEZ to receive national attention on its fortieth anniversary was Shenzhen. Indeed, General Secretary Xi Jinping attended the celebration, reminding the city, the country, and the world not only of Shenzhen’s pioneering contributions to building socialism with Chinese characteristics, but also that “The construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is a major national development strategy, and Shenzhen is an important engine for the construction of the Greater Bay Area (Xi 2020).” Against this larger background, many interpreted the General Secretary’s celebration of Shenzhen to have put Hong Kong in its place, so to speak; Hong Kong may have contributed to the SEZ’s development, but the region’s future is being shaped in and through Shenzhen.
This forum offers historical and ethnographic accounts of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong borderlands as sites where cross-border policies, situations, and aspirations continue to inform and transform everyday life. In political documents, newspaper articles, and the names of businesses Shenzhen-Hong Kong is shortened to 深港 or “Shen Kong,” suturing the cities together as specific, yet diverse socio-technical formations built on complex legacies of colonial occupations and Cold War flare-ups, checkpoints and boundaries, quasi-legal business opportunities and cross-border peregrinations. The following essays show how, set against its changing cultural meanings and sifting of social orders, the border is continuously redeployed and exported as a mobile imaginary while experienced as an everyday materiality. Taken together, the articles compel us to consider how borders and bordering protocols have been critical to Shenzhen’s success over these last forty years. Indeed, we would argue, Shenzhen succeeds to the extent that it remains a liminal space of passage and transformation. As the Greater Bay Area once again remakes the region’s cultural geography, the stories and voices herein provide food for speculative thought about today’s Pearl River Delta betwixt, between and within China’s domestic and international borders.
O’Donnell, Bach, and Ho. 2020. “Transformation of Shen Kong Borderlands.” Made in China Journal 3: 93.
I was flitting about the internet and discovered that as of May 19, 2020 the portal for the Qianhai Cooperation Zone had moved [from Shenzhen] to the management platform of the Guangdong Provincial Government, which means that the administrative unification of the Greater Bay Area proceeds and that much of what happens in Qianhai will now have to be approved in Guangzhou. The political ordering is clear on the Chinese site. The official name on the platform is: 广东自由贸易试验区深圳前海蛇口片区前海深港现代服务业合作区, which translates as: Guangdong Free Trade Pilot Zone Shenzhen Qianhai Shekou Zone, Qianhai Shen Kong Modern Service Cooperation Zone. The order of the place names tells us that Guangdong Province is the ultimate authority over Qianhai, and that Qianhai and Shekou are both under Shenzhen. Hong Kong only appears in abbreviated form as part of the cooperation zone in the second part of the name.
What might this mean for Shenzhen and Hong Kong? Thoughts du jour:
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?
A few weeks ago, Handshake 302 visited a learning farm in Zhongshan. The farm was located in a valley near Zhuhai; five hundred years ago, the area would have been an island. There is underground spring water on the mountain, which facilitated the conversion of sand and silt runoff (from the West and North Rivers) into polders, where it was possible to grow rice and lotuses, and to cultivate fish ponds and vegetable gardens. This particular farm is too small to support a family, but large enough for children and their parents to visit and learn about organic gardening. Indeed, the municipal government has already annexed surrounding farms into its latest master plan. This farm survived because it has a “modern” purpose.
A week or so ago, we went to Huidong (惠东), one of the poorer counties in Huizhou City (惠州市). Huidong is located within the valleys of the mountain range that runs parallel to the eastern coast of Guangdong. Via mountain paths, it is a four-hour hike from Huidong to Haifeng (海丰县).
The launch for the Chinese translation of “Learning from Shenzhen” was held at the Central Book City public area. There were several hundred in attendance and young children came up to meet the author and get an autograph. It was an exciting–and let’s be frank–unexpected reception for the translation of an academic book.
Located on the “bamboo curtain” at the Sino-British border, Shenzhen’s spatial liminality facilitated national political and economic restructuring, which ultimately had international effects. In the ordinary order of things, liminal spaces have recognizable thresholds and boundaries; one crosses from one side to the next. Most liminal spaces are located at the edges of mainstream society. In contrast, the geopolitical logic of Shenzhen has been to place liminal spaces at the center of society, making perpetual transformation—of the self, the nation, and the world—a key feature of the model. The transformation of Luohu-Shangbu from a riparian society into the earliest iteration of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) can give a sense of how liminality was deployed to as metaphor and strategy. Today, the Luohu area is known as Dongmen, a bustling cross-border shopping district, and Shangbu is known as Huaqiangbei, the world’s “Silicon Valley of Hardware.”
The following post was first published on Pandemic Discourses, a blog curated by the India China Institute at the New School. The goal of the blog is to bring differently situated perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic into conversation with each other. The purpose of my post was to provide impressions of the first six months of the pandemic and responses in Shenzhen.
It’s been roughly six months since Shenzhen introduced measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Statistics from the Shenzhen Health Commission 卫健委 show that the highest number of cases occurred at the end of January and early February. There was a second wave that coincided with the return of residents after the Chinese New Year’s holiday. Indeed, the city has emphasized the difference between “locally transmitted” and “imported” cases. As of July 19, 2020, the city had a confirmed total of 462 cases, while the most recent case was reported on April 28, 2020. Continue reading →
If you are interested in government approved daily updates on what’s happening with the coronavirus in Shenzhen, you could do worse than visiting EYESHENZHEN, which provides translations of city briefings. The site also includes a comprehensive introduction to the city’s mainstream art scene.
When the New Year’s holiday began, much of the sociality that characterizes everyday life in our housing estate ended. There were no more early morning exercise groups, mid-morning dancing Aunties, and afternoon gamers. We have several groups who play cards, Chinese chess, and mah jong in the compound. However, children are still riding bikes, playing badminton, and dribbling basketballs. It is also possible to visit friends within the estate, and so the other night, we had friends over for dinner and a game of cribbage. What I learned from my friends is that they aren’t missing face-to-face interaction as much as someone of my generation might think because young people have been proactive in organizing even more online social events than usual. There have been online photo-galleries, where people upload images on a shared theme, online talks, where people listen to and interact with a guest speaker, and even more online gaming than usual. In other words, my younger friends have experienced the delay in returning to work and school as a chance to intensify their online friendships, which they agree, are often less stressful and more rewarding than face-to-face interactions.