It turns out that Covid-19 is good to think if your goal is to understand ‘China’ as imagined, perceived and, of course, enforced. (Winning?) After all, even if there are no countries outside are heads, nevertheless, there are test stations, checkpoints, police, and all sorts of social monitoring. Moreover, how different groups–both at home and abroad–are responding to the lockdown shows up interesting aspects of my experience in Shenzhen. So, I’m providing a round-up of some of the Covid related blogs, essays and books that I’ve been reading to embed Shenzhen’s experience into national and international discourses about biological governance, moral geography and new forms of self expression. And yes, they’re all over the place because we don’t really know how the ground has shifted. Moreover, I find comparison and contrast both necessary and useful because the intellectual and political challenge is to provide rich, on the ground accounts of lived experience within and against political-economic systems that are (to use a harsh neologism) always already glocal–the suffering caused by Covid-19 is universal, but responses to and cultural expressions of pain have been highly specific.
The cartoon caption which comes via the 2022 Shanghai lockdown reads, “Who dares call a meal with pig feet and bear’s claw anything less than a feast? You can’t hide that we’re living in a flourishing age.”
The first party secretary and second president of Shenzhen University, Luo Zhengqi 罗征启 was one of the main figures of public life during the early Special Zone years. His vision for a post-CR intellectual culture and new roles for intellectuals not only shaped the city’s public culture and its urban form, but has also educated many of the city’s important figures. Graduates from the Shenzhen University School of Architecture have, quite literally, contributed to the design and construction of the city’s built environment, while more generally Shenzhen University graduates have played important roles in the city’s government, its companies and civil life, including its not-for-profits, volunteer organizations, and vibrant salon culture. Luo Zhengqi passed away yesterday, three months after his wife, Professor Liang Hongwen left us. Both were 88 years old. Both lived and worked in Shenzhen from 1983 to their passing this year.
Long-term collaborator, Jonathan Bach and I reflect on the shifting meanings of local identity and local belonging in “Reclaiming the New, Remaking the Local: Shenzhen at 40,” which was published in china perspectives, 2021/2 pp. 71-5.
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.
One of the major complaints that I am hearing in Shenzhen is the lack of transparency about information about the new coronavirus; most of the information we are hearing isn’t coming from official sources. Indeed, the first announcement of the Wuhan coronavirus came from eight unnamed, unofficial sources, which announced that a new virus had been discovered. The Wuhan police “handled them according to law” for spreading rumors and reminded the public that “the net isn’t outside the law.”
This week in The Economist, an introduction to the PRD as China’s most dynamic, open, and innovative region. Good overview that introduces landmarks for navigating a landscape which has changed and continues to change China. And yes, Learning from Shenzhen gets a shout out!
Jonathan and I will be joining Learning from Shenzhen contributor, Eric Florence at 5:00pm, January 17, 2017 in the Social Sciences Chamber, 11/F, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus, The University of Hong Kong. Please join us.
The book is out (and can be purchased, here). Please join us at the Shenzhen launch!