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Huang Yihong came to Baishizhou with a plan—to explore the materiality of different objects and experiment using them to create different objects. As an aesthetic concept, materiality is a response to both formalism’s emphasis on visual aspects of art and structuralism’s interest in context and communication. Materiality is time and situation based: it acknowledges that the human experience takes physical form. This kind of artistic exploration requires curiosity, patience, and a systematic method of exploring objects, their physicality, and their social context. Imagine, for example, everything that might possibly be done with the green netting that is ubiquitous on Chinese construction sites. The netting keeps dust in place on recently demolished sites and hangs protectively around buildings under construction. Now consider: given this context, what does it mean when an artist wraps an old brick in green netting?

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what’s love got to do with it?

On June 22, 2019, Handshake 302’s visiting artist, Xiao An celebrated her 28th birthday by preparing a Singleton Lunch. To prepare for the meal, she shopped the nearby street market like a professional, prepared “Whole Tomato Rice,” in the rice pot, and served up eggs, potatoes, and batchoy—all in two hours. In fact, this was the first time that the food at a Singleton Lunch was ready before the guests arrived. How did the meal come together so smoothly?

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the field,” Xiao’an said as she efficiently pulled everything together.

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For this conversation, Xiao’an chose the topic “A Single Woman’s Fear and Love.” Four women and one man joined Xiao’an and Mary Ann, sharing stories about how it feels to be an unmarried married woman in contemporary Shenzhen. As the conversation developed, we realized that other issues, such as hometown and generation played important roles in what participants feared and how they felt about love.

Everyone at the table had made unconventional decisions in order to create a better life for themselves. Yet, this decision to come to Shenzhen and pursue professional dreams extracts a greater cost from women than from men. After all, a traditional man is expected to meet challenges and provide for his wife and family. In contrast, many young women do not work for themselves, but work for their natal families and then, once married, they work for their new family. So we shared this story: standing up our dreams when they came into conflict with social expectations.

This contradiction between our individual dreams and social expectations meant that our most common fear was that we would loose love if we became too much ourselves. If we didn’t act like a Hakka daughter and sister and help our brothers purchase a house and get married, would our parents still love us? If we didn’t get married and have a child before we turn 30 years, would our village still accept us or would they call us “a chicken who can’t lay eggs?” If we were still unmarried at 40, would there be a place for us in society, or would people be wondering, “what’s wrong with you that no man wants you?”

Consequently, most of us experienced love in relationships where our dreams were recognized and valued. When parents accepted a daughter’s choice to earn money for herself, this was experienced as love. When a friend encouraged us to ignore cruel gossip, this was experienced as love. And when we accepted our dreams and our decisions, this too was experienced as love. In other words, the “love” we sought wasn’t a passionate affair, but shared values and dreams, where our partners saw us as individuals and not a social role.

At the end of the meal, it was clear that we had all suffered when our individual desires came into conflict with traditional expectations. We all wanted our families to understand and accept our decisions. Consequently, it also became clear that we all shared a common wish for Shenzhen; we want the city to be a place where everyone—regardless of gender, hometown, or generation—can develop themself as an individual and find life-giving forms of love.

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interested in the hubei story?

If so, please check out, The New Companion to Urban Design, which includes a copy of my paper, “Heart of Shenzhen: The Movement to Preserve ‘Ancient’ Hubei Village.” Of course, there’re many more cities and ideas to read about. Continue reading

learning from shuiwei

On Thursday and Friday, June 13-14, Handshake 302 led a workshop on pursuing sustainable development goals. The bi-lingual workshop was part of mass innovation week and Shenzhen maker week. We turned to Shuiwei for our inspiration. Images from the event show the city at its best: young, smart, and willing to contribute.

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SZ8X80207//The Myriad Transformations//City on the Fill: Oyster Beds

By 2003, the oyster farmers who worked the coastline that would be reclaimed as Ocean City were removed so that more coastline could be reclaimed. At the cusp of that transformation, I walked the coast that was still littered with oyster shells, sanpans, and poles that had been used for fishing nets. An old border tower stood, unused for years until it would be occupied by squatters after the next phase of reclamation.

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Futian CBD: Shenzhen’s Meta Cultural Geography

On Saturday June 15 and 16, Urban Flesh and Bones: Futian Edition visited one of the most important cultural geographies in the city—the CBD central axis. As with previous editions of Urban Flesh and Bones, neither the heat nor the rain deterred participants from coming out to rediscover Shenzhen. This edition emphasized the importance of urban planning and how we imagine urban cultural geographies. As this edition coincided with National Mass Innovation and Entrepreneurship Week, our tour explored how the CBD central axis became the steel and concrete manifestation of the work and dreams that launched Shenzhen from a manufacturing city to world leader in technology and innovation. Continue reading

baishizhou update

As rumors of demolition become more substantial, the implications of how it will directly impact individual lives is being felt. On June 30 / July 1, several landlords (most likely sub-letter landlords) demanded that because of immanent demolition, renters in Xintang and Shangbaishi would have to move out by September. These notices were unofficial, in that they did not carry the seal of the city government. Nevertheless, they have induced panic because the time directly impacts schooling. Continue reading