where’s the money?

On May 23, protests in rural Henan brought national attention to the fact that five rural banks in the province–禹州新民生村镇银行、上蔡惠民村镇银行、柘城黄淮村镇银行、开封新东方村镇银行、安徽固镇新淮河村镇银行–are no longer allowing clients to withdraw savings. Over 2,900 clients have tried to access over 1.2 billion yuan, and there are reports that this is just the tip of the iceberg because many people have bought financial products that are held by these banks. Estimates suggest that millions may have lost billions. So what’s happened? Where’s the money? And why are people in Henan protesting at banks?

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where have all the big whites gone?

I’m not sure if Shenzhen has settled into its new normal, but it does seem that zero-Covid is trying to be low-key in a city where 72-hour negatives remain mandatory for public transportation and buildings? Advertisements for volunteers, for example, are bright pink and non-threatening. Join and help, they invite ordinary citizens to participate. What’s more, while the volunteers who coordinate test lines are masked and gloved, nevertheless some wear the unmistakable red vest of Shenzhen’s volunteer corps, rather than being covered head-to-toe in white hazmat suits. At the station were I get tested, the only people wearing hazmat suits were the medical personal swabbing throats (or ‘poking’ 捅 as the vernacular calls it). The overall effect downplays any threat to public health. In fact, yesterday, many of those who walked or jogged past the lines to get tested were not wearing masks. Instead, as the unmasked went about their ordinary lives, those of us standing on line (masked, of course) performed compliance. And frankly, the overall feeling was not exhaustion, but boredom. Swipe left. Poke. Poke. Swipe right.

shameful dis-ease: over the counter cold meds and covid

Body shaming and its ills are familiar: eating disorders in the pursuit of an ideal body-type; feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem caused by fat-phobic, misogynistic, racist and anti-trans bullying; and the intense pain and despair that come from being isolated from those around us simply because of who we are. Indeed, shame is an important component of social control precisely because it shifts responsibility for indifferent and cruel treatment of others from the shamer to the shamed. The logic is insidious, direct and more often than not internalized before we finish elementary school: I am treated like shit because this body is fat/ ugly/ female/ trans/ black/ old…

Recently, I’ve realized that mandatory covid testing manipulates body shame to achieve political and social goals. It has also changed previous expressions of care for family and friends.

Inquiring minds want to know: How does zero-covid play upon extant forms of body shame in Shenzhen? Well, if you lived through the US AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, you have (because you read Susan Sontag) a pretty good understanding of how illness and shame work to prevent the ill from receiving necessary care, while allowing the healthy and the powerful to justify their indifference to the pain of others. Below, I track how regulation of over the counter cold medicines is part of a bio-governance regime that has made it shameful to catch a cold.

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coastal mediations: what is desired and what can be sold

Shenzhen has beautiful coastlines, especially in Dapeng District, where the coastline hasn’t been over-reclaimed and recreational areas still remain. Here’s the the thing, however. In order to generate income, most Dapeng beaches have been stutter-stepped developed within the city’s tourist industry. I know, this is what capitalist inclinations do to coastlines–remake water’s edge into commodity. So, in a manner of speaking, nothing new here. Why then visit Shayuchong 沙鱼涌 and/or Xichong 溪涌? Well, two reasons (in addition to going for a swim). First, these beaches make visible what a 涌 is, allowing us to imagine life before agriculture, when coastal dwellers first settled the area 7,000 years ago. Second, capitalism packages history and geography in order to profit in the present. So, when we’re visiting Shenzhen beaches, we’re not only looking at what sells, but also what is allowed to be sold, trying to figure out how red capitalist tides have restructure the coast since the late 1980s.

Both Shayuchong and Xichong are located in Kuichong Subdistrict (葵涌街道), which traverses the Dapeng isthmus, facing Dapeng Bay in the south and Daya Bay in the north, map above. Impressions from yesterday’s trip to Shayuchong and Xichong, below.

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配合: how do we change the world?

Yesterday, I participated in a day-long conference to promote environmentalism. I think I was invited for some combination of two reasons: I’m a recognized foreign friend of the city and anthropologists tell better stories than scientists do. Although technically, I’m a scientist, too! (Social science for the win–hee!) Anyway, the other guests have been diligently working alongside and via the government apparatus to create green spaces throughout the city. Event host, Nan Zhaoxu 南兆旭, for example, wrote The Shenzhen Natural History Encyclopedia 深圳自然博物百科 and event organizer, Meng Xiangwei 孟祥伟 has been director of the OCT Wetlands Field School since its establishment seven years ago. Their efforts have been instrumental in elevating district-level events to municipal, provincial and even national levels, not only contributing to Shenzhen’s status as China’s greenest first-tier city, but also to getting environmental sustainability on the city’s urban planning laundry list.

So, now you’re wondering: what was my takeaway from the event? Just how sustainable is Shenzhen’s environment? And what can environmentally conscious people do via an apparatus that is structured to sustain a political environment, rather than an economic let alone non-human environment? Unfortunately my thoughts are not so grand. Instead, I ended up thinking about the cultural forms of environmentalism:

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wither the future? some anecdotes from shenzhen under normalized grid management

Yesterday I spoke with a cabbie about the future. He was excited to learn that I hold a US American passport, and quickly reassured me that even if many Chinese people dislike the USA and its residents, he felt otherwise. He wants China to become more democratic and for more voices to be heard in political conversations. He emphasized that presently China only has one voice, making everybody else what we in the US would call “sock puppets” and in China are sometimes called “marionettes” or 傀儡. He also felt that Shenzhen’s housing market made it impossible for anyone not rich to purchase a house and make a life for themselves, so why not “lay down” 躺平. If you have a place to lay your head and enough to eat, why bother with marriage and children?

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无语😓:cultural incompetence is also cross-generational

I recently downloaded this sheet of Covid stickers and emoticons. I really like them because they reference specific features of Shenzhen’s experience during the February and March 2022 Omicron outbreak. However, I haven’t yet used any of them because I’m feeling nervous about being called out for cultural incompetence if I misuse them. Or even more scary is that I won’t be called out and I’ll just continue making the same mistake over and over again. That said, I don’t actually want to use emoticons enough that I am willing to learn how to use them by stumbling along and making mistakes. And there’s the rub: emoticons don’t actually resonate with me. They’re just part of a dialect that I recognize has overtaken me, but even so, I haven’t really put in any effort to learn.

So why don’t I emote-icon with confidence? What am I missing when chosen family and friends insert emoticons into a dialog? And why do I feel more comfortable writing in 普通话 than I do texting in either English or Mandarin?

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to be of use…

人才是第一资源。古往今来,人才都是富国之本、兴邦大计。我说过,要把我们的事业发展好,就要聚天下英才而用之。要干一番大事业,就要有这种眼界、这种魄力、这种气度。Talent is the first resource. Through the ages, talented people have been the foundation of a country's wealth as well as great plans to rejuvenate the country. I have said that to develop our cause, we should gather talents from all over the world and use them. To realize a great cause, we must have this vision, this courage and this bearing. -- Xi Jinping, 2018

In some of my more fanciful moments, I imagine Confucius and Ignatius Loyola sitting down together to talk education, “Just how,” they muse, “do we cultivate the kinds of people we need to properly govern/ shepherd our people?” They agree to disagree about just how the will of god/ heaven should–and they enjoy a frisson of pleasure as they impose their shoulds on young bodies–manifest locally, but they share the supremely feudal idea that the purpose of education is to cultivate talents who will be of use to god/ heaven and the king/ emperor. And yes, the idea of education as a means of cultivating particular kinds of ideological subjects is feudal, directly contradicting the modern idea that the purpose of education is to cultivate enlightened and independent thinkers. (How feudal our minds are is topic for another post. Maybe.) Anyway, this is why it makes sense that before the protestant evangelicals sailed into Victoria Harbor, HK on the ships of predatory traders, Jesuits enjoyed over two hundred years of pleasant chats with Confucian scholars about grandiose topics, such as wither the world? (Check out The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire by Thomas Reilly for an insightful account of why Matteo Ricci and his Jesuit brethren received warm welcome in Beijing, whereas the protestant mission was criminalized because it informed rebellion.)

Matteo Ricci and Paul Xu Guangqi From La Chine d’Athanase Kirchere de la Compagnie de Jesus: illustre de plusieurs monuments tant sacres que profanes, Amsterdam, 1670. 
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just when you thought it was okay to think…

To believe or not to believe? China has a “Big White Earth God Shrine” corona test site. Is it performance art or is it an actual test site? After all, zero-Covid is based on science, not irrational commitment to a political policy, which in practice looks a lot like, well, in practice zero-Covid looks a lot like folk religion:

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end of an era? periodizing shenzhen urban villages

A few months ago, I published an essay that periodizes the development of urban villages in Shenzhen. It provides a more nuanced context of how we arrived at the public shaming of Shatou during the recent Covid outbreak. It also contextualizes Baishizhou as an important landmark in Shenzhen’s cultural geography, speculating on what the demolition of Baishizhou means and might mean for the city. Published in Made in China, Archaeologies of the Belt and Road Initiative.