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!
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?
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.
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:
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:
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”.
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.
Not so long ago and not so far away, Futian was known as Shangbu and was considered the rural burbs of up and coming Shenzhen (which was mapped as Luohu-Shangbu). But then (somewhat deus ex machina) Deng Xiaoping appeared in 1992, promising that the experiments would continue. So, during the 1990s, the SEZ boomed and Shenzhen restructured. Old Futian (well, xiaokang Futian), emerged out of all this governmental restructuring and economic booming.