Several years before he was champion of the inaugural and influential singing competition 快乐男声 (on Hunan TV), Chen Chusheng 陈楚生 lived in Tangtou, Baishizhou. Indeed, the first stop on his musical career seems to have been Shenzhen, which in the late 1990s, early 2000s was famous for its indie and rock music scene. The musicians lived in urban villages and performed in the city’s many bars and infamous nightclubs.
The above image Shenzhen (2000) by Yu Haibo 余海波 not only gives a sense of what the city’s nightlife was like at the turn of the millennium, but also the frantic energy that characterized that scene. Of course, Chen Chusheng took a more laidback and folksy approach. His song, Baishizhou sounds almost pastoral, in stark contrast to the world outside his Tangtou apartment. And yes, circa 2000, Baishizhou was not yet linked to the urban grid and Shenzhen was still the world’s factory, relying on the highly transient residents of the villages.
Yesterday evening between 7 to 9, depending on the housing estate, Shanghai people took to their balconies and clanged on pots and pans to demand food. The event, “Music Party” seems to have been widespread, with organizers making and circulating individualized posters, telling neighborhood participants when their group would be playing. “Music Party” allowed Shanghai residents to tactically fill the city with alternative sounds–sounds that were meaningful to them, rather than the sounds of impersonal management.
As Jing Wang observed, sound has become a critical feature of locked-down Shanghai. Robotic dogs and drones carry loudspeakers through neighborhoods, instructions blaring. On repeat. Everyday. In a city where isolation has become the new normal and cell phones mediate intimacy, the materiality of a common voice (or clamor) shared across time and space allows for the mutual recognition that makes us human. Videos of the clanging and robotic dog (and yes the ‘bitch’ speaks with a female voice) as well as some of the posters, below.
Today, two videos are circulating on WeChat, one “四月之声 [April Voices]” is a delicate and relentless compilation of the Shanghai crisis through telephone calls for help that remain unanswered. As one of the voices says, “I’m sorry teacher, there’s nothing I can do.” The second, “2022 上海晚春 [Late Spring in Shanghai, 2022]” is much more direct–scenes of violence put to the nihilistic, “Cheer Up London” by the Slaves. Both videos are worth taking the time to view because although their aesthetics are very different, they make the same, chilling point: Shanghai is violently divided and the party and the government (those who should be trusted) are not backing down .
Update: yesterday, all day Shanghai people continuously re-uploaded “April Voices” and the authorities continuously took it down. I has been an ongoing 24-hour battle for the right of ordinary people to tell their stories.
Anyone else following the musical choices of the plaza dancing aunties? This year, in my compound its suddenly Beijing opera, complete with drums, high pitched arias, and flowing sleeves. I had accustomed myself to the forgettable blandness of “my little apple.” And now, abruptly I learn that Beijing opera plaza dancing has been a thing for at least a year!
Just recently, I stumbled upon me, Fu Na and Huang Weiwen talking about urban villages. The video was part of Unidentified Acts of Design, an exhibition and series of eight films. The films are worth checking out again, if only because the city has already changed. To find out more about the V&A’s work in China vam.ac.uk/shekou
In our rush to celebrate Shenzhen’s transformation from a fishing village into China’s fourth city, we emphasize a nets-to-riches fantasy. However, this origin story ignores the inequalities that structured coastal society before the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. In this episode of the Shenzhen Book of Changes, we visit Nan’ao and speak with the local fishing people, who before 1962 were not allowed to come on land. They floated from port to port in Dapeng Bay, relying on the fish that they could catch and the protection of the goddess Mazu to warn them when storms were rising.