gaoling: shenzhen’s eastern periphery

Episode 13 of The Great Transformation, takes us to Gaoling Village (高岭村), which is located on Qiniang Mountain at Shenzhen’s eastern most edge on the Dapeng Peninsula.

The story of Overseas Chinese Chen Jiageng (陈嘉庚) opens the episode, connecting the history of Shenzhen’s eastern periphery to early modern Chinese nationalism. An ethnic Hakka, Chen Jiageng raised funds among to construct the Jimei School in his hometown Jimei Xiamen. For his nationalist efforts, Mao Zedong referred to Chen Jiageng as being “the banner of Overseas Chinese, the glory of the race (华侨旗帜,民族光辉)”.

Settled over 400 years ago by Hakka migrants, the layout of Gaoling reflected the founders need for safety and arable land. The village houses were located deep in the mountains, while village fields were located at the foot of the mountain. Every morning, villagers went down the mountain to work their fields and every evening, they returned to the relative safety of their homes.

The architecture of Gaoling reflected the agonistic relations between Hakka and local (本地 boon day [H], bendi [M], pundi [C]) peoples during the 19th Century. In fact, between 1855 and 1867, relations disintegrated into open conflict during the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars. During the early 20th Century, the village housed anti-Japanese troops, who were led by Hong Kong born Liu Peidai.

As in Xiamen, Gaoling villagers who lived overseas donated funds to build a school in their hometown. Over the course of the village’s history, Gaoling villagers immigrated to Singapore, Holland, the United States, and Canada, and many more lived in Hong Kong. Importantly, the Overseas Chinese funded improvements to their hometown, including modernizing the water system. The Euro-Chinese style of the school architecturally reflected these migrations and returns.

luohu bridge: the bamboo curtain, literally

For many years, but especially during the Cold War, the Luohu Bridge was the narrow connection between China and the world — the bamboo curtain, literally. It is important to underscore the border’s Cold War status because during the colonial era, the Sino-British border was an open border. Indeed, it’s open status had made it an important refuge for Chinese intellectuals during the War against Japan. In fact, the border was not closed until 1950,when Great Britain agreed with US concerns that an influx of Chinese refugees and possible strikes threatened Hong Kong security. Not surprisingly, the border hardened as a result of the onset of the Korean War in June that same year.

In 1955, the Father of China’s space program, Qian Xuesen (钱学森) crossed the Luohu Bridge when he returned to China. Other important Overseas Chinese who returned to China by way of Luohu included mathematician Hua Luogeng (华罗庚), geologist Li Siguang (李四光), nuclear physicist Qian Sanqiang (钱三强), nuclear physicist Deng Jiaxian (邓稼先), and aerodynamics specialist Guo Yonghuai (郭永怀). Qian Xuesen’s life symbolizes how the US and China collaborated to militarize the border as the world shifted from British colonial to US hegemony. In 1935, Qian received a Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship to study mechanical engineering at MIT. He completed his doctoral studies at Caltech. In 1943, Qian and two others in the Caltech rocketry group drafted the first document to use the name Jet Propulsion Laboratory and included a proposal to develop missiles in response to Germany’s V-2 rocket. After WWII, the US Army commissioned Qian, giving him the rank of colonel. However, during his application for naturalization in 1949, he was accused of being a communist and he lost his security clearance in 1950. For the next five years, he lived under constant surveillance, until he was released to repatriate to China, where he helped China develop nuclear weapons, in addition to the country’s space program.

I mention all this history because episode 12 of The Great Transformation (沧海桑田深圳农村三十年) treats 30 years of development at the Luohu Bridge and Luohu Village (1980-2010) without mentioning the Cold War. Nevertheless, the military symbolism of the border is explicit. Images of Qian Xuesen observing the detonation of China’s first nuclear bomb open the episode. Then the episode cuts to “nine years earlier” when Qian crossed from Hong Kong into China by way of the Luohu Bridge. Then we see images of soldiers firing bayonets, and are told that the Sino-British border was established as a result of the 2nd Opium War, 1898. And then, in keeping with this military theme, we jump to images of the 1979 First Detonation, when China Merchants began construction on the Shekou Industrial Zone. All these guns going off and no mention of the Cold War. No explosions in Korea. Or Vietnam. Or ongoing war games in the Taiwan Straits. Instead, after the Shekou detonation, we cut directly to images of bulldozers flattening Luohu Mountain in order to put in the new railway station and infrastructure for the new Special Economic Zone.

Now, I understand the leap from the Opium War to Shekou is through China Merchants. I also understand the the one country two systems debate was rhetorically framed in terms of the end of colonialism. However, none of this explains why the Cold War was not mentioned in the brief introduction to the border. After all, Qian Xuesen and all the other Chinese scientists who returned from overseas did so in the context of the Cold War. To my knowledge, the history of that era, especially the pre- Lushan Conference history, is not sensitive, so there’s no reason not to mention it because the border was militarized during the Cold War and not during the colonial era.

Question du jour: does the general dampening of interest in Maoist history also mean that the Cold War is ignored? Or are we to understand Shenzhen history only in the context of the end to colonialism? And if so, does this mean that the Cold War will only end when Taiwan has been returned through another version of One Country, Two Systems?

东方村:the modern politics of traditional villages

Today, I recount and comment on the 11th episode in The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田深圳村庄三十年), Dongfang Village (东方村), which is interesting because it illustrates current concerns with rewriting urban village history as the continuation of Confucian values in a new environment.

In 1978, border police captured several refugees from the Dongfang Brigade, who were trying to cross the Sino-British border and enter Hong Kong illegally. The organizer of the group was none other than the brigade party secretary, Wen Zhixiang, who was sentenced to four years in jail for his crime, but did not actually attempt to go to Hong Kong. Instead, he decided to send his daughters to Kong Kong, while he remained in Dongfang. After his release, Wen Zhixiang shifted sand for use in concrete and died four years later of liver cancer.

The story of Wen Zhixiang is presented as a story of sacrifice that links present-day Dong Fang to the Southern Song official, Wen Tianxiang (文天祥). In 1278, Wen Tianxiang committed suicide rather than serve the conquering Yuan. However, in order to insure that his family line would continue, he made sure that his younger brother would escape to have descendants. Accordingly, the two brothers fulfilled their Confucian obligations to both their Emperor and family, in Mandarin their decision has been described as “one loyal and one filial (一忠一孝)”. In fact, Wen Zhixiang was a descendent of Wen Tianxiang’s younger brother, Wen Bi. The Wen family descendants have been living at Dongfang Village for over 600 years.

During Wen Zhixiang’s incarceration, then Baoan Party Secretary, Fang Bao petitioned to have him released. However, the higher ups continually denied to release Wen Zhixiang, but also to approve more than the official quota of border passes for visits to Hong Kong. In his interview for the documentary, Fang Bao emphasized that policy placed local farmers in a difficult, but understandable position. On the one hand, Baoan residents knew life was better across the border because they had family there. On the other hand, they also had worked hard for the Party. This was a question that tested the contradictions between one’s loyalty to the Party and family responsibility.

Not unexpectedly, the film asserts that Hong Kong investment in village-owned factories resolved the contradiction that Wen Zhixiang faced. Good government, it suggests, means enabling citizens to have a high quality of life, so that they are not faced with the decision of remaining loyal to government or their family.

For me, the juxtaposition of Wen Tianxiang and Wen Zhixiang’s respective stories elides important differences between Confucian and neoconfucian understandings of loyalty, and the role of individual consent in traditional and modern hegemony. Wen Tianxiang, for example, did not choose between to extant political orders. Instead, once the Song had been defeated, he chose to die rather than serve the new dynasty. For Wen Tianxiang, loyalty was absolute. This is a traditional political value. In contrast, Wen Zhixiang chose between socialism (and subsistence farming) in Songgang or wage labor in Hong Kong, basing his decision on the quality of life in the two places. In other words, his neoconfucianism allowed for conditional loyalty, which is a highly modern political value.

In other words, the story of Wen Zhixiang reveals the modernity of “traditional” famers, rather than their blind repetition of tradition. From the perspective of local Party Secretary Fang Bao, Wen Zhixiang’s decision was understandable. Even if Wen Zhixiang broke the law, he did not deserve imprisonment. Indeed, the man who replaced Wen Zhixiang as Dong Fang Village secretary reiterated this point; they tried repeatedly to reintegrate Wen Zhixiang into the village after his release. In other words, by making the stories of Wen Tianxiang and Wen Zhixiang analogous, the film reveals the explicit modernity of “traditional” Baoan, where citizens give or withhold loyalty to a government based on their quality of life (however defined), rather than, committing their lives to the government they happened to be born to (as did Wen Tianxiang).

pan qiang'en

the wanfeng model and its demise

Today, episode 10 from The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田深圳村庄三十年): “Lonely Wanfeng”.

In 1957 at the height of collectivization, Wanjialang (万家郎) was changed to Wanfeng Village. Located on the eastern banks of the Pearl River, Wanjialang had been settled for over 600 years, and was part of the larger Shajing xiang or village federation. As narrated in the documentary, the rise of Wanfeng Village was inseparable from Village Secretary, Pan Qiang’en (潘强恩), who in 1981 made a pre-emptive decision to raze village agricultural land and build factories despite the fact that Wanfeng was located in New Bao’an District and thus, technically, still a commune.

Pan Qiang’en based the design of Wanfeng’s industrial zone on the Shekou Industrial Zone, which had been designated only three years previously. Also, like Yuan Geng at China Merchants, Pan Qiang’en mobilized Hong Kong capital for initial investments. Also, like Yuan Geng, who deployed official networks to raise investment capital, Pan Qiang’en took advantage of opportunities created through his position as a local cadre. Indeed, it was in his role as a Wanfeng cadre that he would have had opportunities to visit Shekou and meet with Yuan Geng.

The critical difference between Wanfeng and Shekou, of course, was and remains, status within the state apparatus. China Merchants developed Shekou as a Ministry work unit with a national ranking. This meant that China Merchants developed Shekou as a direct expression of national policy, and Yuan Geng could hire and deploy an educated workforce, as well as negotiate legally binding contracts. In contrast, Wanfeng was a village with traditional land rights, but limited appeal to urban educated intellectuals and limited knowledge of international business practices. Nevertheless, Wanfeng Village boomed, with 145 companies opening factories in village industrial parks and when the documentary was made, village fixed assets were estimated to be over 20 yi yuan or 316.5 million US dollars (based on today’s exchange rate), earning Wanfeng the nickname, “the first village in the South (南国第一村)”.

In 1985, Pan Qiang’en spearheaded the transformation of Wanfeng from a hybrid village-brigade into a stock-holding corporation in which stock and property rights were determined by one’s status as both a villager and a worker in the collective. Pan Qiang’en did not call his experiment a stock holding company, instead, he referred to it as “socialist collective holding system (社会主义公有制)”.

According to the blog 中国法制 (China’s Legal System), the Wanfeng Model had three distinguishing characteristics:

  1. The means of production belong to all villagers. The model has five kinds of stock options — state holdings, enterprise holdings, legal person holdings, workers’ holdings, and personal holdings. The first three stock options are collective and the final two are private;
  2. Government and enterprise are completely separate, specifically, the enterprise is completely responsible for economic losses, and thus enjoys all rights to profit. Government administration is based on a different budget and thus the government has no right to interfere with economic decisions made by the enterprise;
  3. Villagers stock holdings were based on three considerations: their salary as a worker in the collective; their status as an owner of collective property; and, their rights to social welfare.

In 1990, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences held a conference on the Wanfeng Model (万丰模式) and in 1992, the president of the Academy came to Wanfeng, declaring that the Village had out urbanized urban areas. Wanfeng’s national influence reached its highest point in 1993, when the People’s Daily published,”The Wanfeng Model: On the Farmer and Social Philosopher Pan Qiang’en and His Social Praxis (万封模式--记农民社科理论家潘强恩和他的实践). Subsequently, village leaders from throughout the country came to learn from Wanfeng.

However, in 2001, when Pan Qiang’en decided to stop paying dividends in order to finance the village’s expanding enterprises, opposition to his leadership became increasingly widespread. By 2006, he was openly opposed as a “village tyrant (村霸)” and he stepped down from power in favor of his son. The documentary ends here, speculating on the relationship between individual effort and historic transformation.

However, an important footnote follows. Also in 2006, Shenzhen nationalized all land within the city borders, taking away villagers’ absolute right to the land. Henceforth, the city and district governments also shared in the profits generated by village land sales. This would have critical consequences for Wanfeng, where Pan Qiang’en’s son and government cronies sold village lands without either notifying villagers or distributing dividends, generating huge profits for those involved in the sales. Consequently, in 2012, Wanfeng Village “learned from Wukan” and brought down the Pan Qiang’en’s son, and elected a new village head to investigate how much of “collective holdings” had been expropriated by Pan Qiang’en, his immediate family, and corrupt officials.

mind the sea

海湾村: land locked futures

The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田深圳村庄30年), Episode 9: Haiwan Village tells the story the Nantou Peninsula and the reclamation of land in Houhai (the southern coast facing Hong Kong) and Qianhai (the northern coast facing Guangzhou). This was the platform from which Hong Kong entered China and Baoan villagers once launched themselves to Hong Kong.

During the Mao era, Wanxia Village was divided into two production brigades, one land based for agricultural cultivation and the other water based for oyster farming. Eventually, the Wanxia Oyster Brigade was renamed Haiwan Brigade, creating two administrative villages through the division of one natural village. This division points to the importance of production — rather than history — in defining Maoist administrative units, especially in rural areas, where villages were integrated or split depending upon production needs. Importantly, however, these administrative categories were not naturalized in the same way during the early years of Reform and Opening, when some administrative villages re-instituted traditional boundaries while others did not. Haiwan retained Maoist status and began building village level factories.

Access to the sea shaped village demographics, with a population gap of people, ages 45-65 who escaped to Hong Kong in the last large flights in 1968 and 78, respectively. Nevertheless, traditional land rights enabled Haiwan to prosper. In addition, we learn from an older, Cantonese-speaking villager that Haiwan Village is an Overseas Chinese village, with many descendants scattered throughout the world with village association buildings in the United States and Hong Kong, representing support, ranging from monetary to knowledge to investment connections. The village has also maintained its identity through traditions and ritual that centered on a small Tianhou Temple.

Watching this episode, I suddenly realized something that was clearly obvious to the filmmaker: Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 Southern Tour coincided with the establishment of guannei villages as stock-holding corporations and urban neighborhoods. In other words, the second tour did result in new policies or breakthroughs as they are known. My a-ha moment was in seeing the connection between politics and the radical restructuring of the south china coast.  The episode ending rhetorically juxtaposes images of Wall Street with Houhai, asking if Shekou can become the next Manhattan. The question is illuminating not for its booster-hype pretensions, but rather because it clearly reiterates the primacy of investment and real estate over traditional livelihoods such as oyster farming. In such a world, insofar as the sea becomes a factor in determining property values and not an independent source of value, reclaiming the sea makes good business sense.

shrimp

渔一村:of old men and the landfilled sea

Yesterday’s bloggy romance with the sea continues and although I have shifted my gaze from Cuba to Shekou, it is worth mentioning that the writers’ emphasis on masculine conquest continues; today, in episode 8 of The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田:深圳村庄三十年), Chen Hong tells the story of Fishing Village 1 (渔一村), Shekou. Again, the story begins in a village, but this is also where similarities between the two narratives end. Hemingway figured human life through the isolated figure of an old man navigating the Caribbean on a rickety skiff and superstition. In contrast, Chen Hong figures humanity through the construction of ports, trading ventures and the world-making connections that they enable, suggesting that the opportunity to launch one’s skiff is itself a political decision which once made determines the fate of villagers. For those who remember the 1988 television documentary, River Elegy (河殇) which linked China’s decline and ultimate humiliation to the Ming decision to ban maritime activity, a not-so-subtle critique of Maoist isolation, Chen Hong’s passion for the sea and the [free trade] world it symbolizes is self-evident.

Episode 8 opens by juxtaposing images of Ming and Qing trade centered on Guangzhou with pictures of the construction of Shekou, reminding viewers that Zheng He (郑和) set forth from or loaded supplies at Chiwan Port at least five times. Lest the viewer forget the consequences of isolation, the opening sequence ends with bleak, black and white footage of a backwater port, overgrown and clogged with weeds, small wooden boats berthed in stagnant waters. Boom! The first explosion opens the door to new world order, which is also, new village order.

Traditionally, the villagers of Fishing 1 weren’t actually villagers but individual fishing families who lived on boats, coming onshore to sell the day’s catch. Families came from all over the Pearl River Delta forming a community through their livelihood, rather than through ancestry or even a common version of Cantonese. However, in 1959, the political decision was made to organize them as a brigade (生产大队). They were 90 households with a total population of 450 people and settled as four small production teams (小队) in Nantou, Gushu, Neilingding Island, and Shekou. The Fishing Brigade worked to modernize the fleet and in 1978 during a meeting on scientific production, Hua Guofeng actually gave the brigade a first place award. Indeed, at the beginning of Reform, the Brigade had 69 ocean fishing vessels, 72 transport ships, and 18 oxygen boats that fished the South China Sea and Pearl River Delta bringing in fresh seafood for Cantonese dishes and by 1992, had accumulated enough capital to invest in modern industrial deep sea fishing vessels.

From 1978 through 1986, the Fishing Brigade lived the socialist dream, which was a traditional Chinese dream; the men fished, going as far away as Guangxi, the women kept house, children went to school and had medicine, and all ate in a common canteen, where the work team provided delicious food, including squid and shrimp. The system was called the 8 provisions (八包). However, by the late 80s early 90s, the scale of urbanization and land reclamation meant that traditional fishing areas had been contaminated and fish breeding grounds buried, and it was impossible to continue living from the sea. Suddenly, the advantages of the sea declined as property values soared and Fishing 1 faced a contradiction that many other villages would eventually face — what to do when urbanization decimated the conditions of traditional livelihood?

Once the sea was gone, Fishing 1 had no way of making a living because it did not have any land, except for that which the government had given it for housing in 1959, including a section on Neidingling Island, which Fishing 1 decided to develop as a resort and in 1992 as part of the guannei rural urbanization movement, the Fishing Brigade became the Fishing 1 stock holding corporation. However, after Fishing 1 had already invested their accumulated capital and borrowed against the development, Shenzhen and Zhuhai began a court case over who actually owned the island. Traditionally, the Island belonged to Zhuhai. However, in 1955, the Center had assigned Neidingling to Baoan, but no one could actually prove whether or not the transfer had gone through until 2002, when a copy of 1955 decision was found. In 2009, the Guangdong Provincial government finally ruled in favor of Shenzhen’s claim to Neidingling Island. However, the case raged long enough to impoverish Fishing 1 as the joint stock corporation/ fishing brigade/ village could no longer fish and except for Neidingling had no other traditional land rights. Indeed, by 2009 when the case was settled, Fishing 1’s deep sea fishing rights had already been bought out by China Merchants, which in turn sold them to Wanxia, one of Shekou’s original land-based villages.

And so here’s the neoliberal twist in Chen Hong’s story of old men and their vanishing sea: Fishing 1 re-entered Shenzhen urban planning as part of the Together Rich Project (同富裕项目), and over the past decade restructured and invested elsewhere: an industrial park in guanwai Gongming and fish breeding farms in Zhanjiang, for example. In addition, the Municipality organized training for fishermen to learn new skills. Nevertheless, the members of Fishing 1 have not only been proletarianized over the past 30 years, but are still paying off one of the debts that fueled Shekou’s growth. After all, Fishing 1 had no rights to any of the coastal property developments that enriched both China Merchants and neighboring Wanxia Village. Instead, Episode 8 ends with exhortations — from the Municipality and from the filmmaker — for individual development and initiative, ironically and inexorably returning us to Hemingway’s sea, where old men struggle feed themselves because they have been isolated by .

For more on my obsession with Houhai Land reclamation, more entries, here. A wander through the earliest Shekou landmarks, including the Shekou and Neilingding fishing families settlements, below:

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狮子舞

怀德村:virtue’s rewards

It’s been a while since I’ve summarized an episode from The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田深圳村庄三十年) and so today, episode 6: The Secret of Huaide Village (怀德的秘密), which puns the village’s name and also means “the secret to cherishing virtue”.

The episode opens by telling viewers that Huaide is a revolutionary village, which contributed over 40 soldiers to the People’s Liberation Army. The connection between good Party leadership, virtuous villagers, and getting rich is then personalized through the story of Pan Baliang, a Huaide villager, who fought in the Korean War, (or the Resist American War as it is known in Chinese). However, during the Cultural Revolution he was jailed because his children were abroad, and was only to be rehabilitated in 1980, when out of gratitude for his fellow villagers continued support, he petitioned the village/ brigade if he could open a factory.

In 1988, Huaide was chosen as the location for Shenzhen’s Baoan International Airport. At the time, the SEZ decided that guannei land should be saved for urban development, rejecting a proposal to build at Baishizhou, which was then considered the suburbs and choosing instead to stimulate the guanwai economy by converting Shenzhen’s largest duck farm into an international airport. The Shenzhen airport expropriated over 1,000 mu of village land and in return Huaide received a compensation package of 3.5 million yuan. The question became: should the sum be divided evenly and distributed to each villager (as many villages had chosen to do) or should the village create a jointly held corporation and invest the money in common cause?

In 1988, guanwai New Baoan County was still rural. This meant that the village was still organized as a collective brigade, which provided the organizational infrastructure for Huaide’s subsequent development as a jointly held corporation. Huaide’s current CEO and current Party Secretary, Pan Shansen earnestly explains that Huaide Party leaders understood that unless they could correctly direct the thinking of the villagers, the village was in danger of making a collective mistake. Collective and Party leaders then went to work on villagers with dissenting opinions in order to make sure that everyone was on board with the next step — using the money for capital investment to build and manage Cuigang Industrial Park. Pan Shansen then expresses his gratitude for the previous Party leaders’ foresight in using the Airport compensation to create a strong, collective economy.

Pan Shansen describes the work of creating “a center where there was previously no center” as arduous and only possible through the cooperation of the people and their government. In addition to creating a large wholesale furniture market, in 1996 Pan Shansen established a venture capital fund that provided interest free loans to young villagers who wanted to start up companies. The fund started with 1/2 million when and grew to 2 million, and loans grew from 20-50,000 per project. In 2005, this venture capital project was expanded through collaboration with Shenzhen’s rural bank, providing low interest loans of up to 300,000 yuan to Huaide Villagers. By 2010, when the documentary was made, in addition to the villages collected holdings, over 40 families had used Village venture capital to create family businesses.

Fiscal conservatism of the defining features of Huaide Village’s success. Huaide Village has its own “constitution” that requires any private investment over 5 million yuan to be approved by the village, they set up a legal aid office for villagers to consult when writing contracts, and since 1992 have not sold any village land rights. Telling, Pan Shansen makes a point of reminding documentary viewers that Huaide Villagers are farmers — to break their ties to the land and the village is tantamount to destroying what makes them who they are, regardless of how they actually make money. Land is at the heart of Huaide’s neo-Confucian CCP virtue and unlike many Shenzhen villages that no longer have collective land, Huaide still owns almost 1/2 of the land they owned before 1980. What’s more, the Village has actively purchased land rights from other Shenzhen villages, leaving its own land for future use.

The rewards of Huaide’s virtue are a neo-Confucian-socialist hybrid capitalist success story, or as it is sometimes said, villagers washed their feet and left the paddies. In addition to its village venture capitalist fund, Huaide invested in social services and local culture. Huade provides medical insurance, education, including college scholarships, and old age activities for its 700 villagers, and in 2010, its Lion Dancing Troupe was the only village level troupe to receive an invitation to perform at the opening ceremony of Belgium’s Chinese Culture Festival. And thus, the moral to this episode tallies with Shenzhen’s ongoing campaign to promote Confucian ethics: good party cadres are at heart neo-Confucians, serving their people, who become collectively rich. In turn, inquiring minds wonder: to what extent has Huaide’s ethical sensibility extended to the organization of workers’ rights in the village’s three industrial parks?

Cultural postscript: the Lion Dance Troupe is talented and fun. Check out a performance, here.