Xiasha: What continues and what fades away

Yesterday, I met Chen Hong (陈宏), executive producer of the Shenzhen Villages documentary mini-series (桑海桑田:深圳村庄三十年) and was gifted my own set of DVDs and associated book! No longer dependent on the odd youku upload, I can now finish my review of episode 5, The Background of Xiasha (下沙背景).

The opening begins with the last Song Emperor fleeing the Yuan. His grave, of course is in Chiwan, but it turns out, over 800 years ago, Xiasha villagers met the imperial refugee and his ragtag army with large casseroles of chicken, seafood, pork, and vegetables or pencai (盆菜) as they are known in Shenzhen. The mini-series narrator solemnly intones that although the Emperor died before his ninth birthday, the pencai tradition lives on in Xiasha Village.  Continue reading

三洲田村:Narrating the Shen Kong border

So, review of Thirty Years of Shenzhen Villages continues from Episode 7 because for some yet-to-be-ascertained reason, episodes 5 and 6 aren’t available on youku net.

In 2005, construction workers unearthed a 10 kilometer section of the ancient tea route (茶马古道). This road once linked eastern Shenzhen to the new territories, more importantly (for the sake of narrating the Shen Kong border), this road connected to Sanzhoutian Village (三洲田村, literally “Peninsula Paddy Village”), where Sun Yat Sen (孙中山) lead the Sanzhoutian First Uprising (三洲田首义). In retrospect, Sanzhoutian became known as the first explosion of the Gengzi Incident (庚子事件), protesting the Boxer Indemnity that the eight colonial powers imposed on the Qing Dynasty.

Sanzhoutian is a rich symbol in Shenzhen history because it provides deep historic links between the SEZ and Hong Kong at multiple levels. Continue reading

南岭村:even after death our ashes won’t return…

Episode 4 of the Transformation of Shenzhen Villages focuses on Nanling Village, which became famous throughout the country as the “争气村 (hardworking village)”.

Nanling’s [Shenzhen] story begins in 1979 with the last mass exodus of Baoan economic refugees to Hong Kong. That day, Shaxi Brigade [Nanling’s collective predecessor] Vice Secretary Zhang Weiji came home to discover that his wife had joined several hundred other villagers who had decided to make the run for Hong Kong. Zhang Weiji went to the border and called for his wife and fellow villagers to return home with him. One of the runners looked over his shoulder and shouted, “Even after I’m dead my ashes won’t return to this place.” In the end, 50 villagers and his wife returned with Zhang Weiji to what had become another of Baoan’s ghost villages. The secretary vowed to transform Nanling into a village where people would stay and live out decent lives. Over the next decade, Nanling became one of China’s most important symbols of Reform and Opening as a means of achieving rural urbanization. Indeed, both Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao have visited the village on inspection tours to promote and confirm Nanling as a model for other village urbanization projects.

Continue reading

The Fishing Village that Became a World Symbol: 渔民村

So, I have been catching up on the Shenzhen documentary, 沧海桑田:深圳村庄30年. After setting the historic stage with rural poverty and economic immigration / cold war defection (episode 1) and then national policy (episode 2), the documentary turns to specific villages both to illustrate general trends in SEZ history and to introduce the players. So today, 渔民村 (Yumin Village – episode 3), at the heart of the earliest reforms.

Yumin Village has an important place in both national Chinese and local Shenzhen symbolic geography for three reasons, but most importantly for revealing the prejudices built into the landscape, locally, nationally, and internationally. Continue reading

Breaking the Ice

So, episode 2 of 沧海桑田 is 破冰. What was the ice and how was it broken? A few notes, below.

Episode 2 begins with shots of thick ice on the Huai river, the narrator metaphorically speaking about the frozen space between two shores. Not only an obvious (and simultaneous) reference to the Sino-British border (on either side of the Shenzhen river) and the Taiwan Straits, but also a description of how the planned economy made the lives of Anhui farmers difficult. A relevant reminder: the reforms initiated in Shenzhen began with Wan Li (万里)’s efforts to liberalize agrarian production in a part of the country where it does snow. Continue reading

沧海桑田:The transformation of Shenzhen Villages

For those wondering, is there a documentary on Shenzhen villages out there? The answer is yes and its 15 hours long! CCTV and SZTV produced 沧海桑田:深圳村庄30年,  a 30-episode television documentary to commemorate the SEZ’s 30th anniversary.

Not unexpectedly, the documentary’s ultimate happy end is urbane Shenzhen. Nevertheless, each of the 30 episodes does raise issues worth talking about and also gives current Party takes on these issues, which is always useful information. In fact, that take may be the point; the commemoration of the SEZ’s 30th Anniversary included a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of pre-reform Baoan society and history, reminding us that the villages no longer exist as such. What remains are ideological and economic struggles over the properties held by [former village] stock-holding corporations that have not yet been fully integrated into the Municipality’s urban apparatus.

That said, however, there is also the question of what a truly integrated Shenzhen society might look like. And consequently it is interesting and hopeful to think that the economic questions may also force re-evalution of who belongs in the city.

So, how are those ideological battles being waged in the contemporary SEZ?

Continue reading