The caption to the comic reads, “Comrade, wake up, you still have overtime to work.”
There is much talk of neijuan (内卷) or involution in Shenzhen and indeed throughout China. The conversation is so robust, it even made the New Yorker (Yi-Ling LIU, May 14, 2021). Liu explains that China’s “involuted” generation is overworked, burned out, and despairing that life will get any better. Instead, of seeing rewards at the end of their hard work, they’re seeing just more pointless work. Indeed, as the comic suggests, crashing is often the result of neijuan. In popular culture, many young people have expressed their discontent through tangping (躺平), which translates as “laying down” but resonates with what US Americans would call getting out of the rat race. The expression is so popular, Alibaba even came up with a tangping app, which promotes making money through a relaxed, enjoyable lifestyle.
Of course, the tangping app is itself a symptom of involution…
A great Shenzhen neighborhood brings together several generations and types of housing. There is usually an urban village or two, danwei housing that was built before 2000 (more or less), and a larger mall complex that brings in the subway. When these clusters of different building types are located within walking distance of each other, you end up with a thriving independent food scene, affordable housing for singletons and low-income families, and upscale spaces that provide air-conditioned comfort for a cup of coffee or a cram school.
Among 90s generation immigrants (who are twenty-something or just turned 30), Meilin has become popular because it not only provides a diversity of housing and shopping options, but also because it is centrally located; anyone who lives here is looking at relatively quick commutes to work. Nearby urban villages are also popular among low-income families, who can rent two-bedroom apartments for 3,000-4,000, which is expensive, but doable with two parents working and an elder who watches children.
The popularity of this kind of mixed housing neighborhoods means that Shenzhen doesn’t have enough elementary school places where most families live. Historically, Shenzhen has lacked school places relative to population, but that was managed through hukou. However, since the city has allowed the children of long-term residents to attend elementary and middle school, high-density schooling has increasingly become an issue in the city, especially in neighborhoods like Meilin, where low-income families live.
When the first “Singleton Lunch” was announced on November 1, we received 13 applications for three places. Everyone said that they were excited about the topic and we hope that in future, there will be opportunities for more friends to participate and share their ideas. (For the original article in Chinese, skip to the bottom of the post). Continue reading →
The other day over lunch, a good friend expounded on the characteristics that distinguish children born in the 80s, 90s, and 00s based on what she understood of their parents, who were born in the 50s, 60s, and 70s respectively. Continue reading →
In 2010, when many of the 90s kids where applying for college, they were encouraged to become economically independent. Shame was also deployed, and recent college graduates who couldn’t find a job and continued to live at home were accused of “gnawing on the old folks (啃老)”. Of course, these were the same kids who were also accused of “being too rich for their own good (富二代)”. Continue reading →
Those of you who have been following Shenzhen media are aware that Hubei Ancient Village (湖贝古村) has become a touchstone in debates about historic preservation, pubic participation in establishing urban planning values and goals, and the place of “life (生活)” in high-end rent districts.
Last weekend I met two young men, 18 and 19 years old, who are filming interviews with and about “Shenzhen’s Second Generation”. We talked about the actual definition of a “Shen 2 (深二),” which I have tended to think of in terms of immigrant generations. In contrast, they were specifying the term also with respect to decades: they consider the 80s and 90s generations to be members of Shen 2, while 70s kids and millennials are not. They also noted that Shekou’s Second Generation (蛇二) is even more precisely defined; these are the children of utopian Shekou, who lived in the old China Merchants housing developments, and attended the original Yucai School.
I just had conversation with a friend who is the CEO of a Shenzhen based fashion firm. She said that Shenzhen (and ultimately) Chinese manufacturers were facing two problems:
Low level manufacturing was being relocated to countries like Vietnam, where wages were lower, and;
Workers born in the 80s and 90s generation have higher quality of life expectations than do workers born in the 60s and 70s.
Her point, of course, was that the workers from the 60s and 70s not only built Shenzhen, but are also currently factory owners and the most active in society. Therefore they are not necessarily willing to offer workers from the 80s and 90s improved working conditions, including regular time off, air conditioned dormitories, and fewer roommates. She concluded that to be successful, Shenzhen producers needed to offer higher value, niche manufacturing that incorporated both industrial and social design into new business models.
This conversation chimes in on ongoing discussions I’m hearing about dormitories in Shenzhen. It is also reflected in Re/Code”s recently published article, “A Rare Glimpse Inside Foxconn’s Factory Gates” which shows the Taiwanese multi-national’s efforts to re-brand its Shenzhen campus, as a place where workers are well treated and therefore happy.