the shenzhen gospel

Swedish missionary, Theodore Hamberg arrived in Hong Kong on March 19, 1846. The following year, he joined what became known as the Basel Mission, focusing on converting Hakka communities to Christianity. Indeed, Hamberg was the first to draft a dictionary of Hakka into a western language. Hamberg died in Hong Kong in 1854, however, his efforts to bring the gospel to Hakka people prospered. Located in Langkou Village, Dalang Street, Bao’an District, Shenzhen — and yes, I do enjoy the dense specificity of Chinese place names — the Langkou Gospel Hall (or Church) was built twenty years after Hamberg first arrived in 1866.

The first pastor of the Langkou Gospel Hall was Charles Piton, who served the congregation from 1866 through 1884. The next few years, there was no foreign pastor at the Church. However, in 1891, the German missionary 骆润滋 (and if you know his Western name, please let me know) came to Langkou from the Hong Kong Mission. That same year, the mission also established the “Devout and Chaste” Girls School (虔贞学校), moving from Hong Kong further inland.

During the Mao era, the church and school buildings were used as schools and administrative centers. In 1984, the central government allowed for religious services and the Langkou Gospel Hall reopened as a church. In 2003, the community broke ground to build a new church on neighboring land. The school building was used until 1986 and then abandoned to squatters until recently, when the Dalang Street government decided to restore the school and church as historic buildings. Presumably construction will begin in several months and early next year, the school and former Gospel Hall will reopen as public cultural centers. The Church will continue its mission, including exhibitions that document the history of Christianity in Guangdong generally, but amongst Hakka communities specifically.

Below, impressions of a visit to pre-restored Devout and Chaste Girls School and Langkou Gospel Hall, which is currently occupied by a migrant worker family, who earn their living doing piecework for a nearby factory.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

hakka borderlands: xiawei and shiyan

On Thursday, I joined a group of architects and students from the Future Cities Laboratory on a rainy guanwai trek along Bulong Road, which parallels the second line. This particular trek interests because it hints at generations of ongoing cultural transformation both as industrial manufacturing has spread and as Cantonese and Hakka urban villages have renegotiated collectives identities over the past 150 years.

We departed from Huaqiangbei and crossed at the former Buji Checkpoint, which today has been partially cleared to make room for the Buji subway station (Longgang Line) although cars still lined up to pass through check booths. Directly north of the erxian boundary, Xiawei Village (吓围村) handshakes huddle tightly, giving the impression of an ordinary new South China village. However, the entry gate and main hall of Xiawei’s ancestral hall remain, suggesting that at some point the village had enough collective funds to erect a substantial building. According to an old worker who was organizing collected paper products in the compound plaza, villagers continue to burn incense for ancestors during the Spring Festival.

We then headed west to the precinct headquarters of Shiyan. During the Mao-era, this area also served as the headquarters of Shiyan Commune. Located between the Kowloon-Canton railroad and Guangzhou Shenzhen corridors, Shiyan has remained relatively poor when compared to precinct headquarters at Buji or Shajing, for example. Nevertheless, it has Mao-era flat housing, Reform era factories, and two generations of single-family homes and handshakes. More to today’s point about Hakka borderlands, Shiyan is also interesting because it is located along Baoan County’s traditional border between Cantonese and Hakka cultural regions. Thus, although the Ye Ancestral Hall boasts Hakka exhortations of Confucian morality, the structure itself, like many of the areas older flat buildings are Cantonese style.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Impressions of Guangming New District

Located at the Dongguan border in the middle of Baoan District, Guangming New District (光明新区) remains surprisingly (within Shenzhen) agrarian. The settlement layout at the District center feels like a small market town and still runs along village paths, even though trucks rumble over the newly imposed traffic grid. The New District’s development has lurched along, hindered by its distance from both the Guangshen Highway and the Kowloon-Guangzhou Railway. In fact, according to a local villager, until the 1970s, no actual road connected the area to Shajing (in the west) and Loucun (in the east). Instead, villagers pushed wheelbarrows on a network of paths that threaded through lizhi orchards, around vegetable gardens, and into rural settlements.

Under Mao, Guangming was a farm (农场), a non-rural designation which had the same administrative rank as a commune (公社), but a different personal policy. Like a commune, farms were responsible for agrarian production. In contrast to commune farmers (农民), however, farm workers were state employees, receiving a monthly rice ration, food coupons, and housing. Practically speaking, farm workers were farmers with socialist benefits. In the Reform era, as Guangming was gradually integrated into the state apparatus, the farm remained not only the most organized institution in the area, but also the one with the most direct access to government monies, which could be redirected for capitalist purposes. Today, Guangming Farm is a tourist destination/ agrarian themepark/ playground (光明农场).

In addition, Guangming was a designated settlement first for Indonesian returned Chinese in the 60s and then for Vietnamese returned Chinese in the 80s (Wang Caibai provides a history of 归侨 as an official designation in the Chinese polity). This meant that the Returnees were integrated into the local work plan as farm labor, but were not given land rights, which have remained in either village or state hands. Indeed, even as late as 1990, then Guangming Market was posting laws pertaining only to Returnees. Nevertheless, the Returnees were often familiar with capitalism in ways that the local villagers were not and also, through family outside China had access to some investment capital. This is important because Guangming is not considered an Overseas Chinese Hometown. Moreover, as a remote part of Shenzhen, the area did not have immediate access to the early Hong Kong investment that went to border villages, even when there were no direct kin relations.

Today Guangming remains relatively clean and naturally beautiful. The local government is pushing renewable energy and resource development as well as suburban life styles in modern high rise developments. With the laying of new roads and the creation of an express bus route from the Shenzhen Bay border to Guangming, Shenzhen has made it easy for Hong Kong people to visit or move to these new developments. In addition, highways now make Guangming a short ride from the airport.

Due to its remote location and special designation, Guangming’s recent history is complicated and has produced a landscape that juxtaposes late Qing and Republican flat homes, Mao-era tile homes, handshakes, mid80s official housing, lizhi fields, mountains, several industrial parks, and construction sites, not only providing scenes for imagining what pre-reform Shenzhen was like, but also offering a space where another, more sustainable form of development might be pursued. Or so I hope. A walk through the center of Guangming New District, below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

rainy monday

Rain. Again. Pictures from random rainy day walk in the area around the Fanshen Metro Station.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

historic ironies: the fanshen metro station, shenzhen

Fanshen is one of the recently opened Baoan District subway stations. Like Daxin (in Nanshan), Fanshen was the name of one of the Communes in Baoan County and now refers to the general area where commune headquarters once stood. Literally, 翻身 (fān shēn)means to turn over. In the context of the Chinese Revolution, fanshen referred to the liberation of peasants from feudal obligations by transferring rights to land and draft animals from local gentry and rich peasants. Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village by William Hinton remains one of the best introductions to the reasons for and implementation of Maoist land reform.

Along Fanshen Road, I also stumbled upon Anle Second Brigade New Village (安乐二队新村), a place name that melds traditional values (安乐 means peace and happiness), Maoist production (小队 small production brigades based on village divisions), and early Shenzhen reforms (新村 new villages were the first local incarnation of the household responsibility system; only as urban area spread to surround them did new villages become “villages in the city (城中村)”). Continue reading

Historic traces – Xixiang Qilou (骑楼)

Buildings connected with archways, qilou (骑楼) are architectural symbols of Cantonese urban modernity. They first appeared in the early 20th century, when Guangzhou razed its city wall in order to expand streets for commerce and modern forms of transportation, but the style quickly spread throughout the Pearl River Delta. Some say that qilou were a continuation of an indigenous Cantonese architecture style, protecting pedestrians from both the sun and the rain. Others claim that qilou were a Cantonese adaptation of western architectural forms. Nevertheless, what remains clear is that like the Paris arcades or Venetian sotto portico, qilou enabled shopkeepers to display their wares and pedestrians to stroll by and window shop, creating the vibrant street cultures that we associate with these cities.

The former county seat of New Baoan County, Xixiang was one of the first areas outside the Shenzhen second line to urbanize. However, unlike guannei, where urban educated architects and planners designed with an eye to contemporary western forms, Shenzhen villagers designed with an eye to Guangzhou and Hong Kong indigenous urban forms. Consequently, on some of the streets in Xixang it is still possible to stumble upon contemporary adaptations of the qilou. Although, like Guangzhou’s early 20th century qilou, Xixiang’s 1980s qilou will most likely be razed to build air conditioned malls, further privatizing street culture. Nevertheless, glimpses of a few corners from Xixiang street life suggest the variety of possible urban forms.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just FYI, in Dongmen, some qilou have been preserved during the construction of the Dongmen pedestrian commercial area. Also, there are some qilou along the older sections of Nanxin Road, just beyond Nantou, the county seat of Baoan during the Ming, Qing, and Republican eras.