…this is now

Two months ago, I walked from the old Bao’an urban center to Shanghe Village. I first walked this area in 2007, taking pictures of a village renewal project, which focused on demolishing and upgrading the old village settlement. The area exemplifies the first generation of formal upgrades that occurred in the mid-2000s, beginning after rural urbanization was completed in 2004–large public spaces, residential towers, and newly constituted rural identities, comprising the village stock-holding limited company, Qing-era ancestral halls and temples. In the background, traces of the village’s manufacturing history are still visible.

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why is shenzhen called shenzhen and not bao’an city?

Just when I thought it was safe to go out in public without having to refute the fishing village myth and the city’s nets-to-riches origins, I attended a meeting organized for foreigners visiting Shenzhen. The host (from England via Beijing) asked me point blank to talk about the city that used to be a fishing village. Clearly, my efforts to get a more accurate first impression into the world have not been as successful as I had hoped. Sigh.

There was, however, an unexpected silver line to this encounter; I’ve streamlined my takedown!

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cui bono at the border?

Joshua Bolchover and Peter Hasdell edited Border Ecologies, a wonderful foray along the Shen-Kong suture.  Contributing to the volume was pleasurable not only for the useful and considered editorial feedback, but also because I had a chance to work with Viola WAN Yan, a thoughtful and diligent young scholar. Please read our chapter, Shen Kong: Cui_Bono?

line 11 mini encyclopedia: bao’an and the second line

The second line has been a defining feature of Shenzhen and its visceral split between the inner and outer districts. Historically, Bao’an has been more important than the Weitou Isthmus.

horton hears a migrant worker

In order to grasp the moralities and consequences of social non-existence, and incidentally to demonstrate that non-existence partially registered in American understandings of its Cold War conundrums, especially our self-envisioned role in Asia, one could do worse than a close reading of Horton Hears a Who, which was published in 1954, roughly a decade after Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel had transitioned from drawing editorial cartoons to writing politically charged children’s books. Continue reading

utopian architecture

Utopian architecture in industrial Bao’an? Actually, yes. Developed over the past five years, the Wutong Island (梧桐岛–sometimes translated as Phoenix Tree Island) project combines Chinese ideas about nature, modernist architecture, and an evolving social vision for Shenzhen. Continue reading

population number games

There are three resident statuses in Shenzhen: Shenzhen hukou, long term residence permit (常住证), and illegal residents or the floating population (流动人口). In turn, these different statuses are reflected in two kinds of population statistics: the long term population (常住人口) and the administrative population (管理人口).  The long term population is divided into those residents with hukou and those with permits. The administrative population refers to the number of renters who have been registered at a local police station. In practice, the difference between the long term and administrative populations provides insight into how large the floating population is.

Here’s the rub: Cities and districts usually only release population statistics, even though the actual population is on record via individual precincts, which report their statistics to the District. In turn, reporting practices vary widely between districts, making it difficult to ascertain how many people actually live and work in a district, let alone in an urban village. Continue reading

local historian, liao honglei

How we evaluate the meaning of Shenzhen’s emergence and increasing prominence, both nationally and internationally, often hinges on when we entered the SEZ maelstrom of frenzied development and nouveau riche ambition.

Local historian Liao Honglei (廖虹雷) concludes a post on the thirtieth anniversary of Shenzhen’s founding with the following words:

It’s been thirty years. I remember what thirty years in Shenzhen have given me, I also can’t forget what the thirty years before Reform and Opening left me. What has been the greatest gift of these sixty years? “Life” — two completely different lives. The first thirty years constituted a difficult, pure, honest, and bitter but not painful life; the second thirty years constituted a nervous, struggling, deep pocket, wealthy, and sweet but not optimistic life. (30年了,我记得深圳30年给我什么,也不忘改革开放前30年给我留下什么。60年给我最大的礼物是什么?“就是生活”,两种截然不同的生活。前30年是一种艰苦、清纯、扑实,苦而不痛的生活;后30年是一种紧张、拚搏、殷实、宽裕,甜而不乐观的生活。)

As a local historian, Liao Honglei is sensitive to the disparagement in phrases such as “Shenzhen was just a small fishing village” because he knows that before the SEZ, Baoan Shenzhen was not simply a “one college graduate town” or “border town with only 300,000 residents”. He remembers the first experiments with cross border culture — in the 1980s, Shenzhen made famous al fresco dining (大排档) and night markets (灯光夜市), which were local graftings of Hong Kong’s Temple Street and Western Vegetable Streets (庙街 and 西洋菜街). As well as when and how Shenzhen adopted Hong Kong protocols for the institution of joint ventures, stock issuances, and futures trading. And, of course, the language that came with this change — illegal booth owners (走鬼), settle a matter (搞掂), did you get it wrong (有没有搞错呀), bye bye (拜拜), and bury (pay for) the check (埋(买)单).

Liao Honglei’s blog, 廖虹雷博客 is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Shenzhen’s history. On the one hand, the gritty details of lived experience permeate each post, taking into account how profoundly the establishment of Shenzhen transformed Baoan lives. On the other hand, he calls for the active inclusion of pre-1980 Baoan culture and material history as the basis of any kind of Shenzhen identity. Liao Honglei is a rare Shenzhener: an organic intellectual who advocates the recognition of Baoan as one of the SEZ’s true and necessary roots. Moreover, he actually knows this history, rather than has generalized a Lingnan type past onto the territory. Thus, on his reading, Shenzhen is not just an immigrant town, but also and more importantly, a hybrid mix that has a responsibility to acknowledge and to nurture its diverse origins.

because not all villagers were created equal…

The stereotype of the second generation of Shenzhen villagers being “rich, lazy, mah johng playing, playboys (who might also do drugs)” is not only predicated on the idea that all of Shenzhen’s original inhabitants are rich, but also that their children have grown up aimless. However, Bao’an County’s original 300,000 residents and their children were not all created equal. What’s more, they increasingly find themselves belonging to antagonistic economic classes, while their children come of age grappling with problems that none of their parents imagined facing. Some second generation SZ farmers must look for wage labor in factories that (rumor has it) do not hire locals, preferring instead to hire migrant workers, even as other second generation SZ farmers are the first in their family to gone to college, and still others are, yes, struggling with too much wealth.

The inequality among locals has been created through reform era legislation and urban development projects, which have built upon and elaborated historical inequalities and traditional norms. In an earlier post, I charted the borders and corridors that have shaped economic possibility and subsequent patterns of urbanization in the SEZ, arguing that three borders have enabled urbanization in Shenzhen: the border with Hong Kong, the second line, and the city limits, which abut Dongguan in the northwest and Huizhou in the northeast. Two economic corridors have facilitated Shenzhen’s growth: the Guangshen highway corridor and the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The Guangshen highway corridor parallels the area’s riparian trade routes, which were the means of Han expansion from Guangzhou southwardly on the Pearl River and its tributaries. The KCR, of course, was the British attempt to preempt and redirect the PRD’s extensive trade network.

Not unexpectedly, proximity to a border or corridor has been a condition of reform era riches. Villages near the nexus of these borders and corridors have had disproportional opportunities to build and manage industrial parks and real estate developments. The earliest villages to get rich, for example, were all located along the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border at corridor checkpoints — Shekou (Fishing 1 and Wanxia) and Luohu (Hubei), first, but then Huanggang (Huanggang, Shuiwei, Xiasha, and Shangsha). However, guanwai villages retained land rights a full 12 years longer than did guannei villagers, with the result that largest and wealthiest village joint stock companies are now primarily located along the Pearl River Delta (Shajing and Huaide) and KCR corridors (Nanling near Buji). Consequently, many villages have remained “stuck” in between these two different modes of production, neither farming nor investing in manufacturing, let alone transitioning to the new creative economy. Areas of relative poverty include many Longgang District Villages as well as villages in Gongming and Guangming.

However, proximity to the borders and corridors has not in itself created the conditions for villages to transition from lives based on rural production to lives based on urban industrial manufacturing. In addition to the construction of infrastructure, differences in Mao-era administrative designation have also shaped current inequalities among villagers. First, successful villages have operated as collectives, rather than relying on individual efforts. These villages not only inherited Maoist organization, including management experience, but also inherited common ancestry. Thus, single surname (一姓) villages, which have renovated ancestral halls and promoted traditional rituals have generally been more organized than random surname (杂姓) villages, which were created during the Maoist era for production purposes. Second, successful villages have had traditional land rights, which were extensive. Indeed, most traditional villages have made their fortune through land deals. In contrast, fishing villages (渔村) and overseas Chinese villages (桥村) had foundation rights (宅地), but not land development rights. This meant individual villagers could build private homes, but that villages could not collectively invest in industrial parks or real estate developments. Moreover, villages did not benefit from compensation deals between developers and nearby traditional villages. Third, as recent events in Wanfeng demonstrate, some village heads have been less corrupt than others, while the success of Huaide, Nanling, Huanggang, and Xiasha Villages has been directly attributed to the foresight of the incumbent leader.

It is an open secret that legislation has been the source of Shenzhen’s competitive advantage, both for outside investors and for indigenous Bao’an villagers. What’s more, this legislation did provide the framework for many local villages and individual villagers to become rich. Indeed, when Deng Xiaoping died in February 1997, Shenzhen villagers openly wept and brought funeral wreathes to the statue at Lianhua Park and his Shennan Road billboard. Nevertheless, the emergence of class differences within and between villages directs our attention to the ways in which Shenzhen has displaced Bao’an as “the local”. Within this new locale, hometown status no longer provides a viable identity because locals have been segregated into urban classes that have disrupted traditional rural relations, even as they learn to navigate a hometown that is no longer theirs, assimilate the mores and customs of urbanites, and speak standard Mandarin, rather than local Cantonese or Hakka dialect. And in this new world ordering, poor Baoan locals embody a poignant form of global tragedy.

旧楼村: alleyways and crumbling bricks

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Images from Old Loucun (旧楼村), a large swathe of crumbling tile homes, traditional brick homes, narrow roads and alleys, and mid 80s 2 and 3-storey homes. Handshakes on horizon.