1995-2005: Keywords in Shenzhen real estate

Much of Shenzhen’s informal history is, unsurprisingly perhaps, being written on blogs and weibo. However, websites dedicated to real estate, ranging from analysis to agency offerings are not usually considered to be history writing. Nevertheless, these websites provide insite into the negotiation of value as people transform labor and desire into homes and family life. To give a sense of the historical content of these websites as well as how they produce knowledge about the city, I’ve translated a sampling from a real estate purchasing and rental keywords post by 王猴猴.

Just an editorial note: when reading these keywords it is important to hear what has not been said. Policy criticisms and social problems remain implicit in Wang Houhou’s explanations and evaluations. I have thus added a few exegetical notes, which do not exhaust possible interpretations, but rather point to other readings. I encourage readers to add their own interpretations and thereby enrich the keywords.

盘点1995~2005深圳地产十年关键词 Inventory of Shenzhen Real Estate Keywords, 1995-2005 (Wang Houhou)

1995 购房入户 (Buy a house, get Shenzhen hukou) In order to stimulate citizens to purchase homes and also to further economic development in a slow house market, Chinese local governments promulgated real estate development policies and measures. The prime example of these policies came in 1995, when the Shenzhen government approved a measure that allowed anyone who bought a house outside the second line [in Baoan or Longgang District] was eligible for three Shenzhen hukous. [In 1995 Baoan and Longgang were still under rural administration and the Second Line was still enforced. Consequently, this law stimulated building at Second Line checkpoints, notably Buji and Meilin, where people could buy a Shenzhen hukou and still get to work easily.]  Continue reading

cultural homogenization in shenzhen. and not.

Most discussions of Shenzhen emphasize that as an immigrant city, Shenzhen is a Mandarin speaking outpost of national culture in the midst of Guangdong Province. However, this description glosses over the historical division of Baoan County into Cantonese and Hakka cultural areas, and how urban development focused on the SEZ (rather than the entire Municipality).

The establishment of Baoan and Longgang Districts in 1992 institutionalized these historic divisions, with a Cantonese cultural-linguistic area (Baoan District) and a Hakka cultural-linguistic area (Longgang District). At the same time, the traditional SEZ (bounded by the second line) formed the core of Mandarin national culture in the city.

Thinking about Shenzhen as a tri-cultural city enables understanding of how cultural homogenization does and does not take place. Today, I’m thinking specifically about the creation of a recognizably “rural” local identity versus an “urbane” Shenzhen identity. In the area surrounding the Universiade Village, for example, these various trends are most visible in ongoing construction and demolition projects.

Construction wise, the planned Universiade Village boasts beautiful, glass stadiums and swimming areas, which reflect urbane aesthetics. Indeed, the nearby 5-star hotels and upscale residential areas lump Shenzheners (the Mandarin nationals) with cutting edge international taste and consumption. This aesthetics contradicts that of the mid-90s generation of handshake buildings that constitute much of the Longcheng Street residential area. Architecturally, it all seems a straight-forward contradiction between rural and urbane Shenzhen, which in turn is often misread as a contradiction between Cantonese and Mandarin spheres.

In fact, walking through a small Hakka Village, like Dawei indicates how recent handshake buildings as an architectural sign of the rural are in Shenzhen. In Dawei, the handshake buildings have been built into and on top of a traditional, small Hakka compound (similar to the one in Sungang). In other words, handshake buildings create a common “rural” or “Baoan local” identity for (once culturally and linguistically distinct) Cantonese and Hakka villages only in contradistinction to a Mandarin identity.

Visual evidence in slideshow, below.

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shenzhen administrative structure

I’ve been making charts to organize my thinking. Below is an organizational chart of Shenzhen, circa 2010.

Also, a simplified version of the organizational relationship between the Central government and local governments. Guangdong is the provincial local; Shenzhen is a sub-provincial city, however, as an SEZ, Shenzhen has all sorts of legal privileges that provinces and direct cities do not.


Gregory Bateson helped me learn to think about how human beings engage in (ultimately) self-destructive forms of competitive growth; Wendall Berry continues to inspire how I think about rural urbanization under capitalism.

Bateson provided a theory of schismogenesis or “vicious circle,” in which our behavior provokes a reaction in another, whose reaction, in turn, stimulates us to intensify our response. According to Bateson, schismogenesis comes in two flavors: symmetrical and complementary. Symmetrical relationships are those in which the two parties are equals, competitors, such as in sports. Complementary relationships feature an unequal balance, such as dominance-submission (parent-child), or exhibitionism-spectatorship (performer-audience). The point, of course, is that unless there is an agreed upon limit to the development of provocation and response, the relationship just keeps going until it hits a natural limit – collapse of the relationship because neither side can continue to meet and exceed the other’s call.

Berry teaches that one of the more deadly tendencies in capitalist urbanization in the United States is to turn all of us, eventually, into Native Americans. On Berry’s reading, the basic structure of American life was to eradicate the people and lifeways of Native Americans and then to replace those people and lifeways with settler capitalism. Importantly, this model of a settled community being replaced by the next, more intensive form of capitalist production both established the rhythm of American development and has become a powerful symbol of how generations of Americans have justified our destruction of people and lifeways in favor of more efficient and valuable forms of life. Importantly, efficient and valuable are defined in terms of profit. Thus, industrial, mass agriculture replace the settlers that had replaced the Native Americans; smart technologies and production are offered as the solution to problems of rustbelt withering.

How have Bateson and Berry shaped my understanding of Shenzhen?

Shenzhen all too clearly grows through an amazing range and diverse levels of complementary schismogenesis. Within Shenzhen, villages, neighborhoods, districts, and municipal ministries all engage in compete for competitive advantage; at the same time, Shenzhen as a city competes with all other cities in the PRD as well as internationally.  In this system, the function of urban planning is contradictory. On the one hand, the Municipal government needs to stimulate competition so that the city can respond to development in Guangdong, China, and the world. On the other hand, the Municipal government also needs to set limits – usually in the form of social goods, such as parks, schools, and hospitals – on how far development can encroach on the people’s quality of life.

Moreover, as Berry noted, the pattern of the first razing and replacement sets the rhythm and symbolic lexicon for understanding capitalist schismogenesis. The problem in Shenzhen is that eventually, we all become locals, our homes and lifeways replaced by more capitalist intensive forms of consumption (increasingly high maintenance housing) and production (higher value added production).

The result has been the ongoing production of rubble. Villages go. 80s housing goes. 90s residences are going. And as in the United States, postmodern nostalgia has become one of the forms that middle class resignation to this fate takes. The poor occupy the rubble until they are moved elsewhere. Images below.

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New Districts defined!

brief post on shenzhen´s ongoing redistricting because i know what´s ¨new¨ about shenzhen´s two new districts (新区), guangming and pingshan.

shenzhen´s two new districts are not ¨districts¨ in the strict sense of the word, instead they have all the economic power of shenzhen´s other 6 districts, but none of the political power. unlike yantian, luohu, futian, nanshan, longgang and bao´an districts, guangming and pingshan do not have the four administrative organs that define china´s government — the chinese people’s political consultative committee (政协), a district court (区级法院), a district congress (人大), and a procuratorate (检察院). nevertheless, the new districts do have the power to develop and implement economic plans.

if this sounds familiar it´s because this is how shenzhen began — an administrative unit betwixt and between beijing (politics) and guangzhou (economics). in order for guangming and pingshan to become politically viable districts, shenzhen municipality will have to petition the central government to change the government structure. however, that petition may be beside the point if the point is to develop these areas as quickly as possible, especially as many ¨political¨ decisions get framed as ¨economic policy¨ issues. moreover, in keeping with the plans can´t keep up with change ideology that permeates shenzhen decision-making, it may simply be easier to grant economic independence to an area and worry about political independence when and if the time comes.

redistricting – guangming and pingshan xinqu

i try to keep apace of the changes, but alas, shenzhen redistricts and i find out about it after the fact. guangming new district was carved out of baoan and pingshan was carved out of longgang. thus shenzhen now has 8 districts: within the gate (guannei or the old second line, erxian) nanshan, futian, luohu, and yantian; outside the gate (guanwai) baoan, guangming, longgang and pingshan. see map.

this redistricting seems to be a return of the repressed because during the mao years guangming and pingshan were communes. of course, all shenzhen’s districts were once upon a time communes and so the city’s administrative history might be thought of as tweaking and reshuffling extant divisions upon revisions of a traditional world order. more to the point is that this redistricting speaks

  1. to shenzhen’s loosely planned uneven development (some places in shenzhen really are noticeably poorer than others, which is interpreted as intended-by-the-governmenet-to-be poorer than others, thus requiring explicit recognition through the establishment of a new administrative district. first case – yantian) and
  2. to the city’s growth (it really is too big for simple administrative bureaucracy).

a simple point of nomenclature: i don’t understand why guangming and pingshan are “new districts (xinqu)”, rather than districts (qu). it may have something to do with actual rights and responsibilities of the new district government as being distinct from other district governments (in terms of taxation and what not), but i don’t know. or, thinking from the analagy of new villages (xincun versus cun), i hypothesize that new districts are a variation of a past government, with status change and thus the right to transform whole chunks of the political-economy. thus for example, guangming was a zhen within baoan, just as pingshan was a longgang zhen, which were subseequently elevated to neighborhood (jiedao) as part of the 2004 rural urbanization movement. but again and alas, i’m not for sure.

cutting to the chase, i ask: does anyone know the reason for why xinqu rather than a plain and simple qu? please tell.

中国观澜版画基地: What is a cultural resource?

Yesterday, Wenzi and I visited her classmate, Zhao Jiachun who works at the Guanlan Woodblock Print Base (中国观澜版画基地). Jiachun generously showed us the Base and briefly introduced its history.

Guanlan interests me for three reasons (in addition to the beautiful setting, pictures here):

Guanlan is, at the moment, a purely municipal government funded project. This points to the growing ideological importance of culture in Shenzhen’s identity – both domestic and international.

Guanlan is part of the movement to recuperate elements of Shenzhen’s pre-reform history as a cultural resource. What’s interesting is that this recuperation is happening village by village. Consequently, what emerges is a loose network of sites, rather than an overall “history” of the city. In this case, Guanlan is the third Hakka site incorporated into the municipal cultural apparatus. The first was Dapeng Suocheng (大鹏所城), a military installation in the eastern part of the city. The second was Crane Lake Compound, which is now the Hakka Folk Custom Museum (深圳客家民俗博物馆鹤湖新居) in Luoruihe Village, Longgang (罗瑞合村).

Guanlan is an example of using pre-modern architecture to incorporate international art production into local identity. More specifically, the experience of architectural difference (such as living in a Hakka compound) bridges even as it creates cultural difference. Thus, the Base invites foreign and Chinese artists for residencies. These residencies allow foreign artists to “understand” China / Shenzhen and incorporate these new experiences into their art. At the same time, these exchanges also refigure a local art form (woodblock printmaking) as international cultural heritage. Importantly, this kind of “experience” of the local past as a cultural bridge seems a global trend. In Switzerland, we visited Romainmotier, which also offers artist residencies in a beautiful, restored, pre-modern setting.

This has me wondering about the ideological relationship between past and present urban settlements: Is “history” now the location of “culture”, while the “present” is all about one’s location on a scale of relative modernity? In other words, do Shenzhen and NYC participate in the same “culture”, their real differences explained away as “levels of modernity”? While their cultural “difference” must be found by excavating the past?

Continue reading

the gift of ruins

doubly noted

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

Friend Frank Meinshausen has stopped by on his ’round the world journey. We first met Frank four years ago, when he translated Hope (Chinese > German) for a staged reading at the Schaubuhne, Berlin.

Yesterday, we walked through Zhongshan Park, one of my favorite Shenzhen greenspaces.  At the center of the park are the ruins of the former Ming Dynasty city wall that once enclosed the County Seat of Xin’an County, the adminstrative predessor to Baoan County, which in turn predated Shenzhen Municipality.

So obscure and uncared for is the ruined wall that vines have overgrown the first stone marker and a second has been placed at the base of a tiled staircase, which rises sharply and ends as suddenly as it began. Sundry trails emerge from the park and disappear into the undergrowth, connecting the Ming Dynasty to the rising city of Shenzhen. We walked the narrow path, which traced the boundary of a world that has become as elusive as crumbling fistful of dry earth. We climbed the molding, vaguely imperial concrete viewing platform that abruptly interrupted our steps. We listened to birdsong and inhaled the fragrence of magnolia.

Further flights of romatic fancy, here.

rural and urbane urbanization in shenzhen

shangbu overpass, downtown shenzhen (futian)

the guangshen road, songgang

Today, I have decided to define two key terms–rural and urban urbanization–with respect to ongoing administrative restructuring and zoning in Shenzhen. My point of departure is a concise timeline of administrative change in Shenzhen [from my paper, “Vexed Foundations: An Ethnographic Interpretation of the Shenzhen Built Environment”. Contact me if you want the full academic version.] I then illustrate the importance of these changes by comparing who uses the Guangshen Road and Guangsheng Expressway, respectively.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY est. 1979 by elevating Baoan County to the Status of Shenzhen Municipality. Original Districts carved out of Baoan County communes: Shenzhen, Nantou, Songgang, Longhua, Kuichong, Longgang; all are “special”.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY re-established urban-rural distinction 1981, with the establishment of New Baoan County and the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. The Shenzhen Special Economic Zone is designated “urban”, inside the SEZ communes are administratively districted as “administrative regions (管理区)” It is a two-level administrative structure. Outside the SEZ, New Baoan County is designated “rural”. This means that the SEZ develops according to urban law and New Baoan County is administered according rural law. The Second Line (二线) divides the SEZ from New Baoan County. There are seven checkpoints along the border, and Chinese citizens must have a travel pass to enter the SEZ. There are no cross-line buses or taxis. Legal Shenzhen residents and visitors must disembark and go through customs when traveling between the SEZ and New Baoan County. The Second Line is fully operative by 1986.

NEW BAOAN COUNTY (est. 1981): 1,557 km2 zoned for industrial development under rural villages and 25 market towns (Xin’an, Xixiang, Fuyong, Shajing, Songgang, Gongming, Guangming, Shiyan, Guanlan, Dalang, Longhua, Minzhi, Pinghu, Pingdi, Kangzi, Nan’ao, Longcheng, Longgang, Henggang, Dapeng, Buji, Pingshan, Kuichong, Bantian, Nanwan)

SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE redefined 1983: initially, 327 km2 zoned for industrial development under urban work units; villages zoned for independent industrial development under village administration.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY restructured 1990. In keeping with administrative norms for major cities, the SEZ now consists of a three-level administrative structure—municipality, district, and street. New Baoan County zoned into municipal districts, Baoan and Longgang. The market towns remain rural. Baoan District is primarily Cantonese speaking and made up of 12 market towns (Xin’an, Xixiang, Fuyong, Shajing, Songgang, Gongming, Guangming, Shiyan, Guanlan, Dalang, Longhua, Minzhi). Longgang is primarily Hakka speaking and made up of 13 market towns (Pinghu, Pingdi, Kangzi, Nan’ao, Longcheng, Longgang, Henggang, Dapeng, Buji, Pingshan, Kuichong, Bantian, Nanwan).

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY completes SEZ rural urbanization in 1996. All villages in Luohu, Futian, and Nanshan Districts have been designated neighborhoods and administratively integrated into District governments by way of Street governments. The SEZ is restructured again in 1998, when Yantian District is carved out of Luohu District in order to stimulate economic growth in the eastern portion of the city.)

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY By 2006, the last of Baoan and Longgang market towns and villages have been converted to streets and new villages, respectively. Importantly, although the border between the SEZ and New Baoan County still in place, it no longer functions as a border. Cross-line buses and taxis no longer stop and passengers no longer disembark to go through the checkpoints.

SHENZHEN MUNICIPALITY restructured in 2007 with the establishment of Guangming New District, combining the Baoan Street administrations of Guangming and Gongming

All this to contextualize the two forms of urbanization in Shenzhen—rural and urbane. Rural urbanization is led by and benefits local people (formerly farmers). Urbane urbanization is led by and benefits migrants from China’s cities—Guangzhou, Chaozhou, and Huizhou in Guangdong, but also Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian, and Chongqing, to name a few.

The second line remains an important landmark in Shenzhen. Although people no longer speak of the SEZ, nevertheless the categories “outside (关外: guanwai) and “inside (关内: guannei)” the checkpoint are fundamental areas in cognitive maps of the municipality. Roughly speaking, local people have urbanized the area outside the checkpoint; it is a prime example of urbanization as the proliferation of new village forms. Urban planners and architects have designed most of the area inside the checkpoint; it is the poster child for China’s high modern modernization. Inside the checkpoint, the new CBD is the prototype of this kind of modernization. Thus, guanwai development epitomizes rural urbanization and guannei development represents urbane urbanization.

To get a sense of how fundamental the distinction between rural and urbane forms of urbanization has been to the construction of Shenzhen, you could do worse than compare the Guangshen Road and Guangshen Expressway. Along the Pearl River in western Shenzhen, there are two primary roads from Shenzhen through Dongguan to Guangzhou—the Guangshen Road (广深公路) and the Guangshen Expressway (广深高速公路). After the Nantou Checkpoint, both the Road and the Expressway pass through Xixiang, Fuyong, Shajing, and Songgang before entering Dongguan and then Guangzhou.

Eight-lanes wide, with two-lane access roads, the Road functions like a mega-Main Street, where manufacturing, residential, and commercial clusters grow thickly along its edges and tributaries. Everyday, hundreds, indeed thousands of container trucks surge from village and zhen industrial parks toward Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Unlike inside the second line, where only the small blue container trucks can be seen, on the Road, large, 20-ton containers rumble past, twenty-four/seven. Busses that traverse the Road stop regularly, allowing, for example, Fuyong residents to pop—if pop can be used to describe the journey—over to Shajing. Consequently, the trip from Nantou Checkpoint to the Songgang terminus takes over an hour, often longer, depending on traffic.

In contrast, the Expressway operates like an expressway, slicing through the surrounding area, but not actually connecting with it. Cars and busses get on and off the Expressway at toll stations. Such is the Expressway’s disconnect from the local environment that its construction has not stimulated local business. Indeed, agricultural and piscatorial industries still abut the Expressway. Instead, the Expressway connects interests in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, integrating the economies of the two cities, quite literally allowing this level of economic production to bypass local residents. Consequently, the trip from Shenzhen bus station to the Guangzhou terminus takes about ninety minutes.

The Road links Shenzhen’s urban villages, where most manufacturing is located. In contrast, the expressway links commercial and financial interests in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. In other words, the Road supports the interests of village urbanization, while the Expressway supports the interests of urban urbanization.

In the unfolding of rural-urban valuations, the Shenzhen experiment has constituted an interesting twist on post-Mao reforms. Specifically, Shenzhen has actualized the attempt to realize xiaokang by transforming formerly “rural” areas into appropriately “urban” areas. In other areas, like Shanghai or Anhui Province, reform has entailed reforming cities as cities, or rural areas as rural areas. Many recent studies focus on the contradictions that migration into urban areas has created. In Shenzhen, however, the state imposed the work unit system onto an area that had been administered through collective ownership. In other words, the Shenzhen experiment initially consisted in transforming formerly “rural” areas into appropriately “urban” areas, even as it maintained this division within its administrative structure. Crudely, the past thirty years of reform and opening might be understood as an attempt to restructure and re-imagine the Chinese state by urbanizing rural areas. In this sense, Shenzhen is an ongoing product of a historically specification mediation of rural and urban Chinese societies.

The Road and the Expressway both exemplify the contradictions between rural and urbane forms of urbanization in Shenzhen and also actualize how that contradiction has been built into the environment, shaping possible lives. Pictures of the road, here. To contrast with urbane Shenzhen, visit icons of urbane urbanization.

storm clouds

tianmian clouds

these past two weeks, it has rained in shenzhen and the rest of the delta. on friday the 13th (!), the rains flooded baoan district, killed six, and delayed airflights. songgang was the worst hit. that night, storm water also pooled throughout the city and public transportation stopped, causing hundreds to wade home.

in between the downpours, however, the cloud formations have been stunning. pictures from tianmian, dongmen (hubei new village), huaqiangbei, and houhai.