Here’s a story for a Monday morning: My husband and I recently bought a condo in Dali, where we plan to retire. This past Chinese New Year, we opened the condo, calling the gas company to send someone over to connect our gas line. A team of three people showed up. The best dressed of the group carried a clipboard and explained to us what was happening. One of the electricians set to connecting the line. The third was there to oversee the young man making the connection and insure that he didn’t make any mistakes. The entire process–explaining, connecting, and checking the connection–took about ten minutes. Once they had finished their work, they moved on to the next condo.
I found it ridiculous to send three people to complete the job. However, when I told a 20-something friend this story she half-jokingly responded, “Wow, Dali is really efficient!” She then told me that most government and central enterprises had an even higher ratio of bureaucrats and supervisors to actual workers. At her company, she explained, actual work didn’t start until Wednesday because on Monday mornings top level executives met to decide on the week’s work, Monday afternoons, vice-executives informed managers of their responsibilities, on Tuesday mornings, managers further refined jobs for office heads, and then on Tuesday afternoon, office heads assigned tasks to actual workers. I laughed (as I was supposed to) and then clarified, “You’re exaggerating, right?” And she said, “Not really. There are at least four or five levels of management above my level, where the work actually happens. Even in Shenzhen, it has all become too guanliao.”
This year I was in the Chinese northland during the first week of the Trump presidency, a fact which had me thinking about national geographies of opportunity and despair. (Honestly, how could I resist when we were celebrating the Year of the Cock?!) Of note? The pride and resentment, wellbeing and jealousy that I encountered in the Chinese interior resonated with my experience of the American heartland, where my parents were born, even as the valuation of Shenzhen and other southern cities seemed much like American valuations of the progressive northeast, where I was raised.
100 rmb notes and US C notes go together like boy and girl, like modernity and tradition, like Mao Zedong and Benjamin Franklin, like officialdom (guanfang) and society (minjian), like yang and yin. I was thinking about how in Shenzhen du jour tradition is being (re)constituted through economic reform–specifically, I was thinking about how tradition has become the vehicle that naturalizes the demolition of (unnatural) urbanized villages in a city long described as “lacking history,” and this matched New Years set shows up on the entrance to my apartment building. As with many symbols of Chimerica, gender suggests the multiple forms of power that create particular subject positions, especially in the figuring of ideal relationships, where even if the male, head-of-house holds money that is ostensibly worth less than the female, nevertheless, in Chimerica East the primacy of renminbi makes sense (cents) precisely because “tradition” keeps us in place.
The contrasts between the inner and outer districts are not immediately apparent because they are not juxtaposed in space, but rather through time; you need to travel (at least an hour, more by public transportation) from center city to its outskirts in order to viscerally experience the lived differences between here and there. Indeed, most people don’t make the trip (unless they live in one of the new gated communities along the subway lines that transport young managers and clerks and secretary types to their offices, most likely in Futian, because close examination reveals all subway lines–especially the high-speed and direct lines–converge in the city’s center) and even then, most don’t venture beyond the lines and malls because, well, there’s no time (true) and less interest (all too true).
Although China has been strengthening its anti-terrorism campaign over the past year or so, the Shenzhen anti-terrorism campaign is recent. Ideologically, the campaign promotes a Neo-Confucian message of family first–a value that terrorists are purported not to share. Unfortunately, terrorists are more or less consistently represented as Muslim. In fact, the stereotypes used in the campaign are familiar from conversations I’ve had with friends over the past decade, when I have been told that Islam is not a religion but a terrorist organization. More alarmingly, as in the United States, Chinese anti-terrorism feeds anti Muslim sentiments and justifies increasing militarization of public life. Sigh.
Of note: the May 22, 2014 attack (in which men in ski masks jumped out of two vans to attack people in Urumqi) has become the stereotype of terrorist attack in the campaign. The following Inside Story by Aljazeera attempts to understand the increasingly violent situation.
pas moi, as we say.
The world is not only coming to Shenzhen for hardware hacks, but also apparently for the smooth surfaces. The skateboarders’ take on “freedom” as ability to use public space (especially the Shenzhen Civic Center) is particularly compelling; “They don’t have Youtube, no Facebook,” Anthony Claravall notes, “but you can skate anywhere.” Unlike New York, where apparently you can watch Youtube and buy Hustler, but can’t skate in front of the mayor’s house. And Chinese skateboarders are family men. Check out the video by Vice Video:
Shenzhen is gearing up for the Maker Faire, and clearly there’s a bit more than hype in the mix. Seems all sorts of folks are interested in connecting to larger markets via “the Silicon Valley of hardware” — Shenzhen. Of note du jour: the Hax Accelerator Program:
How It Works: Selected teams relocate to our offices in Shenzhen, China for 111 days, where they’ll finalize prototypes and learn to scale their businesses with the help of our awesome full-time staff and extensive mentor network.
Each week, you’ll meet with advisors who will offer feedback on your team’s evolving strategy and prototypes, as well as provide valuable insight about how to scale a company in terms of manufacturing, supply chain management and distribution.
The final 2 weeks of the program will be spent refining your pitch, in preparation for our demo day showcase and launch event in San Francisco. Then it’s time to get some press, meet with investors, and (optionally) kick off a killer crowdfunding campaign!
Important footnote or dissertation? Inquiring minds want to know, what is a natural village? Continue reading
This past week, I joined members of ATU on a research trip to Kaihua County, Zhejiang. ATU is a Shenzhen-based NGO, and their mission is to bring critical attention to architecture and urban planning practices. Most recently, they have decided to intervene in rural development in order to ameliorate the problems of bringing urban planning and its ideologies into rural areas. Continue reading