futures – yuanling 2

jijian kindergarten

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

even as yuanling’s factories are upgraded to retail storefronts, the old neighborhoods – especially the old courtyard residential areas – are being razed to make way for highrise developments.

watching the chickens feed in the courtyard of new yuanling village remind us (1) that shenzhen was imagined and built in a very different social economy and (2) that value is not simply a matter of upgrades, but nevertheless remains tied to how we imagine the future.

new yuanling village is not an actual village, but an example of the first generation of work unit courtyard residences in shenzhen. in the early 80s, homes here appear in some of the first corruption scandals as early cadres scrambled for homes, which they used as investments and rewards (in turn).

housing in yuanling is still some of the most expensive in the city because with each home comes one elementary and one middle school seat (学位). this is important because yuanling schools are ranked first provincial (省一级), a ranking that suggests students from yuanling do well in the national college entrance exam (高考).

although much of the old housing is rented out, those school seats are coveted and circulate not only with the sale of the house, but part of rental negotiations. not unexpectedly, many have bought in yuanling, but live elsewhere, simply so their children can go to school there.

in addition, the area has been approved for redevelopment, which means that within the next two years, all this will be razed and new housing built. homeowners in yuanling will be compensated with replacement housing (based on square footage conversions, but i’m not sure what precisely the terms are.)

housing and education are two of the great goods in shenzhen. indeed, many women will not marry unless they have a home; many parents spend time, energy, and money trying to provide for their child’s education. consequently, it is useful to think about what new yuanling village signified to early shenzhen residents because housing and education are sites where we actively and vigorously create the future.

yuanling looks battered and worn, but the shenzhen dreams of a house and providing for one’s only child still resonate. moreover, the importance of this future to shenzhen identity explains how corruption may have been built into the city. it is hard to imagine how communist cadres may have been reduced to scrambling for moldy bits of concrete and in retrospect, the object of their scrambling appears ridiculous. however, it is more than easy to understand how private hopes and dreams for their families’ future might have gotten entangled in what those cadres saw when they drew up blueprints, laid foundations, and built a post-mao, post cold war future at yuanling.

when i asked if there were any other benefits to buying a house in yuanling, the salesman looked at me somewhat confused – after all, is there anything more important than a new house (even if many years down the road) and a child’s education? – and offered lamely, “you could open a ground floor store.”

i like yuanling in its current incarnation. the streets are narrow, quiet, and clean, the buildings shaded by banyan trees, and the occasional palm tree straggles into the sky above working class residents. pictures, here.

going, going, gone …

Shenzhen’s mayor Xu Zhengheng (徐宗衡简历) has been arrested for graft and yesterday the resume of the new  mayor Wang Rong (王荣简历) was broadcast on televisions throughout the city, including on street corners, buses, and taxis.

And not even with much of a wimper, let alone bang. What has been interesting is the lack of conversation about the scandal. Maybe people haven’t spoken to me about the topic because I’m foreign, but it could also be because Shenzhen people take corruption to be business as usual. When the topic did come up, most complained that Xu Zhengheng had gone too far (太过分), or that maybe somebody was gunning for him, or maybe that possibly didn’t have any friends in Beijing. The general consensus, however, was that if Xu Zongheng had  had been content with five million, even 10 million, all would have been well. However he just “went to far”. Indeed, I heard graft figures as high as “several hundred millions (上亿)” for himself and even more for his “network”. Rumors rumors…

The most interesting analysis came from one of my better connected friends who said that this case showed that there was a clear difference between “the people’s will (民意)” and “righteousness (正义)”.  He thought the arrest of the mayor was a good sign (of oversight) and expected to see more arrests follow.  However, in his opinion tolerance for graft and corruption had a deep history in China, so taking a few million, especially if you worked hard for the city wasn’t a problem, but in terms of making China a “just” society more had to be done. He also thought this general tolerance for some level of graft explained the difference between the amount of tax revenue the city generated and the actual amount of money going in and out of the banks. How, he wondered, could the government know, come to terms with, and actually regulate all the economic activity in Shenzhen, let alone Guangdong and the rest of the country if at every level the “people’s will” allowed for leaders to take an unreported portion of the profits for themselves?