shenzhen place name website

So yes, there’s a website dedicated to Shenzhen place names as well as associated re/developments. Check it out at 深圳地名网.

dachan: just where is the village anyway?

Those of you following the construction of Qianhai, may or may not be aware that it’s cultural geography includes many, many fish (now buried) and Dachan Island, once upon a time home to Dachan Village. Inquiring minds want to know: just where is Dachan Village, today? Continue reading

“this time, this place”: these concerns

The balmy days of installation gave way to cold winter rain for the opening of “This Time, This Place” in Shenzhen’s Central Park. Our brief as participants was to respond to the site, and in this sense the weather reminded us just how different indoor and outdoor exhibitions can be. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Today, I’m wondering: is there art that ameliorates rather than is predicated on class privilege? Continue reading

rural construction: can law serve china’s peasants?

While in Xi’an, I once again visited the Terracotta Soldiers in Lingtong, once upon a time center of Qin power. The First Qin Emperor (秦始皇 ) installed this death monument during his life. This seems to have been the way of ancient Emperors and Pharohs — a longing to control everything, as if making the world in our own image was (a) possible and (b) a means of achieving immortality. However, we don’t really know what the mass grave meant to him because we haven’t found his grave — just indications that he wanted to be safe in death. But maybe it was a ruse to distract observers from his actual gravesite. That said, we do know that he conquered unified six warring states and became the model for those future Chinese leaders who yearned to bring everything under heaven under themselves. Personally. Indeed, the visit sparked a conversation about the meaning of 法律, its historical constitution, and whether or not law can serve China’s peasants. Continue reading

cultural smog

I am in Tianjin where the smog is thick. It creates grey on grey cityscapes and irritates eyes and throats. My niece, a lovely and talented young woman jokes that, “Chinese people have iron lungs,” instantly showing up the dystopian anxieties that animate cyberpunk and urban fantasy (as popular literary genres, not simply as lifestyle choices).

I remember similarly edged jokes from my mother’s relatives and friends when we went back to the UP, where iron mining and tree harvesting for the paper mills had reshaped the wild north. “That,” they said with a half apologetic laugh when they glimpsed our pinched noses, “that is the smell of money.” Continue reading

occupy central: impressions

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Democracy movement and fateful crackdown on June 4, 1989. Annual commemoration protests have continued in Hong Kong since then. Perhaps 25 years of organized resistance to the violence of the Chinese State against unarmed protestors and commemorating student courage nurtured the soil for Occupy Central, nevertheless this year young Hong Kong people found voice and civil form for their own cause–truly democratic elections and autonomy in education, the media, and social organization. Indeed, if this level of civil disobedience is the result, all our children should grow up with the fine example of commemoration protests. And patience for our just seeds to bear fruit.

Beijing has already confirmed its support of Leung Chun Ying, the SAR’s unpopular Chief Executive, and crony of folks in Beijing. Unfortunately, the more cynical of us on this side of the border may be correct in supposing that as far as Beijing leaders are concerned what matters about the protest how it impacts Beijing.

Anyway, yesterday my husband and I crossed at Shenzhen Bay to Hong Kong, taking a bus directly to Sheung Wan. We arrived around 3 pm. The streets near the Macau Ferry Terminal drop-off point were quiet. As we followed the second floor walkway that winds from the terminal to Central and Wanchai, we passed several hundred Filipina and Indonesian maids, who occupied half the walkway. Like the students students, they sat on flattened cardboard boxes and plastic sheets, chatting, playing cards, and snacking, their umbrellas positioned to protect them from sunlight and rain. In fact, for over three decades, the guest workermaids have been occupying Hong Kong’s elevated walkways and public parks on their one day a week off. Arguably, it’s possible that the maids have taught the students something about how to make oneself at home on concrete.

The protest itself stretches about 6 kilometers. Without the cars, crowds, and noise of an open for business Central, the city’s amazing 3-dimensionality it becomes suddenly apparent. There are overpasses and walkways, underpasses and roads that split and curl into the air. The pristine glass and steel of Honk Kong’s iconic buildings shimmers into mythic forms. In the afternoon small groups of students sat on cardboard or plastic sheets chatting. Some had formed larger groups to listen to and and join conversations about the movement and the importance of securing social justice through civil disobedience. And yes, the reports are true. Hong Kong’s young people have put civility into civil disobedience.

A map of occupied area:


You can learn about the movement, their ideals and tactics at Occupy Central, a blog that keeps one abreast of the situation from a student perspective. You can also download the Chinese manual for peacefully occupying Central, 和平占中 which was published several days before the students began their collective action. As Sedna Popovic and Tori Porell argue in their article over at Slate, it’s the curtesy and non-violence that makes the Hong Kong protests formidable.

In solidarity with the students, impressions of an afternoon of peace and love for Hong Kong:

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the violence of rural (re)construction (3): living genealogies

If you google “Hakka” all sorts of information comes up, ranging from Wikipedia’s Hakka People brief through the overwhelming comprehensive blog 客家风情 to more academic takes such as “The Secret History of The Hakkas: the Chinese Revolution as a Hakka Enterprise“.

These articles emphasize that the Hakka left the central plains for Southern China in a series of migrations. Hakka literally means “Guest People” and in the anthology, Down to Earth: The Territorial Bond in South China, for example, David Faure, Helen Siu and their colleagues nicely track the differentiation of Han Chinese into various ethnic groups, including the Dan (boat people not allowed on land), the Hakka, and dominant Cantonese.


Over time, the Hakka developed a distinct culture and history, including unique roles in the Taiping Rebellion (Hong Xiuquan was a Hakka) and subsequent Chinese Revolution; Sun Yat-Sen, the Soong sisters, and Deng Xiaoping, for example, were all Hakkas. Distinguishing features of Hakka identity include language, food, architecture, and a commitment to tradition and education that is said to exceed that of neighboring groups. Importantly, however, given the geographic range of Hakka settlements both within and outside the Chinese mainland, there is much diversity within the group. The Hakka standard is set in Meizhou, the county seat of Meixian, which brings us back to what’s at stake with the forced evictions in Meizhou.

The Hakka have lived in large compounds, where extended patrilineal families resided in organized proximity. These complexes have functioned as material genealogies with hierarchy emphasized through one’s room(s) within and location relative to the ancestral shrine, which has pride of place in any Hakka homestead. Indeed, even after compounds have been abandoned for newer buildings, often the ancestral shrine continues to host rituals and family matters, such as death memorials.

Many of the large homes that have been or are threatened with forced demolition in the Meizhou suburbs are low-income realizations of the larger ideal of bringing one family line together in one place. Overseas family members have contributed funds to build the homesteads, where several generations do live together. Importantly, those at home hold it for family members who are working either overseas or in cities like Shenzhen. Indeed, memories of and anticipated arrivals of absent family members characterize these homes. As does the cherished expectation of reunion, when the homestead will be filled and the family complete.

Also of note, many of the people standing guard over a family’s living history are women, who have married into the line and are therefore not considered part of the genealogy. So when the householder is female, she holds it for her sons, rather than explicitly for her husband. It became clear in conversation, that many of the women wanted a house for their families–children and maternal relatives, rather than explicitly to continue a particular line. Moreover, while the women told stories of their lives in these homes, the men would emphasize how these homes held a larger family together. Thus, the 5 or 6 women I spoke with were spoke of the need to keep a place for memories and future visits, while the men were more likely to demand compensation that would allow them to reproduce the building itself.

The unmaking of the multi-generational family has been one of the most obvious consequences of rural urbanization. After these homes are razed, they are replaced by smaller homes for China’s version of the nuclear family–an elder or two who take care of the only child of two working parents. In terms of traditional history, this breakdown clearly causes suffering and disorientation as family members try to make sense of a life without a shared root, even as it is also clearly that another uprooting has already taken place; the young people spoke Mandarin while their elders spoke Hakka. The results of centralized education and migrating populations contextualize the violence of rural reconstruction with respect to an ongoing state project to remake the countryside in Beijing’s image.

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Part I/ Meizhou: The Violence of Rural (re)Construction

Part II/ Meizhou: Hoodlum Government

Part IV/ Meizhou: What Gets Preserved

Part V/ Meizhou: Lessons from Shenzhen

Meizhou VI/ Meizhou: Selected Translations

czc entr’acte

The entr’acte between a thriving urban village and its gentrification into mall-burbia occurs as developers scramble to get the last hold outs to sign compensation packages. To ensure that noone moves into buildings that have already been acquired by the developer, windows and doors are often cemented over and 拆 the character for “raze” is painted in bright red stencil.

In Nanmendun, Buji (布吉南门墩), for example, the entr’acte has been in progress since May 26, 2011, when the Kaisa Group announced that it had begun the renovation project. According to the announcement, 18,879 people lived in 479 buildings (mostly handshakes, but some early 80’s and Mao era dormitories). Of this population, roughly 10% were Nanmendun residents and entitled to relocation and compensation. Roughly two years later, the process of getting holdouts to sign and stragglers to move on is still in progress.

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Nanmendun is one of five renovation projects in Buji and the usual suspects — Vanke, China Merchants, Huarun, and Xinyi are also busy gentrifying the area. What the map below makes clear, however, is how extensive rural urbanization has been in Buji. Indeed, it is hard to speak of an “urban village” when handshake buildings and unregulated development have been the dominant form of urbanization for over thirty years.

Lay of the land:

4 renovationsin buji

old trees

It’s true, there’s a category of cultural relic known as “old tree (古树)”. These old trees root the community in histories that stretch back to the late Ming Dynasty (early 1600s). Moreover, their beautiful limbs create poetic interludes throughout the remnants of Shenzhen’s old village homesteads. Buildings may decay through lack of care, but the trees grow despite threat of urban renewal.

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street life, baishizhou

Xintang and Shang Baishizhou lie northwesterly to Tangtou within the larger Baishizhou neighborhood. Where the allies widen into roads, a vibrant, bustling urbanity hints at unexpected encounters. The Baishizhou Pedestrian Commercial Street, the Baishizhou Christian Church, and inadvertent plazas, for example, speak to the social possibilities that high density street life creates.

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