of influence and independence, power & game: thoughts on shenzhen 3.0

If memory serves (and it tends to serve some agenda), I first visited Huaqiangbei (formerly the Shangbu Industrial Park) in 1995, when it was still primarily a manufacturing and residential area, but didn’t know what I was looking at. The big ideas in my head had to with workers rights and feminism, and so I was aware of the factories, the state sponsored housing, the few department stores, including the then still operative Friendship store, and the iconic Shanghai Hotel with its surprisingly good Cantonese dim sum. I noticed that neighboring Gangxia and Tianmian were under construction, but glossed this new urban morphology as a “new village.” I didn’t realize that the scale of immigration and construction that happened during the 90s and defined “Shenzhen” for me would be different enough from the 1980s that friends who arrived during the Special Zone’s first decade laughing asserted that Shenzhen was changing so quickly that if they didn’t visit a neighborhood for several years it was easy to get lost; Shenzhen in 1989 and 1999 were two different cities. And that was almost two decades ago.

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creative culture INDUSTRY

Visited the old Nanfang Glass Factory in Shekou. The factory is being renovated by 凤火, an advertising company that made its mark marketing real estate. It is now investing in cultural renovation and creativity in old Shekou. The other day we visited the site, which will open as (yes, another) art-culture space. Once again, my fondness for heroic high-modernism makes itself felt in impressions, below:

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branding shenzhen fashion

The Shenzhen Clothing Association held it’s its 12th trade fair at the Convention and Exhibition Center. Exhibitions ranged from themed installations in the main showroom to high end spreads in other showrooms. The annual trade fair is part of the Municipality’s ongoing efforts to brand itself as a center for Chinese fashion and indeed, many of China’s top fashion brands are Shenzhen firms. Impressions below, and yes, when the sun shines the exhibition center sparkles impressively.

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How should we judge the success of Shenzhen’s cultural industry?

According to released statistics, in 2011, Shenzhen’s cultural industry accounted for 8% of the SEZ’s GDP, with a total 87.5 billion (875亿) yuan of goods and services. More importantly, cultural industry in Shenzhen grew at a rate of 20.5%, making it one of the strongest sectors of the local economy. Dafen and OCT Loft are often promoted as exemplars of successful cultural industry. Nevertheless, I don’t know how to interpret these statistics because when I visit some cultural industry sites — Dawang and 518, for example, I’m underwhelmed. begging the question, how universally successful is Shenzhen’s cultural industry or do these statistics more accurately reflects the determination of and concomitant investment by the government to push the economy in a certain direction?

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Today, for example, I visited the Century Handicraft Culture Plaza (世纪工艺品文化广场), which was one of the earliest attempts to transform Shenzhen’s economy from industrial manufacturing to creative industry. Continue reading