“Cut and Pastiche” has played with the logic of montage in order to tease out the experiences and logics that comprised the Special Zone. Montage helps us understand the process because “Shenzhen” comprises diverse elements–factories and work units, migrants and locals, tradition and IT, brackish water and containers–which were already in the world, but needed to be reorganized in order for China to achieve its goal to modernize. Quickly.
I have been used to thinking of the Cultural Revolution as the immediate backdrop to the ideological transformations initiated by the establishment of Shenzhen. However, as I was reacquainting myself with the cultural geography of Huaqiangbei I came across the Zhenhua Industries sign on Zhenxing Road. The logo is a throwback to Third Front industrialization, when futurist aesthetics still informed nationalist dreams. But what actually caught my eye was Jiang Zenmin’s calligraphy; by providing the calligraphy (题词) for this enterprise, the former General Secretary showed explicit support for the manufacturing company. After all, the most famous example of Jiang Zemin’s calligraphy in Shenzhen was written for Window of the World in 1994, as part of Overseas Chinese Town’s transition to leisure and tourism. So I was curious: when and how did he actively support Zhen Hua specifically and the construction of the Shangbu Industrial Zone more generally?
I know, you’re asking yourself: how is it already 2019? The date pounds like a migraine because once again we’re in the middle of a China-history countdown: 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, 60th anniversary of the start of the great leap forward famine, 50th anniversary of the Sino-Soviet border conflict, 40th anniversary of the “First Blast” of Reform and Opening chez Shekou, 30th anniversary of the Tian’anmen democracy movement, 20th anniversary of the crackdown against Falungong, and the 10th anniversary of Shenzhen’s decision to upgrade its “dirty, chaotic, and substandard (脏乱差)” urban villages. Continue reading
When I first moved to Shenzhen in 1995, I lived at Shenzhen University, which at the time was located on the northern banks of Shenzhen Bay and boasted oyster farming on just beyond its campus border. In fact, for the first decade that I was in Shenzhen (1995-2005), land reclamation and the reconstruction of the coastline was one of the major ongoing infrastructure projects, even as the city shifted its economic emphasis from manufacturing to innovation. So for over a decade, I walked reclaimed land. As the landfill settled, grass grew, squatters came and went, and the city itself “washed its feet and stepped on land,” an expression that was used in the 1990s to describe the transformation of farmers into urban residents. Locally, the expression referred to how local villagers left their paddies and fish ponds to become landlords, while in terms of migrants, it referred to migrant workers who left their home villages to work in factories. Continue reading
When I first came to Shenzhen in 1995, the idea was to find a group of people who were willing to be interviewed, fill spiral notebooks with handwritten notes, and return to Rice to write-up said notes in 1996, or at the very latest, 1997 and then writing my way into an academic position. That didn’t happen. Instead, I stayed in Shenzhen until 1998, finished the dissertation in 1999, held a post-doc for one year, and then began the transition from trying to secure a tenure-track offer at a US university to figuring out what an American ex-pat might do in Shenzhen, which was itself transitioning from being a manufacturing hub into an innovation city. Continue reading
There is this sense or perhaps compulsion to make sense of the city through its cultural history, as if history were the whole story and not some narrative, which has been retrofitted to the needs of the moment. This is not to say that the needs of the moment are unimportant, merely to highlight that what counts as history and when history may come to count (so to speak) are themselves effects of other social processes which may or may not have anything to do with what happened, but are (nevertheless) important to understanding what we think happened. All this to say, answering the question “how did Hakka-scapes come to the foreground of Shenzhen’s current embrace of history?” requires double think: we not only need to rummage around to figure out what happened then, but also to posit why then-and-there have been positioned at the origin of here and now. Continue reading
In 2006, I visited Dafen Oil Painting Village for the first time. This was several years before Dafen became an important landmark–both in and outside China–in the Shenzhen imaginary. This was also over a decade before the metro system connected Dafen to downtown. In fact, even the road signs reflected the segregation between “Shenzhen” and the rest of the city. Consequently, the first time I visited Dafen I experienced it as a typical urban village that produced an atypical product.
In Shenzhen, the ongoing transformation of a rural periphery into a mega-city is the latest chapter in global grabs to control local significance. Located just north of Hong Kong, the Shenzhen area has comprised the Sino-British border since July 1, 1898, when the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory came into effect. Once upon a time, the Sino-Bbeen accomplished through a logic of practical means to endlessly churned out desires and there has been something cut and pastiche about the construction of Shenzhen. What, for example, to make of this advertisement for real east developer Vanke’s East Coast development in Yantian District? What kind of space is implied by the figure of Lifestyle Leading the People?