shenzhen book of changes

I’ve started a new video project, “Shenzhen Book of Changes” with Marco Flagg. Our first episode is up on Facebook.

yumin village: changing meanings of “farmer housing”

Just recently got my paws on “The History of Yumin Village (渔民村村史)”. Yumin Village, of course, was the village that Deng Xiaoping visited in 1984, during his first inspection trip to the SEZs. Xi Jinping followed up with a visit in 2012. So yes, this village has played an important symbolic role both in the ideological construction of post-Mao society and in representations of  pre-reform Shenzhen Bao’an County. What struck me as I flipped through the pages was how this transformation can be readily represented in the changing typology of “farmer housing (农民房)”. Continue reading

shen kong: flies, ants, termites, and locusts

In January 2014, anti-Mainland sentiment in Hong Kong resulted in protests calling for the “locusts” of Mainland smugglers to leave the territory and for border controls to be tightened against them. The expression “locusts” appeared again in a 2015 description of Mainland students studying at Hong Kong universities and “stealing jobs” from locals. A week ago, there was another burst of anger against “locusts”, this time against the small time parallel traders (“water guests or 水客“) who purchase goods in Hong Kong for resale in Shenzhen and other Mainland areas. In turn, pro-Mainland blogs have argued that “local termites harm Hong Kong more than locusts do (本土白蚁比蝗虫更损香港)”. Continue reading

a new year, a renovated seaworld

January 1, 2014. Shekou is preparing for the 30th anniversary of Deng’s 1984 visit to Shenzhen and Zhuhai, January 24-29. At the time, the tour was also an explicit celebration of Shekou, a different model of reforming and opening the Maoist apparatus. Images below are of renovations as of December 31, 2013. Yes, there is a light show. Yes, the transformers flash and when you ride the stationary bikes they blast a Beyond song that was popular in the mid-1980s. And yes, the Ming Wah is now in the water even as the coastline extends beyond Nuwa. Impressions of the upgrade, below:

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more from jonathan bach

Open Democracy’s Cities in Conflict project has a posted “Shenzhen: Constructing the City, Reconstructing Subjects” by Jonathan Bach, a scholar who crafts elegant and insightful essays on Shenzhen. Here’s a taste:

Premised on exports and experiment, Shenzhen is a city stretched between high expectations and the unintended consequences of constant expansion. Great expectations lie in its DNA; from Deng Xiaoping’s conviction that the creation of Shenzhen in 1979 would spur China’s reform and opening, to his prodding in 1992 that the city not “act as women with bound feet,” to current leader Xi Jinping’s symbolic choice of Shenzhen for his first official visit in December 2012 to signal his reform agenda. Shenzhen did meet expectations, and then some. As one of our greatest contemporary urban experiments, the staggering growth that made Shenzhen synonymous with the rise of “Made in China” must be regarded as much as the result of massive improvisation as of master planning. And today, what started as a city of exception is a site of an ongoing struggle to define the rule.

Visit Open Democracy not only to read this essay, but also to contextualize what’s happening in Shenzhen with respect to other mega-city projects worldwide.

demise of the shenzhen youth herald

In April this year, Cao Changqing (曹长青 who now operates an influential Chinese language news source) posted “Bo Xilai’s Father Destroyed the Shenzhen Youth Herald (薄熙来父亲灭掉《深圳青年报》)” to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the closing of the Shenzhen newspaper, where he began his career in journalism. The post was prompted by a conversations with Yan Jiaqi (严家其), who had been the Head of the Politics Department, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (中国社科院政治所长) during the 1986-87 student movement and was an advisor to both Hu Yaobang and his successor, Zhao Ziyang. Indeed, Yan Jiaqi himself would flee to Paris after his support of student protests in the 1989 democracy movement.

In the early years of reform, the Shenzhen Youth Herald was, along with Shanghai’s World Economic Herald (世界经济导报), one of the two most independent newspapers in China. Consequently, despite being a small newspaper, the Youth Herald had a national subscription base, providing Chinese intellectuals a platform for debating progressive ideas and evaluating ongoing experiments in reform Chinese society. On October 21, 1986, for example, the newspaper printed Qian Chaoying (钱超英)’s contraversial opinion piece, “I Support Commerade Xiaoping’s Decision to Retire (我赞成小平同志退休)”.

In the manner of traditional intellectuals, Shenzhen University professor of literature, Qian Chaoying’s writing style was sincere and humble, but the content was unmistakably radical. Moreover, the piece drew directly on and from Shenzhen’s experience, asking: Why must the People show our sincere and deep feelings for Deng Xiaoping by sacrificing further reform of the political system (为什么表达人民对小平同志纯朴深挚的普遍感情,就非要以延缓政治体制改革的进程为代价不可呢)? On Qian’s reading, Deng’s retirement would allow China to reflect on and establish a more just political system, a system that was more in keeping with the needs of reform, rather than a return to the cult politics, which had characterized the Cultural Revolution glorification of Mao Zedong.

Yan told Cao that Bo Yibo (薄一波, Bo Xilai’s father and one of the Eight Elders of the CCP) was not only furious about the opinion piece, but had also approached it as an attack the power of older and already retired leaders. During a meeting on political reform, Bo Yibo participated as a consultant. Zhao Ziyang was talking about the opinion piece with Peng Chong (彭冲). Upon overhearing the conversation, Bo Yibo became livid and is reported to have screamed at the younger leaders, “You are already fifty, sixty and seventy years old. We won’t die and you won’t rise (你们也五十六、七岁了吧?我们不死,你们也上不来).” Hu Qili (胡启立) was apparently so frightened that he immediately showed his support for the elders, wishing that the the old leaders of the proletarian revolution would live to a healthy old age (我们希望老一代的无产阶级革命家健康长寿). Importantly, at that closed meeting, Bo Yibo called for the Party to investigate who had written and the newspaper that had published the opinion piece. The word used, zhuicha (追查) meant to find out who Qian Chaoying was speaking for. Bo Yibo assumed that neither Qian Chaoying, nor the Youth Herald was acting as an independent voice, but rather was acting on behalf of one of the young reformers, most likely Hu Yaobang.

The opinion piece was published at a critical time in Central politics. Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, Deng Xiaoping’s “right and left hands” were pushing for further political liberalization. Less, than two months after the letter was published, students organized public protests across over a dozen cities in support of political and economic liberalization. Astrophysicist, Fang Lizhi (方励之) led the protests, calling for introducing political reforms that would ultimately end the one-Party system and the continuing use of government as an instrument of Party policy. Two other intellectuals, Wang Ruowang (王若望) and Liu Binyan (刘宾雁) also led the intellectuals. It is said that Deng disliked Fang, Wang, and Liu, directing Hu to dismiss them from the Party, but Hu refused. In the fallout, Hu was forced into retirement because it was said he had been too lenient with student protestors. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was also one of the victims of the 1987 crackdown. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was closed and Cao Changqing banned for life from working in journalism at the same time that Hu Yaobang was forced into retirement. Two years later, the Tian’anmen protests would begin when students gathered to eulogize Hu Yaobang. The now defunct World Economic Herald published an article supporting the students’ call to re-evaluate Hu’s legacy.

More Princeling drama: Guagua returns and possible public appearance by Bo Xilai

Yesterday, Epoch times reported that the FBI repatriated Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai’s son, Bo Guagua. Why should we care?

Before the 18th National People’s Congress opened, the Party had stripped Bo Xilai of his Party standing and his post, which is called “double removal (薄熙来双开)” and sentenced Gu Kailai to death, with a two-year probationary period. So one would think that the Congress would open and the folks at the top would get on with sentencing Bo Xilai and making official appointments. However, the 18th NPC has opened and we still don’t know what exactly is happening.

We can speculate, however, that with the repatriation of Guagua, apparently the United States has decided to help Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping do whatever it is they’re doing behind closed doors. It may be that Gu Kailai was actually poisoned, and Guagua needs to give evidence. It may also be that he knows something about his parents’ affairs. More importantly, whatever the legal reasons for dragging Guagau back home, the fact of his return seems to indicate that Hu Jintao and / or Xi Jinping have decided to break with Deng Xiaoping’s famous decision to spare Zhao Ziyang’s children from prosecution in the post Tian’anmen era.

Common wisdom holds that given the decision to deploy the military to squash the protests in 1989, Deng Xiaoping had no other option than placing Zhao Ziyang under house arrest. Nevertheless, he expressed his solidarity with his former protege by announcing that investigations into Tian’anmen would not include the children of prominent leaders. In fact, in the post-1989 era, Zhao Ziyang’s daughter, Wang Yannan (王雁南) has been active campaigning for the rehabilitation of her father and other leaders.

Deng Xiaoping’s decision to spare Zhao Ziyang’s four sons, let alone his wife and her family reflected a modern understanding of the family. Traditionally, when high-ranking officials were sentenced, the victims included “executing the nine branches of a lineage (灭门九族)”. Chinese kinship traditionally reckons lineage through the father-son relationship (agnatic descent-家族), but also distinguishes branches within the lineage through mother-daughter-and sister marriages (嫁). The nine kinship branches (九族) are:

  1. Father’s family, four kinship branches — self (kinship branches counted from eldest and other sons), married paternal aunts and cousins, married sisters and sisters’ children, married daughters and grandchildren;
  2. Mother’s family, three kinship branches — mother’s father’s family, mother’s mother’s family, and mother’s sister’s family;
  3. Wife’s family, two kinship branches — father-in-law’s family and mother-in-law’s family.

Obviously, contemporary Princeling court dramas are different from the Confucian first, second, third, and fourth wife scenarios a la Raise the Red Lantern (movie and book). This is why Bo Xilai’s first wife, Li Danyu could gossip with New York Times reporters about Bo-Gu family intrigue, while her and Bo’s eldest son Li Wangzhi can continue cattle farming. However, more colloquially, Guagua maybe be one of the implicated (株连) simply because his father has no other weakness and has yet to admit that he was wrong. After all, Gu Kailai did confess; Bo Xilai has made no public apologies or admissions of error.

Speculation du jour, if Princelings benefit from family connections, perhaps they can also be used against each other, especially against those like Bo Xilai, who might not otherwise bend. Bo Xilai will be sentenced in Guizhou, Guiyang. So to speculate even further, weibo has it, that on Monday, Oct 15, Bo Xilai will appear publicly in Guizhou, and inquiring minds want to know: how is this appearance connected to his younger son’s return?