Current maps to Huaqiangbei suggest a state-of-the-art maker experience. High tech and high concept, these representations would have you forget how ordinary, how banal globalization actually is. The stuff of everyday life.
A week in Delhi, thinking about globalizing urbanization and its proliferating urbanisms with the wonderful team at the Centre for Policy Research and colleague Fu Na from Shenzhen Center for Design. Currently, untangling so many thoughts about infrastructure, waste generation, generosity, desire and inequality, heat, color and spice, traveling impressions of china, gender, aggression, and the mental barbed wire necessary to construct “Delhi” out of a few days walking tour. This trip also has me noticing the stories that I notice, some documented, below.
Shenzhen’s most recent Party Secretary, Ma Xingrui (马兴瑞) infamously told Shenzhen and its boosters to get over the jubilation for its recent rise in international prestige. On the one hand, there is something snarky and mean spirited about Party Secretary Ma’s scolding. After all, Shenzhen’s raison d’etre has been to make a place for itself in the emergent world order and for most of its existence, Shenzhen has been ignored by Beijing-centric views of China (both in and outside China). On the other had, many agree with his assessment that Shenzhen is not yet a first rank world city.
The new Party Secretary’s surname—Ma—is a homophone with the character for “scold / tell off” (骂)”. In that spirit, the OCT Lifestyle website put out an article in which Shenzhen clearly comes in second behind world class cities such as Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. With Beijing the comparison is about the internet. Hong Kong stands for level of globalization, Taiwan a sense of well-being, Japan for professionalism, and Singapore for the ability to attract and keep talent. In other words, Shenzhen wants to be best at all of that, which may in fact be its charm—composite rather than first rank across categories. Continue reading
Shenzhen is gearing up for the Maker Faire, and clearly there’s a bit more than hype in the mix. Seems all sorts of folks are interested in connecting to larger markets via “the Silicon Valley of hardware” — Shenzhen. Of note du jour: the Hax Accelerator Program:
How It Works: Selected teams relocate to our offices in Shenzhen, China for 111 days, where they’ll finalize prototypes and learn to scale their businesses with the help of our awesome full-time staff and extensive mentor network.
Each week, you’ll meet with advisors who will offer feedback on your team’s evolving strategy and prototypes, as well as provide valuable insight about how to scale a company in terms of manufacturing, supply chain management and distribution.
The final 2 weeks of the program will be spent refining your pitch, in preparation for our demo day showcase and launch event in San Francisco. Then it’s time to get some press, meet with investors, and (optionally) kick off a killer crowdfunding campaign!
Contextualize what’s happening in Shenzhen with respect to cities elsewhere. Love open source, wish the scholarship was as easily accessible–hee!
Yesterday at MoMA I saw an exhibition curated by the Network Architecture Lab, Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms For Expanding Mega-Cities. The exhibition struck me as very house of representatives with archi-biennale characteristics; the curators chose a representative city from each continent and then presented these cities through blow-up charts and video. Thus: NYC represented North America; Rio represent South America; Istanbul represented Europe; Lagos represented Africa; Hong Kong represented East Asia, and; Mumbai represented the Indian subcontinent. More interestingly, perhaps, the museum layout, especially in context of the third floor’s permanent architecture exhibitions, had me thinking about the looming, unrecognized figure of China and how we need to re-think not only urbanization, but also the critical frameworks in which we think about mega-cities. Continue reading
Yesterday I had the honor and pleasure of participating Shenzhen: From Factory of the World to World City, a conference hosted by the International New Town Institute. What did I learn? Continue reading
We hear stories of forced evictions and demolitions from Meizhou. These simple and brutal stories of State violence in order to dispossess peasants of their traditional landholdings sound all too familiar. The enemy is fast, omnipresent, and faceless, found in whispered rumors and chronic anxiety. The peasants’ furious screams and disjointed protests do not clarify the situation, but instead seem to work against them, further alienating them from urbane cool and ironic discourse.
Consider, for example, the tale of a 70+ grandma who had refused to sign over her land rights and sell her home. She occupied her home to protect her home. However, one day she needed to go shopping for a few everyday necessities because there was no one at home to help her. Less than an hour later when she returned home, “they” had already demolished her house. She had nowhere to go and nothing to bring with her. One can only imagine what she feels watching bulldozers raze the material conditions of her life. Suddenly, she is stripped to existential despair and helplessness in the face of relentless progress.
Yesterday I attended a screening of ongoing documentation of the situation in Meizhou. The salon was hosted by Shi Jie (in photo), a young documentary filmmaker currently based in Shenzhen. He has been documenting naratives of ongoing dispossession, bearing witness to the injustice of rural urbanization and concomitant suffering. First story online (in Hakka with Chinese subtitles). Shi Jie held the salon to discuss strategies to create solidarity between Shenzhen youth–especially young Hakka migrants–and the Meizhou peasants.
The conversation brought up three issues: (1) the need for peasants to articulate their demands in a more “urban” language, such as historic preservation or environmental conservation because the story of forced evictions and land dispossession was too common to become a media focus; (2) the need for the film makers to map the competing interests, including government dependence on land sales to meet their budget, the leading developers and the scale of investment;and (3) the need for the film makers to state their aims clearly, who was their intended audience and to what end?
Shijie’s savvy use of social media notwithstanding it is apparent that the heart of his effort is small, local and face-to-face interactions where he raises a fourth issue: how might those of us in Shenzhen is how to ameliorate an untenable situation?
We speak glibly of Shenzhen as a “global city” and of the importance of “globalization”, drawing attention to “economic forces” and “Chinese politics”. Indeed, these simple phrases help us manage the alienating and dissonant fallout of truly thinking about what it means that our everyday lives stretch out across networks we do not fully see and dependent upon processes we cannot predict, let alone control.
Yesterday, for example, I walked from the Shenzhen Bay Checkpoint to my house on Shekou Industry #8 Street. I passed several hundred cross-border pre-schoolers and elementary students on their way home, another Shenzhen Bay development project (north on Dongbin Road), and a clean collection plastic container to collect clothing donations for poor and/or destitute areas of the interior (neidi). Globalized footsteps indeed. Each of these events represented individual and/or collective attempts to navigate and use international and domestic borders. We can speculate on why parents might send their young children on hour-long treks from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. We can provide Marxist analysis for land reclamation and real estate development in Shenzhen Bay. We can note the rise of philanthropy as Shenzhen’s middle class solidifies its self-identity as caring for neidi communities. But at every twist of thought, the totality of what the city might or might not be, slips away and we resort to chasing the next idea that bumps awareness.
The earth feels solid. The concrete reflects south Chinese heat. The tacky red heart symbolizes an actual desire to improve the world. There is a here and now that seems reliable, until we start thinking. And then, once again, a massive, unwieldy mess of global cogitation distorts the all too ordinary edges of everyday life and we suddenly suspect that life really might be elsewhere.
Reading Walter Benjamin’s Mickey Mouse fragment after the Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art by way of the Cultural Revolution and rural urbanization in Shenzhen reminds us that the revolutionary and the subversive refers to potential here and now, not any particular artistic form or genre. Anyway, I was reminded that the Mickey Mao pun is compelling and not actually shocking: they really do go together like vinegar and oil on a global word salad. Anyway, I was playing with photoshop and mashed up Mickey and Mao and came up with Steamboat Mao, a tribute to Benjamin that plays on Mao’s status as the Great Helmsman and Mickey’s former status as the ultimate underdog:
The Mickey Mouse fragment comes from from a conversation among Walter Benjamin, Gustav Gluck and Kurt Weill:
Property relations in Mickey Mouse cartoons: here we see for the first time that it is possible to have one’s own arm, even one’s own body, stolen.
The route taken by Mickey Mouse is more like that of a file in an office than it is like that of a marathon runner.
In these films, mankind makes preparations to survive civilization.
Mickey Mouse proves that a creature can still survive even when it has thrown off all resemblance to a human being. He disrupts the entire hierarchy of creatures that is supposed to culminate in mankind.
These films disavow experience more radically than ever before. In such a world, it is not worthwhile to have experience.
Similarity to folk tales. Not since fairy tales have the most important and most vital events been evoked more unsymbolically and more unatmospherically. All Mickey Mouse films are founded on the motif of leaving home in order to learn what fear is.
So the explanation for the huge popularity of these films is not mechanization, their form; nor is it a misunderstanding. It is simply the fact that the public recognizes its own life in them.