handshake 302: WeChat connections

Handshake 302 has been we-chatting in Chinese for half a year now. We are now starting to offer updates in English as well. If you scan our barcode (above), you will receive updates in English and Chinese about one of Shenzhen’s most vibrant public arts projects. The updates also include information about upcoming events and instructions about how to join our events. Welcome to the conversation!

handshake with the future

opens on Sunday and students from Guangdong Xin’an Polytechnic are hard at work!

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idiots we be…

…and yes “we” is you white man. I began this morning grappling with the problem of statistical representation and sustainable imaginaries in the Pearl River Delta, which has roughly the same GDP as Switzerland spread over an area that is only 1.3 times greater than Switzerland. So yes, I live in an important region of the global economy. But here’s the rub: the PRD has a population that is almost 8 times that of Switzerland. This means that sustainable development in the PRD entails grappling with issues at a scale much greater and with fewer resources per person than in Switzerland.  Continue reading

pointless inc at 302!

On Friday, May 7, the performance artist 坚果兄弟 (nut brothers) spoke at Handshake 302 about his recent piece, “30 Occupations”. 坚果兄弟 specializes in extended performances of absurd situations. He especially enjoys (and yes, the word is “enjoys”) creating pieces that blur the boundaries between art and everyday and thus highlight the delicate balance required to maintain plausible fictions such as “work is meaningful” or “art is special”. Thus, he tends to work with none artists in everyday spaces, where the “audience” that gathers may or may not realize it is a performance piece. Continue reading

shekou redux

For those following the shifts in Guangdong structure, you noticed that yesterday Shekou, along with Qianhai, Nansha, and a bit of Zhuhai was designated a self-governing trade zone (自贸区). Inquiring minds want to know: what does that mean? Speculation abounds and adjustments are coming, but there seem to be two key points. Continue reading

2013 gaokao update

I find the gaokao process daunting: so many rounds of admissions, so many different variables — including hometown and quota requirements — to consider, so many practice tests and, in the end, so few points difference between students.

That said, the gaokao season began with registration (Dec 1-10, 2012), testing to estimate admission baselines, and has just completed mock exams (April 2-20). The mock exams give students, parents, and teachers an estimate of likely test scores, which can be compared to historic results in order to decide on which program to apply. We have entered the final phase of test preparation, during which time students take tests and refine their baseline estimates. On June 7 and 8. 36,633 students will sit for the exams in Shenzhen, unless, of course they have an abnormal pre-exam medical check-up. Students with physical ailments will be permited to take make-up exams on June 17-18.

xi jinping rocks shenzhen

On his first trip out of Beijing, Xi Jinping visited Shenzhen and none of the streets or areas were cordoned off. And he walked the unguarded walk with Wang Yang, proponent of ongoing neoliberal reforms (transparency and ending corruption). Weibo went wild. As the two toured, Shenzhen residents swarmed taking pictures and uploading them to weibo, taking the trip as a sign that Guangdong may be the first Chinese provence to actually take on corruption.

“Anti-corruption” is, of course, the new content of political “reform”. Hence Xi Jinping’s explicit and repeated references to Deng Xiaoping. The trip itself inscribed the cartography of neoliberal reforms that are glossed as the Shenzhen Model, visiting the Qianhai Cooperation Zone and Tengxun’s corporate headquarters — both symbolize Shenzhen’s role emergence as a leader in new forms of international investment and high technology. In addition, Xi Jinping’s southern tour not only celebrated the 20th anniversary of Deng’s 1992 southern tour, but also included a visit to Luohu’s Yumin Village, the village that became famous during Deng’s 1984 tour. And in case anyone missed the point — Deng Xiaoping reformed Maoism, Xi Jinping will reform corrupt practices — Xi Jinping laid a wreath of flowers at Deng’s statue in Lianhua Park.

It is in this context that “no cordons” between the Party Secretary and the Shenzhen People resonated so strongly. One of my friends commented on the weibo posts saying, “If the biggest (老大) is willing to go out unprotected, the rest of them won’t dare to set up cordons!”

Another replied, “Well Comrade Jiang keeps himself safe.”

“Bah,” was the immediate reply, “He’s an old man, so we’ll give him face. That’s just a question of respect.”

This brief conversation hints at the cultural context of anti-corruption / political reform in China. Both friends were correct. On the face of it, Xi Jinping and new best friend Wang Yang are anti-corruption. Yet, they confront an entrenched power structure that doesn’t retire. All this conjecture matters because many of us are hopeful that Guangdong will be the first province to require corporations and public officials to release financial records to public scrutiny. This is being called “the clean government storm (廉政风暴)”, another reference to the Shekou Model, the Shekou Storm of 1988, when Yuan Geng protected students from investigation by visiting Beijing officials.

union elections in shenzhen

In keeping with Shenzhen’s place at the core of Guangdong reforms, Shenzhen has announced that 163 companies with more than 1,000 employees will introduce elections for union leaders. These elected representatives will then work with the City, District and Precinct level union organizations in order to represent worker rights in negotiations with company management. According to Southern Daily, the impetus for this move has been ongoing independent worker demands for better wages and benefits. Indeed, the first company to implement the election system was OMO, a German company with a plant at Bantian. The article notes that holding union representative elections seemed to have dispelled worker dissatisfaction.

I’m not sure how to interpret this development other than to note that provincial Party Secretary, Wang Yang is actively promoting this reform. Indeed, as we approach the Two Conferences season, Wang Yang has been very active promoting “Happy Guangdong (幸福广东)” and its recognizably middle class values. It is also worth mentioning that the targeted 163 companies are large and many are foreign. Hopefully progressive change at larger plants will help less protected members of the workforce. The problem, of course, is that like the US American workforce, the Chinese workforce is fragmented into segments that receive more and less protection depending not only on worker skills, but also public visibility. Large, international companies are monitored not only by Chinese unions and news media, but also to some degree by foreign groups and media. In contrast, a large segment of the population works under unseen conditions in smaller factories, restaurants, and services or does piecework at home.

But still. One hopes.

the secret to happiness…

Yesterday, Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang (汪洋) addressed the 11th Guangdong Provincial Congress of Party Representatives, making five statements which have set him apart from other high-ranking leaders. Once a rival of Bo Xilai for a place in the 18th Naptional People’s Congress appointments, Wang Yang has also made his gesture to gain the support of the people. However, where Bo Xilai went poor populist, Wang Yang’s speech has me remembering the Province’s historic role in the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, when 100 years ago, with its links to overseas Chinese and relatively advanced economy, Guangdong was the cradle of China’s bourgeois revolution, in contrast to the rural uprising that Mao Zedong transformed into a socialist revolution. Wang Yang is a leader for China’s emergent and increasingly vocal middle class. And yes, many of them live in the Pearl River Delta.

Wang Yang’s Five Statements

1. The People are the agent that makes history, as well as the agent that constructs and enjoys Happy Guangdong. The people have the right to pursue happiness; it is the responsibility of the Party and the government to benefit the People. We must discard the mistaken idea that the People’s happiness is a result of the Party and government’s benevolence. (人民群众是创造历史的主体,也是建设和享有幸福广东的主体。追求幸福,是人民的权利;造福人民,是党和政府的责任。我们必须破除人民幸福是党和政府恩赐的错误认识.)

2. We need to discard unwritten rules and bad habits, creating a just, lively, and orderly social environment, where those who follow the rules don’t suffer, where talented people can take the lead, and can pursue and create their own happy life to the best of their ability. (破除潜规则陋习,创造公平公正、活力有序的社会环境,让守规矩的人不吃亏,让有本事的人有奔头,各尽所能地追求和创造自己的幸福生活.)

3. The greatest threat to the Party’s long-term political control is becoming too far from the masses. Our Party can only achieve eternal success to the extent that it comes from the People, is rooted in the People, and serves the People. (党长期执政的最大危险是脱离群众。只有始终坚持来自人民、植根人民、服务人民,我们党才能永远立于不败之地.)

4. We need the courage to use personal revolution to firmly destroy the interests that have turned their backs on socialist market economic reforms in order to resolve problems of government agents exceeding their function, absenting their function, and mistaking their function, making government into a provider of public goods and services. (我们要以自我革命的勇气,坚决打破背离社会主义市场经济改革方向的利益格局,解决政府职能越位、缺位、错位等问题,使政府真正成为公共产品和公共服务的提供者.)

5. Guangdong’s market society has already begun to change… If we take hold of this opportunity, we can breakthrough many difficulties and problems on the road ahead of us, smoothly entering the ranks of more modern areas; if we don’t take hold of this opportunity, we may be unable to escape “the middle income trap”, stagnating and retreating, and the advances we have already made could be lost.  (广东经济社会已经步入转型期……把握得好,我们就能破解前进道路上的各种困难和问题,顺利步入比较发达的现代化地区行列;把握得不好,我们就有可能跨不过‘中等收入陷阱’,出现停滞和倒退,已经取得的发展成果也有可能断送.)

Shajing Wanfeng Community learns from Wukan

Weibo reports that on the afternoon of April 8, 5-600 Wanfeng (万丰社区) community members/ villagers took to the street to protest Community Secretary and  Wanfeng Ltd CEO, Pan Qiang’en selling off collective lands for private profit. The protests began February 17, when 20-30 elder villagers gathered outside village offices and have continued until today.This afternoon, Epoch Times reported on the event, noting that villagers are calling for an accounting of the past twenty years. Currently, Wanfeng Community has an area of 6.8 sq km and a population of 2,067. Most are surnamed Pan. It is estimated that over 50,000 migrant workers also live in Wanfeng.