Impressions of Guangming New District

Located at the Dongguan border in the middle of Baoan District, Guangming New District (光明新区) remains surprisingly (within Shenzhen) agrarian. The settlement layout at the District center feels like a small market town and still runs along village paths, even though trucks rumble over the newly imposed traffic grid. The New District’s development has lurched along, hindered by its distance from both the Guangshen Highway and the Kowloon-Guangzhou Railway. In fact, according to a local villager, until the 1970s, no actual road connected the area to Shajing (in the west) and Loucun (in the east). Instead, villagers pushed wheelbarrows on a network of paths that threaded through lizhi orchards, around vegetable gardens, and into rural settlements.

Under Mao, Guangming was a farm (农场), a non-rural designation which had the same administrative rank as a commune (公社), but a different personal policy. Like a commune, farms were responsible for agrarian production. In contrast to commune farmers (农民), however, farm workers were state employees, receiving a monthly rice ration, food coupons, and housing. Practically speaking, farm workers were farmers with socialist benefits. In the Reform era, as Guangming was gradually integrated into the state apparatus, the farm remained not only the most organized institution in the area, but also the one with the most direct access to government monies, which could be redirected for capitalist purposes. Today, Guangming Farm is a tourist destination/ agrarian themepark/ playground (光明农场).

In addition, Guangming was a designated settlement first for Indonesian returned Chinese in the 60s and then for Vietnamese returned Chinese in the 80s (Wang Caibai provides a history of 归侨 as an official designation in the Chinese polity). This meant that the Returnees were integrated into the local work plan as farm labor, but were not given land rights, which have remained in either village or state hands. Indeed, even as late as 1990, then Guangming Market was posting laws pertaining only to Returnees. Nevertheless, the Returnees were often familiar with capitalism in ways that the local villagers were not and also, through family outside China had access to some investment capital. This is important because Guangming is not considered an Overseas Chinese Hometown. Moreover, as a remote part of Shenzhen, the area did not have immediate access to the early Hong Kong investment that went to border villages, even when there were no direct kin relations.

Today Guangming remains relatively clean and naturally beautiful. The local government is pushing renewable energy and resource development as well as suburban life styles in modern high rise developments. With the laying of new roads and the creation of an express bus route from the Shenzhen Bay border to Guangming, Shenzhen has made it easy for Hong Kong people to visit or move to these new developments. In addition, highways now make Guangming a short ride from the airport.

Due to its remote location and special designation, Guangming’s recent history is complicated and has produced a landscape that juxtaposes late Qing and Republican flat homes, Mao-era tile homes, handshakes, mid80s official housing, lizhi fields, mountains, several industrial parks, and construction sites, not only providing scenes for imagining what pre-reform Shenzhen was like, but also offering a space where another, more sustainable form of development might be pursued. Or so I hope. A walk through the center of Guangming New District, below.

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handshake urbanity — xinqiang community

In 2003, Shenzhen initiated a sanitation beautification project called the “clean, smooth, peaceful project (净畅宁工程)”. The aim of the project was to clean up roads and gutters and trash and beautify public areas, which included razing the shanty communities (棚户区) that once flourished deep in the area’s lychee orchards.

How common were the lychee orchard shanties? Continue reading

(光明新区)楼村: Of what use is [urban] planning?

Located in Guangming New District (光明新区), Lou Village has the largest area of any in Shenzhen and a villager population of 4,000. Of course, it is no longer Lou Village but Lou Village Neighborhood (楼村居委会) and its population is no longer under 5,000 — and therein lies today’s tale.

At the 15th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, the second line (二线) still divided Shenzhen into two distinct administrative structures, the SEZ (now called guannei or “inside the gate”) and Baoan and Longgang Districts (now called guanwai or “outside the gate”). The year was 1995 and Baoan and Longgang District governments had been built and staffed, 25 urban markets soon to be precincts (镇 into 街道办事处) had been designated, and consequently the work of incorporating over 200 guanwai villages into the municipal apparatus begun. Economic advancement was an important aspect of political incorporation precisely because 15 years into reform, Shenzhen had discovered that “allowing a few to get rich first (让一部分人先富裕起来)” undermined social stability. Continue reading

special is as special does

The new Qianhai Bay Shenzhen Hong Kong Modern Service Cooperative Zone (前海深港现代服务业合作区), which has been billed as “the Special Zone’s Special Zone (特区的特区)” illustrates the principal that in Shenzhen, the character “special (特)” is often most usefully translated as “privileged”.

As yet, the Shen Kong Zone does not exist; it will be created through reclaiming coastal land along the Pearl River Delta. However, it has been planned, approved, and contracts signed. Not unexpectedly, as the City revs up for a prosperous Year of the Rabbit, Qianhai has become a media focus.

What’s special about the new zone? One, it will be administered under Hong Kong law by a joint committee of Shenzhen and Hong Kong representatives and is thus, the latest incarnation of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. Two, in order to build the New Zone, the Eastern Coast of the Pearl River will be narrowed and the actual river bed deepened in order to serve even larger and more ships. Three, like Guangming and Pingshan New Districts, Qianhai is one of the few areas in the city with Government mandated competitive advantage.

Clearly, Shenzhen and Hong Kong are cooperating in order to create one of the largest and most comprehensive service ports in the world. The media is gushing about all the money that this project will bring to the two cities specifically and the Delta more generally. However, as development rights have already been allocated, the money that will be earned there has already been divvied up and so what we’re left with is a promise that trickle down economics might kick in at some point.