The second station on the Chinese side of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, Buji was an important Hakka market town that during the early years of reform was a center of manufacturing. Today, Buji is a street office (办事处) with an estimated population of over one million. Most Buji families live in an urban village and their children attend minban (民办) schools. A minban school is owned and operated by private companies, filling educational needs that are not met by the public school system. Elite minbans tend to be international and position graduates for university abroad. However, the most common type of minban school in Shenzhen is the urban village minban, which has been set up to educate children who are ineligible for a public education. The most common reason for being ineligible for a public education are hukou related; often families are not long-term residents of the city, which means their children are only eligible for public education back home, or the child was born outside the family planning policy and the parents cannot afford the fines to send the child to public school.
Outer district urban villages generally comprise four sections–the historic village settlement, the new village settlement, a commercial center, and an industrial park. As in the inner districts, in the outer districts demolition and forced evictions have transformed new villages even as mandated deindustrialization and participation in the creative economy have reshaped industrial parks. However, the question of what to do with the historic settlements is much more acute in the outer districts, especially in Kengzi (坑梓) and Pingshan (坪山), where large Hakka compounds have been condemned, but not scheduled for preservation. Up until five or six years ago, the compounds were still occupied and collectives managed them as rental properties. Today, however, although sections of the compounds have been opportunistically repurposed, nevertheless, the overall sense is increasingly one of ruin, as if we were waiting for the compounds to collapse and solve the problem of surplus history for us. Impressions from two of the Huang family compounds in Kengzi, below.
It’s instructive to jump off the number 11 subway line, once its passed the airport station. In Bao’an District, the No 11 line runs parallel to Bao’an Road, which delineates the inner border between the older, historic village settlements and their industrial parks. East of Bao’an Road, one heads toward the Pearl River, land reclamation, and scattered reminders of this deeper history. West of Bao’an Road, one heads through large industrial parks toward National expressway G107, which was the road that first connected the original Special Zone to Guangzhou via Songgang (images of a 2008 walk, here). At Nantou Checkpoint, National Highway 107 becomes Shannan Road and a fast track to the inner district real estate boom. Continue reading
The contrasts between the inner and outer districts are not immediately apparent because they are not juxtaposed in space, but rather through time; you need to travel (at least an hour, more by public transportation) from center city to its outskirts in order to viscerally experience the lived differences between here and there. Indeed, most people don’t make the trip (unless they live in one of the new gated communities along the subway lines that transport young managers and clerks and secretary types to their offices, most likely in Futian, because close examination reveals all subway lines–especially the high-speed and direct lines–converge in the city’s center) and even then, most don’t venture beyond the lines and malls because, well, there’s no time (true) and less interest (all too true).
Off the beaten track (or at least a 15 minute bus ride from the Longhua subway station), Dalang remains one of the manufacturing centers of Shenzhen as well as one of the few spaces where it is still possible to see container trucks of various sizes trundling about. The landscape itself is a dense mix of industrial parks, proper urban villages, collectively held property, and limited public and commercial property. In other words, the area retains much of its morphology from when Longhua was officially a market town (镇, 1986-2004) and the entire area was developed through rural institutions.
In the early spring, I arrived at the Songgang bus stop, “under the bridge”–a pedestrian overpass on the G107 expressway. The stop teemed with migrant workers and motorcycle cabbies, who screamed, “Where are you going?” Continue reading
This past week, I toured Shangling Old Village (上岭村) in Dalang. Decaying villages like Shangling contextualize the “what came after” success story that is SHENZHEN! And yet. This contextualization depends upon one, standardized (and quite frankly boring) narrative of rags to riches, sudden wealth, boom boom boom, etcetera etcetera and so forth. Continue reading
Today we held the design workshop for the Dalang graffiti festival. 27 people attended the workshop, which involved creating designs for manhole covers. With the exception of one individual, none of the participants admitted to having taken any art classes outside of school; none admitted to sending their children to art classes. All were immigrants and during their self introductions, they mentioned their hometowns; one made a joke that her hometown was “too small to have English names”. Next week, participants will take their designs and begin painting manhole covers at a workers’ dormitory, a neighborhood, and a school.
Dafen is now a destination, with artists posing as painters, and visitors posing with paintings. Meanwhile, the subway is open and many of the new developments are opening and real estate is booming, so that it’s now difficult to find the painting village–it’s a sinkhole in the midst of rising towers. Impressions, below:
It’s grave sweeping day, and the streets were empty. So my friend and I headed out to the Fenghuang Mountain Fenyan Ancient Temple. Neither of us have been and we were curious. However, it turns out that we couldn’t get into the temple because there were too many people burning incense and all traffic was being redirected. In the middle of the only traffic jam we encountered all day (including on Guangdong 107), I jumped out of the car and took a picture of the old pagoda at the Wen Tianxiang memorial; handshakes, many, many, many migrant workers, and a touch of something ancient. My friend mentioned that during the Cultural Revolution, they were only allowed to sweep the graves of revolutionary martyrs; no sweeping family graves. Today, however, although workers had the day off, most could not go home and so they had gone to the temple or to walk the mountain paths. Then, because we couldn’t find a parking spot from which to visit either the completely restored ancient village or the temple, we headed back to guannei. On our way to Shekou, we passed the former site of the Nanyou Building; once upon a time was an important landmark but is now a building site. We reminisced about how narrow and small Nanshan and Shekou used to be, as we approached the recently erected sign for the Shekou and Qianhai Free Trade Zone at the border between Shekou and Nanshan. Reading the sign, I realized that Shekou-Qianhai is not precisely a free trade zone, but rather a pilot free trade zone, which sounds ominously unstable, with the possibility of expanding or retracting at any moment. Ramble. Ramble. Ramble.