SZ8X80103//The_Myriad_Transformations//Cut and Pastiche: Hakka-scapes

There is this sense or perhaps compulsion to make sense of the city through its cultural history, as if history were the whole story and not some narrative, which has been retrofitted to the needs of the moment. This is not to say that the needs of the moment are unimportant, merely to highlight that what counts as history and when history may come to count (so to speak) are themselves effects of other social processes which may or may not have anything to do with what happened, but are (nevertheless) important to understanding what we think happened.  All this to say, answering the question “how did Hakka-scapes come to the foreground of Shenzhen’s current embrace of history?” requires double think: we not only need to rummage around to figure out what happened then, but also to posit why then-and-there have been positioned at the origin of here and now. Continue reading

one tradition, two villages

The entrance to Changling Village (长岭村) is located on the southern side of Luosha Road at the foot of Wutong Mountain. Before the construction of the Binhai Expressway (1999) and the opening of the East Coast Highway (2008) made traveling across Shenzhen commonplace, Changling marked the practical eastern edge of the early Special Zone. Today, however, Changling is conveniently located on the J1 bus route which connects Seaworld at the southern tip of the Nantou Peninsula to Dameisha on the eastern edge of the Dapeng Peninsula. The entire trip takes 90 minutes without traffic, but usually takes over two hours. Indeed, the J1 route traverses the entire Shenzhen-Hong Kong border, and its constituent roads—Houhai Road, Binhai Expressway, Binhe Road, Luosha Road, and Huishen Coastal Express—literally name the waterways and migrations that once shaped the area: Backwaters, Oceanside, Riverside, Luohu to Shatoujiao, Huizhou to Shenzhen. Continue reading

The P+V Academy

So these past few months, I have been busy setting up a public arts education program at the P+V Gallery (虔贞女校艺展馆) in Dalang. We’re calling this series of events, the P+V Academy (虔贞女校学堂). This name, of course, is an updated rendering of Pious Virgins Girls’ School and the project to create a space for alternative, minjian (民间) histories.

On Saturday, September 9, 2016 at 3 pm, we’re screening Shefong CHUNG’s “From Border to Border,” a documentary about the Hakka diaspora in India. The title, of course, alludes to the marginalization of the Hakka within both China and India. We are thrilled that the director will be joining us for the screening and discussion. If you’re in the neighborhood, join us.

Located in the middle of an urban village, the P+V Gallery is the only historically restored building in Shenzhen that offers public programing. It is truly worth a visit to experience both the city’s deep history as well as Dalang Street Office’s efforts to shape an alternative public culture. The “Children’s Art Sprouts” projects, which organizes a monthly arts course, including the sock puppets is part of the Academy’s offerings.

finding samuel lowe…in shenzhen

How have our parents’ and grandparents’, and their parents’ and grandparents’ sojourns–some forced, some voluntary, and some taken on a whim–shaped the people we have become? It is a quintessentially American question, and yet it resonates in Shenzhen where almost everyone of the city’s 20 million people have migrated here from somewhere else. It also resonates because before the establishment of the Special Zone, emigration–rather than immigration, departure rather than arrival–informed family trajectories. Continue reading

the “village” thing

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

minjian history

Inquiring minds want to know: what is minjian (民间)?

On Sunday, I became part of the scholarly committee (学术委员会) of the Devout and Chaste Girls’ School (虔贞女校)–a minjian organization. Other members in the group included architects, an archaeologist, an editor at a history journal of Bao’an District, an artist, and the Director of the Dalang Culture Office. The Dalang Vice Secretary of Culture also attended the meeting, but left early. In addition, clerical workers from the Department of Culture served tea and insured that the meeting ran smoothly. So what made us a minjian organization? Continue reading

the violence of rural (re)construction (5): lessons from shenzhen

So what am I learning about Shenzhen through my engagement with Meizhou forced evictions and the young people who are trying to figure out how to articulate new relations to their Hakka past and rural injustice? Continue reading

the violence of rural (re)construction (4): what gets preserved

Monday I joined the Meizhou preservationists in Enning Neighborhood Guangzhou, where we met to talk about how we could intervene in what was happening in Meizhou. There were two issues at stake. The first was straight-forward lay human rights–how do we help people keep their homes or guarrante a replacement home? The second was more abstract–what kind of buildings and spaces “ought” to be preserved for their historic value? Continue reading

the violence of rural (re)construction (2): hoodlum government

In everyday conversation, forced evictions and demolitions are thought to be widespread.
However, except through site visits and conversations with local people it is difficult to ascertain which cities are most widely affected because there is a moratorium on reporting about actual cases. The Chinese media “reports happy things and not things that cause worry (报喜不报忧)”. In a situation like Meizhou this means that it is easy to find building plans and economic projections, but nearly impossible (except through more privatized forms of communication such as blogs and we chat) to find any reportage on actual events in real time.

The silence about the actual situation not only isolates vulnerable communities from larger social help, but also obfuscates the government’s role in the process. In a word, because there is no independent source of news, there is also no way of confidently reading a situation. Rumors fly, fear spreads, and the expression “hoodlum government (流氓政府)” is used when people know that they are being threatened in the name of a government program, but do not know if those threatening them are members of the police force, a particular government bureau, or actual thugs-for-hire.

Unfortunately, with respect to rural construction (乡建), hoodlum government is supposed to be the norm rather than the exception because we’ve stopped giving the government the benefit of the doubt.

Reported detained are: Gu Zhengqi (古正q奇) and Gu Wenchang (古文昌). Villagers barricaded the road into their village to prevent bulldozers from entering. The barricade stretched between Gu Zhengqi and Ge Wenchang’s neighboring houses.

Reports of hoodlum government in Meizhou include:

1. Threatening to have a student’s college acceptance revoked if the head of house doesn’t sign over property rights;

2. Allowing for the destruction or decay of houses because there is no compensation for unusable buildings;

3. At the same time, preventing villagers from repairing their homes;

4. Refusing to give fair compensation for property when villagers do negotiate;

5. Filling in waterways to create roads. This gives government officials and their proxies access to villages and makes it impossible to maintain rice paddies, which require regulated inundation and drainage;

6. Disrupting village elections and appointing grassroots level leaders who support government policy;

And 7. Destroying villagers’ cellphones, cameras and recorders to prevent documentation of the process, which in turn also makes reporting on the situation a “he said, she said situation”.

Below are images from our trip to Meizhou. Villagers hold pictures of detained family members and receipts for hospital care after a beating. They are standing in front of there houses or where their houses used to stand. The documents show a villager appraisal of his home and government response. The standard rebuttal, “too expensive”.

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The other five entries in this series are:

Part I/ Meizhou: The Violence of Rural (re)Construction

Part III/ Meizhou: Living Genealogies

Part IV/ Meizhou: What Gets Preserved

Part V/ Meizhou: Lessons from Shenzhen

Meizhou VI/ Meizhou: Selected Translations

meizhou: the violence of rural (re)construction

This is the first part of a six-part essay, Meizhou: The Violence of Rural (Re)construction. Rural construction (乡建) is currently one of the most important debates in Shenzhen specifically and China more generally. As China’s “first city without villages”, Shenzhen has an important place in this debate. In fact, Shenzhen is held up by social progressives, real estate developers, and Party officials alike as a model of what rural construction should be. More locally, civic groups are beginning to organize around this issue in order to promote more just visions of the city.

Friday, September 19, 2014, we made the five-hour bus trip from Shenzhen to Meizhou. We were an assorted group of scholars, architects, and journalists, but we had joined documentary film maker Deng Shijie in common cause–to visit the Meizhou suburbs in order to bear witness to the human suffering that has resulted from current development policies. Shijie and his allies are central to a small, but meaningful citizenship movement in Shenzhen. Many of Shenzhen’s second-generation have become active in what we in the United States would call social justice issues, but which in Shenzhen operate under the glosses of philanthropy (公益) or social renewal (社会创新).

We arrived well past midnight, but were greeted warmly by villagers who are trying to voice their demands. Some want to maintain their current homes, others want more equitable compensation, and all want the government to bring out a viable and legal relocation and compensation plan. And that, of course, is the crux of the matter. The government’s plan to construct a new city notwithstanding there has been no release of a relocation plan. Instead, villagers are being bought and when that fails forced out of their residences. Two of the nastier strategies of displacement are (1) using the police and/or local thugs to harass and beat villagers until they sign off and (2) razing homes and then transferring money to villager escrow accounts. If the villagers use the money, the action is interpreted as acceptance of the government’s terms. If however the villagers do not use the money, after a five-year period the money will be returned to the Ministry of Land. There are also reports of villagers having been detained at local police stations in order to compel village heads of household to sign property transfer agreements. (For an introduction to China’s duel system of land ownership by way of Shenzhen, please see “Laying Siege to the Villages“).

The crude background to this travesty is the Chinese state’s commitment to making urbanization central to economic development and (more importantly) a criteria for promotion within the Party and government. In 2011, Meizhou began planning a new city on the rural land that was traditionally held by villages. However, urbanization directives accelerated in March this year when China released its National New Type Urbanization Plan. Subsequently, in September 2013, the Meizhou government released the Meizhou Jiangnan New City Detailed Plan (梅州江南新城详细规划) for public debate. The official discussion period was from September 24 to October 20, 2013. The plan was made available in three sites: the Meizhou Government Building, the plaza of the Jianying Park, and the municipal urban planning. However, according to villagers, the City continued to raze homesteads during this time. Additionally, the City also targeted traditional Hakka compounds and ancestral Halls. Architect Ye Yikun (叶益坤) has been the leading voice of opposition to demolishing historic architecture.

Below are images from our trip to several villages in the Meizhou suburbs.

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The other five entries in this series are:

Part II/ Meizhou: Hoodlum Government

Part III/ Meizhou: Living Genealogies

Part IV/ Meizhou: What Gets Preserved

Part V/ Meizhou: Lessons from Shenzhen

Meizhou VI/ Meizhou: Selected Translations