what’s up with “10,000 villages”?

The latest Vanke endeavor is called 万村 or “10,000 Villages,” which is a pun on the first character for Vanke (万科). Basically, Vanke has been busy demolishing and upgrading villages around China. According to Vanke founder and former CEO, “10,000 Villages” is a work of the heart. And yet. Now that 10,000 Villages has come to Shenzhen, there has been an outcry against upgrading urban villages because the effect is to eliminate the cheapest accommodations, forcing those who live there to leave the village and find housing elsewhere. Of course, there aren’t many housing options for someone who can only afford the cheapest housing in a unrennovated urban village.

One of the more interesting developments in this ongoing outrage has been the “Open Letter to Foxconn Staff,” which petitions by Foxconn for raises because employees can no longer afford to live in the upgraded villages. In fact, even monthly raise of 100-300 yuan can have serious consequences for workers’ wellbeing. For many, the increase in rent is a significant portion of the money they have been saving or sending home. In a nutshell, despite Wang Shi’s confidence game that the 10,000 Villages project is making China a warmer, better housed place, in Shenzhen the facts suggest otherwise.

莞城: a visit to old dongguan city

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t realize the loveliness that awaits you in “Guan Cheng,” the old section of Dongguan City. And yes, the surprise adds to the pleasure of strolling its meandering streets and riverside boulevards. Ke Yuan (可园), which comes from the expression “lovely garden” is open to visitors. It is an example of Lingnan sensibility and was a key site for the development of Lingnan style painting. Impressions, below.

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remembered origins

For those who haven’t visited the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, it’s worth a trip if only to check out where the story begins. All stories of the Special Economic Zone begin with Deng Xiaoping, however, the historical problems that Deng Xiaoping is said to have solve differ from museum to museum. At the Shenzhen Museum of History, for example, Deng Xiaoping solves the historic problem of colonialism. In contrast, at the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, he solves the social problems that were caused by political mistakes–famine during the Great Leap Forward and relative poverty during the Cultural Revolution.

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eccentric skylines

I visit urban villages because they allow space for eccentricity, for unexpected juxtapositions that suggest the contours of history. And yes, these spaces are not simple agrarian settlements, but sites where wealth has accumulated for several hundred years, where ideas about what that history might mean have taken alternative forms. Continue reading

a state beyond the state

Just finished reading Ting Chen’s A State beyond the State: Shenzhen and the Transformation of Urban China, which maps how land was assigned and developed over the course of 35 years of development in Shenzhen. One of my favorite sections in the book tracks the transformation of Shahe State Farm, pre-1979 Bao’an County’s only danwei into Baishizhou, the city’s most iconic urban village. Indeed, Chen’s meticulous maps suggest how the area has mediated rural-urban conditions since 1959, when the farm was established. Continue reading

education through time (sz book of changes, ep 6)

what happens when memories can’t keep pace with change?

“Shenzhen Speed” has become a catchphrase amongst urban planners and journalists, makers and ordinary citizens to describe the transformation of Bao’an County into Shenzhen Municipality. In less than forty years, highways have replaced lychee orchards, high-rises have replaced oyster fields, and wi-fi has become as common as coffee shops and fast fashion. Boom!

Here’s the thing: the speed of historical transformation may be blinding us to how quickly we’re forgetting how we got here. Continue reading