The image that many have of Shenzhen is a collection of state-of-the-art buildings because for years, these towers have represented the city and its progress. These buildings, of course, not only represent important state-owned enterprises in the Shenzhen landscape (China Merchants and China Resources, for example), but also provide a particular map to the city: the downtown investment area, Huaqiangbei electronic markets, Overseas Chinese Town, the recently opened Hi-Tech area along Shenzhen Bay, and the Dameisha beach. The latest skyline montage includes architecture from all over the city (labeled to the best of my ability):
In 2006, I visited Dafen Oil Painting Village for the first time. This was several years before Dafen became an important landmark–both in and outside China–in the Shenzhen imaginary. This was also over a decade before the metro system connected Dafen to downtown. In fact, even the road signs reflected the segregation between “Shenzhen” and the rest of the city. Consequently, the first time I visited Dafen I experienced it as a typical urban village that produced an atypical product.
Images of the recently demolished area of New Hubei Village, including Luohu Culture Park, which used to be one of my favorite downtown sites. For those who have following the resistance to the demolition of “Ancient Hubei Village,” the demolitions have incited architects, urban planners, and public intellectuals to submit detailed counterproposals and cultural events to protect the area. These demolitions have risked destroying the older settlement. In the pictures you can see the section of Hubei New Village that is still standing, the blue steel roofs of Hubei ancient village, and and the surrounding skyscrapers of Luohu.
On October 14, 2018, Handshake 302 welcome a group of Chevening scholars to Baishizhou. We brought the Chevening scholars to seven of Baishizhou’s micro-environments. Each micro-environment not only illustrates the urban life of Shenzhen, but also represents an important moment in the city’s history. Continue reading
A current exhibition of the photography of He Huangyou (何煌友), Shenzhen Memory is something of a historical mashup. It includes many of He’s most-well known photographs, which have shaped our visual imagination of the Shenzhen before and at the cusp of reform. These photographs are well worth seeing in person. However, the exhibition neither contextualizes nor places the photographs in chronological order, leaving interpretation up to the viewer. This form of representation may in fact conform to what we know of how memory works–it is highly personal and unreliable–but it makes it difficult to place the images into larger histories. It feels as if we are suddenly viewing the illustrated introduction to the “fishing village to world city” narrative without bothering to mention that the exhibition includes pictures from at least three different coastlines and two different epicenters of reform (Shenzhen and Shekou).
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.
I came to Shenzhen by way of Houston circa 1995. It was a time when the boom had fizzled and young developers were just rediscovering the downtown. The city I inhabited was proud to live like a suburb with its lamentable public transportation, its ethnic strip malls and its destination malls like the Galleria. For street life, most of us bypassed the Montrose area, choosing instead to drive to Austin or San Antonio, which were further along in their urban renewals.