baishizhou: the city’s history through seven micro-environments

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

the photography of he huangyou

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).

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坑梓: what to do with all this history?

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.

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late arrivals: thoughts on catch-up urbanism

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.

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the left behind

Here’s the thing about the retreat of manufacturing from the townships and villages of the Pearl River Delta; these areas have urbanized, migrants have settled in and are raising families, but as the low-end jobs and shops that once sustained local and migrant communities follow the factories elsewhere, these neighborhoods are withering. Consider, for example, the older section of Dongguan–莞城, which only twenty years ago was a vibrant community and today is an abandoned reminder of the area’s complicated history with Ming pirates and British opium, its deep relationships with the late Qing Chinese diaspora, and the Pearl River Delta’s urban village origins. Old Dongguan has become a focus of concern for urban planners and concerned citizens: how to revitalize an “old street” that is no longer viable, but sits on prime real estate, or more precisely, inquiring minds want to know: to raze or not to raze historic areas and landmark buildings? Continue reading

a bully’s honor

As I watch the US president scream and shout and justify his socio-pathologies, as I  engage low-ranking officials who change their minds and force their subordinates to work unnecessary overtime everyday, and as I argue with parents who think that their children are not “strong enough (不够厉害)” to take what they want in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies and institutional forms of bullying that are misrecognized as education or leadership or honor and virtue. Like many in the United States, a significant number of Chinese people accept social Darwinism as an accurate description of “the real world,” rather than recognizing social Darwinism for the self-serving misreading of evolutionary theory that it is.

Then, after a grumble about the normalization of bullying in everyday life, I continue reading E. J. Eitel’s Europe in China: the History of Hongkong from the beginning to the Year 1882, which compounds my frustration with righteous bullies and their inability to empathize with anyone’s pain, including their own. I manage three sentences before the arrogance, misogyny and general smugness of Eitel’s text force me to consider if I really want to read over 600 pages of what must have been considered “edifying” reading material. The text does make clear is the extent to which imperial bureaucracies, colonialism and some misplaced yearning for civilization continue to overdetermine the hierarchies and injustices that characterize contemporary societies. Continue reading

a special zone avant la lettre: old shajing

If you’ve had the privilege of walking Old Shajing with anthropologist Cheng Jian (程建), you know that the Chens settled the area during the Southern Song (960-1127). You also know that the Chen family network stretched throughout Dongguan and Xin’an Counties and that when most of Xin’an was abandoned during the Qing Dynasty relocation order (迁海令1644—1661), significant sections of Shajing remained settled despite the fact that it fell squarely within an area controlled and/or influenced by Koxinga (an honorific from 國姓爺; pinyin: Guóxìngyé; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Kok-sèng-iâ, his name was 郑成功). Clan members also received special dispensation that allowed them to travel into the coastal no-man’s land to harvest sea salt. That’s right: administrative borders, cross border exceptions, and concomitant territorial reorganization have a deep history in the area.

Koxinga_territory

Map of coastal areas either occupied by (red) or under the influence of (orange) Koxinga.

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