…and what happens to people after they leave shenzhen and return home?

Heshun is a township located in Tengchong, which these past few years has been heavily promoted by the Yunnan Tourist industry. Heshun is indeed a fun place to stop off and explore for a day or two. In addition to enjoying great local food, jade, hot springs, and Bai ethnicity architecture, tourists can learn about the role of Han Chinese in the history of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and the mainland territory of Malaysia. In Heshun, specifically, Han families tell multiple stories of cross-border family ties with settlements in Myanmar. In fact, in the Cun Ancestral Hall, the jeweled portraits of important ancestors were produced in Myanmar, while last year the wood for renovating the ancestral hall was imported from Myanmar. According to the tour guide, the wood cost over 5 million rmb.

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constructing the countryside: kaihua, zhejiang

On Sept 17, I joined members of the Shenzhen based NGO, 观筑 (ATU Architectural Development Communication Center) on a one-day five village tour of Kaihua County (开化县) in Zhejiang. Kaihua is relatively underdeveloped with respect to the economic powerhouses, Hangzhou, Wenzhou, and Ningbo, which are all located in Zhejiang. With respect to Shenzhen, Kaihua like much of rural Zhejiang has been a source of migrant labor. In addition, the Shenzhen Zhejiang Merchants Association is active, and Zhejiang people to be found across the class and professional spectrum of immigrants.

The purpose of the trip was to deepen a conversation between the Kaihua Government and ATU about how to better pursue what is know as 乡村建设 (construction of the countryside). Kaihua is developing leisure tourism for families and yuppies from nearby Shanghai and Hangzhou. ATU has offered to provide a sustainable and relatively low-capital investment plan for the County.

A few notes about the trip.

1. The connection between Kaihua and Shenzhen happens at two levels. First, one of the ATU members is from Kaihua and was elementary school classmates with the current Party Secretary of Kaihua. However, the actual project will be institutionally mediated.

2. The conversation about constructing the countryside is a huge issue in Shenzhen, and taking shape in diverse forms that range from documentary film-making to the ATU project.

3. A Hong Kong professor and students provided a basic design principle for one of the villages, and it seemed the most ready for tourists seeking a leisurely rural excursion.

4. The villages aren’t obviously materially deprived because 30 years of remittances have paid for the construction of new homes. In turn, the villages seem, at first uncontextualized glance, to resemble US American Mac-mansions in an underpopulated suburb.

5. In point of fact, one of the impulses behind the leisure tourism plan is ongoing outmigration. The majority of Kaihua residents are grandparents and young children who have not yet or cannot (for whatever reasons) join their parents in one of the coastal cities.

6. One of the attractions of leisure tourism is 农家乐 (happy at the farmer’s home), where farmers provide guests with fresh, often organic meals. Kind of B&B with Chinese characteristics. As with American B&Bs, the point is a rural excursion without actual agriculture. Successful farmers now farm for themselves and their guests. Indeed, the point is to wash one’s feet and leave the paddy (洗脚上田), further marginalizing agricultural work and those who cultivate the rice, produce, and meat that we eat.

7. The villages are connected by a river and stretches of national forest, which may in time be connected through walking trails. But in the meantime, Kaihua might prove an interesting destination for folks with a motorcycle and curiosity about how the Chinese countryside is changing.

Below is a meander through five villages. The tour begins at a newly built resort in the national forest.

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春运: Where’s home?

From Jan 19 through Feb 27, 2011 we float through the happy daze of 春运 or “Spring [Festival] Movement.” Indeed, the scale of Spring Movement merits its own website. Possibly of more interest to anthropologists, the scale of movement provides another opportunity to wonder about how the tension between hometown feelings and making oneself at home shapes Shenzhen identity.

The Municipalitaty estimates that during Spring Movement, Shenzhen’s land, sea, and air borders will be crossed over 9.4 million times, an increase of 700,000 from 2010’s official Spring Movement stats. However, folks have already started travelling and some, like me will leave during Spring Movement, but return after. Or leave before and return during? So again, shakey figures. Should we go with an estimated 10 million holiday related border crossings?

Other facts shed interesting light on the scale of Shenzhen’s Spring Movement. During these five weeks, the city guarantees that everyday, 9,000 buses will be leaving and returning to the city; in addition to the City’s 1,640 chartered buses, another 2,000 charted buses have been loaned to the City; the downtown and west railway stations will fill 960,000 seats before Feb 3; the airport guarantees 500 flights per day.

The point is that Spring Movement is not simply important, but also one of the events that the government takes very, very seriously. Indeed, going home for the holidays is, among my friends, a self-evident good and therefore a necessarily political event; for officials, problems during Spring Movement can be carreer ending. For many migrants to Shenzhen, Spring Festival makes immigration meaningful. Some may have come to try something new and find new opportunities, but most understand (and endure) the process of migrating to Shenzhen in terms of families elsewhere.

A friend explained to me the feeling of eating with her family.

“I used to think it was really annoying to be with my parents because they nag and stick their noses where they don’t belong. However, once in Shenzhen I had to eat by myself. Everytime, I eat alone, I really miss the feeling of being with my parents. As soon as I get home, they rush down five flights of stairs, carry my suitcase for me, and bring me into a warm room with a big table of food. It’s so comfortable and I’m not lonely, not like in Shenzhen.”

And then she sighed because after the holiday, she’ll return to Shenzhen, alone, to continue working at a job she doesn’t really like so that she can continue to send remitances to her parents, who in turn, will save the money for the next Spring Festival reunion.