I walked from Coastal City to Shenzhen Bay Park via Talent Park. It is a stunning venture, where it is possible to experience the best of what Shenzhen offers–futuristic architecture, sparkling coastline, and expansive skies–without having to deal with the consequences thereof–overbuilding, monopolized waterways, and pollution. Indeed, as in the city’s beautiful parks, this stretch of modern living embodies the goals, aspirations, and ideologies of reform and opening.Continue reading
By 2003, the oyster farmers who worked the coastline that would be reclaimed as Ocean City were removed so that more coastline could be reclaimed. At the cusp of that transformation, I walked the coast that was still littered with oyster shells, sanpans, and poles that had been used for fishing nets. An old border tower stood, unused for years until it would be occupied by squatters after the next phase of reclamation.
In “City on the Fill,” I have been tracking the transformation of the Houhai coastline. Houhai means “backwater” and Qianhai means “front water.” These are terms from over 1,700 years ago, referring to the bays behind and in front of the former yamen at Nantou. Both Houhai and Qianhai have been repurposed in Shenzhen 3.0. Houhai has transformed from being a literal backwater at the edges of Shenzhen 1.0 and upscale suburbs in Shenzhen 2.0 to the new location of the city’s upgraded electronics industry. Qianhai, of course, is the site of the Qianhai-Shekou Free Trade Zone, which has defined development in Shenzhen for about a decade and is itself proposed as the new center of 3.0. (Inquiring minds want to know: will it happen?)
You may be wondering, how much more literal a representation of a cultural ecology can we get than that of a prospector walking a grid on reclaimed land? Not many prospected on the rubble beneath Coastal City, circa 2006, but for a few brief years–after the fill had dried but before it had settled–the stretch of bay which would become Coastal City, the Nanshan Cultural Area, including the Shenzhen Bay Arena and Talent Park gave rise to a strange ecology of squatters, tree farmers, hi-tech garbage pickers, and children who set off firecrackers at the city’s edges. The images below, for example, were taken one overcast day in April 2006 at the former site of a squatting community and the future site of the Tencent building. That day, several men had driven onto the land fill in order to fly their planes.
So one of the ongoing transformation in Shenzhen has been the transvaluation of the coastline from a space of production and transportation to a space of consumption and international logistics. In practical terms, it means that Shenzhen residents have been “landlocked” despite having a 162 mile (260 km) coastline. Inquiring minds want to know: how did that happen? Continue reading
Here’s the thing about innovation and copy-catting; our focus on individuals and copyrights makes it difficult to see that what happened in Shenzhen was a re-invention of capitalism. “Shenzhen Speed” is the name we give to the accelerated pace of accumulation and concomitant disruptions that have defined the past 40 years in Shenzhen (counting from 1979). Now, when we focus on objects like household electronics, oil paintings, and graphic design, it is easy to overlook how this acceleration reorganized capitalism as we knew it. But that’s the point. In Shenzhen, innovation has pretty consistently taken place at the structural level——reorganizing populations, restructuring factories, and remaking landscapes. Continue reading
The next installment in the Myriad Transformations, “City on the Fill” is a series of riffs on land reclamation, both as an important feature of Shenzhen’s cultural ecology and as a metaphor for the replacement of southern Chinese culture with northern norms.
When I first moved to Shenzhen in 1995, I lived at Shenzhen University, which at the time was located on the northern banks of Shenzhen Bay and boasted oyster farming on just beyond its campus border. In fact, for the first decade that I was in Shenzhen (1995-2005), land reclamation and the reconstruction of the coastline was one of the major ongoing infrastructure projects, even as the city shifted its economic emphasis from manufacturing to innovation. So for over a decade, I walked reclaimed land. As the landfill settled, grass grew, squatters came and went, and the city itself “washed its feet and stepped on land,” an expression that was used in the 1990s to describe the transformation of farmers into urban residents. Locally, the expression referred to how local villagers left their paddies and fish ponds to become landlords, while in terms of migrants, it referred to migrant workers who left their home villages to work in factories. Continue reading
Several days ago, I walked from Coastal City (海岸城) to Shenzhen Talent Park (深圳人才公园). Previous walks–now long ago and far away, and besides that was a different city–had me wandering the reclaimed land behind Coastal City. However, the new coastline is as firmly in place as anything on shifting sands. What’s more, its a popular destination for families and this popularity deserves comment. After all, people are walking from the old new coastline (at roughly Houhaibin Road) to its newest coastline, a walk that takes at least fifteen minutes one way. Below are images that give a sense of the layout of the new park. In the maps, the purple line is Houhaibin Road, the approximate old new coastline. Continue reading
Those who have followed Shenzhen Noted for the past twelve years know that the reclamation of Houhai Bay has been one of my ongoing obsessions. Today, I walked again and found myself momentarily confused by the current grid; previously I used Binhe Road and its constructions to locate myself. I’m trying to think through what it means that sand has become glass. It is not the case that “all that is solid melts into air,” but rather all that was liquid solidifies and congeals. Mummies and amber. Dinosaurs and fossil fuels. Anyway, photos, below: