so why are there so many abandoned villages?

The movie is 《封门诡影》 and it starts of with the fear of abandoned villages as if the reason was for villages being emptied out was supernaturally evil. Fengmen (literally closed door) Village was inexplicably abandoned. I’ve never never seen Blair Witch, but this movie seems kind of like, but with ghosts and dodgy fengshui. Our intrepid hero teaches psychology and has issues because unable to understand evil within his cognitive framework. It’s all in your mind. But not really. Cut to evil cackle.

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free associations, or, what does baishizhou mean to you?

Yesterday, I visited the two-day exhibition that Xu Lan (徐岚) put up in a one-bedroom apartment (2,400 / month) in Tangtou Block 6, Baishizhou. The exhibition took place over two days (Jan 8 and 9, 2017) and comprised mountain and water sketches / illustrations from a week-long stay (previous) in Baishizhou. The series itself is part of an ongoing project of travelling and documenting those travels. The inspiration for the exhibition (as narrated by Xu Lan) was random (偶然). He was thinking of the painter Qi Baishi (齐白石) and painted his own “Baishizhou” and then decided to show the works in Baishizhou, Shenzhen because he remembered having been here once.

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drone-fare

When I first saw the above advertisement for DJI, one of the world’s leading producers of drones, I balked. It seemed to me to be a picture that celebrated spying on the private and unaccessible mansions of the all-too-rich. So, given the unreliability of my American gut reactions in China, I asked the young women standing next to me, “What do you see in that advertisement?” She responded, “a pretty landscape.” I was like, “What about the dock? The big mansion? The coastline that resembles Newport’s?” She looked at the advert again, nodded, and then tentatively added, “We see things differently because of cultural difference.” Continue reading

“this time, this place”: these concerns

The balmy days of installation gave way to cold winter rain for the opening of “This Time, This Place” in Shenzhen’s Central Park. Our brief as participants was to respond to the site, and in this sense the weather reminded us just how different indoor and outdoor exhibitions can be. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Today, I’m wondering: is there art that ameliorates rather than is predicated on class privilege? Continue reading

harmonized

While in Tianjin a friend said to me that she wanted to forward one of my posts about the Hong Kong protests to her WeChat circles, but was afraid of being “harmonized” (被和谐掉) — a euphemism meaning “to be arrested for political activism”, or as Orwell might have said, the crime of speaking one’s position. The expression ironically activates Xi Jinping’s relentless calls for social harmony through a return to Chinese values, that might be otherwise expressed as “shut up and do what you’re told” much as Lee Kwan Yew deployed Neo-Confucianism in his pursuit of a well ordered managed Singapore. Continue reading

theorizing shenzhen speed

If it takes twelve hours for one person to lay so much concrete, for example, there are several options for speeding up the result. One person can work 1.5 eight hour days or one person can work one twelve-hour day and work has “sped up”. If cooperation is introduced, then two people could complete the task in 6 hours or three people could each work .5 days. Anyway, the Marxian point is clear: “speed” is a result of changing work conditions, increasing either individual hours of labor or increasing the number of laborers.

The ongoing question, of course, is: what makes exploitation acceptable? Why did early Shenzheners (and the rest of the country) celebrate Shenzhen Speed as a good thing especially when it meant exponentially increasing exploitation in terms of both individual work hours and numbers of workers?

Consider, for example, that it to a country to build Guomao (忆改革:曾经中国第一高楼. The Hunan Provincial Geological Survey Company was responsible for surveying the site. Hubei Provincial Industrial Architecture Design Institute Designed the building. And the Corps of Engineers worked “day and night (日夜不停)” for two months to put in the foundation. The Number 2 Guangdong Construction Company built the frame. The Chinese National Number 3 Construction and Engineering Bureau constructed the actual building.

Shenzhen speed was defined as building one story of a building in three days, and maintaining that pace for 53 stories (Guomao building). The the KK 100 the broke that record. But the pace of what an individual can do hasn’t actually increased. What’s increased is the speed at which results happen, which in turn, usually leads to increased exploitation.

At the time, this collaboration to achieve nationally symbolic goals was not new. Nor was the fact that Municipal Secretary and Mayor Liang Xiang approved Municipal land for the project. What was new was that the justification for this speed was to demonstrate the SEZ’s internationalism (read — willingness to do capitalist style business).

So Shenzhen speed was generated for national goals. At the time it started, this exploitation was a sign of patriotism and national commitment. Today, however, Shenzhen speed has come to refer to the speed at which people burn out, a taken for granted law of the market.

Sigh.

cold war ghosts in shenkong

For those inquiring minds that wonder, what was Shenzhen before it was Shenzhen, the opening scene from the 1963 classic Tracking Threats (跟踪追) reveals a threatened border and enemies whose souls have been twisted through betrayal. After the credits, the film opens with a scene of soldiers guarding the border and the Luohu bridge opening to allow peasants (and a spy) enter the country. From the filming, it is difficult to see immediately who the heroes and villains are. Instead, we find ourselves faced with a narrative tradition that begins with a social situation which the narrative gradually analyzes.

At the border, the guard opens an old woman’s bag, in which he finds a carton of cigarettes and candies. Suspicious, he opens the carton and discovers gunpowder hidden inside. Similarly, the candies also turn out to be decoys. The old woman protests that she’s never seen these items before. Her story is confirmed when another guard discovers an unclaimed bag, which includes toy cars that have been used to smuggle gunpowder

The security officer, Li Minggang leads a team to discover what’s happening. They follow the clues to the toy factory, where old Lin Dexiang works loyally. It turns out his nephew, Lin Yonggui was the spy who replaced the goods in the old woman’s bag. Li Minggang turns Lin Yonggui, who is used as a double agent to uncover the net of spies. This network includes refugees who try to escape to Hong Kong, smugglers of commercial goods, and of course, the evil chief spy, Xu Ying.

Tracking Threats was one of a series of movies that reflected the militarization of the Sino-British border during the 1950s. Indeed, between 1956 through 1958, the Guangzhou Security Department cracked several cases of Taiwanese incursions into Guangdong, and also discovered weapon stockpiles. During the 1960s, the Pearl River Delta Studio produced a series of red spy movies. The earliest, Secret Map (秘密图纸,1960) also filmed at the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border, but did not actually name the border crossing.

In retrospect, the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border in Tracking Threats seems claustrophobic and artificially patriotic à la contemporary North Korea. There is heroic music. There are poor but honest peasants. The military is distinctly noble. However, we know that by the mid 60s, China had already suffered famine and that Hong Kong had begun its economic reconstruction. Thus, during production filmmakers were not allowed to film the Hong Kong side of the border. Moreover, several peasants tried to take advantage of the filming and cross the border. They were, however, caught.

And yet. In Tracking Threats, the ideal of patriotism as a source of ethical thinking appears as pure and noble and good and far, far away from where we find ourselves in the post Cold War world.

In 2009, the earliest of the 1960s spy films, Secret Map was remade into a 30 episode television series (秘密图纸). Unlike the original movie, the television series opens with the spy murdering his godfather, who is portrayed as a Japanified elderly gentleman. The historic link, of course, was the Japanese colonization of Taiwan. In this way, the television series Secret Maps recodes race betrayals of Tracking Threats  as a question of generational betrayals (the godfather raising his godson to hate the Communists). In scene two, the spy, now a sympathetic anti-hero, washes up on the Shenzhen coast, where he is immediately captured by a beautiful revolutionary, a gaggle of peasants, and a noble peasant-soldier.

And there’s the interesting neoliberal rub: in the transition from 1960s Guangdong to new millennium Shenzhen, the Mainland-Taiwan conflict has been recoded as a story of misplaced love, rather than misplaced patriotism, while the desire for forbidden consumer goods has been naturalized. Indeed, that naturalization is precisely what makes the anti-hero sympathetic; he may have loved wrongly, but he knew what the fight was about. However, as in any good neoliberal bromance, love conquers all just before the anti-hero dies.