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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eccentric skylines

I visit urban villages because they allow space for eccentricity, for unexpected juxtapositions that suggest the contours of history. And yes, these spaces are not simple agrarian settlements, but sites where wealth has accumulated for several hundred years, where ideas about what that history might mean have taken alternative forms. Continue reading

education through time (sz book of changes, ep 6)

the difficulty of representing shenzhen’s urban “villages”

Talking about Shenzhen’s urban villages is difficult because legally they are not villages, but “communities (社区)” that have been integrated into the urban state apparatus. Moreover, depending on their location, these neighborhoods have different social functions — slums, gateway communities, and affordable housing for both the working poor and recent college graduates.

Mark Leung‘s photo essay,  Welcome to Wuwucun, a Village in the City offers a detailed and sympathetic look at life in Wuwucun, a Shenzhen urban village and is well worth checking out. However, the images beg contextualization, illustrating the difficulty of interpreting images  in the absence of historical knowledge. Is Wuwucun poor? Are these villagers? Is manufacturing a good thing?  On the one hand, a shorter version of the same essay, for example, explained that these images showed how manufacturing in Shenzhen was providing small steps forward to improve the lives of China’s rural millions. On the other hand, these images depict one of the more peripheral villages in Shenzhen, where the level of poverty depicted justifies ongoing campaigns to raze working class neighborhoods in other parts of the city. In other words, these images can be used either to show that industrial manufacturing in Shenzhen has been good for the country or to justify the Municipality’s ongoing program of razing urban villages in the inner districts. Continue reading

on strike in longgang

According to molihua dot org, 4,000 workers at the Zhongda Printing Factory went on strike on January 10, 2013 to protest the factory’s decision to discount all years of service. Years of service are essential to calculating pensions, with this decision, workers lost all accumulated time and benefits. Moreover, the company offered no compensation for the decision.The justification given was that the factory will be changing its name and so previous time will not be credited to the “new” company.

Today, the Epoch Times followed up this story with a report that the police had entered into the conflict, preventing striking workers from marching outside the compound.Video interviews, here.

The Shenzhen Police Department’s decision to prevent the protestors from marching to the Henggang government is simple: Zhongda’s decision to unfairly deny workers accumulated time and benefits does not seem to be an isolated case. On January 2, 2013, 3,000 workers at the Chongguang Electronics factory in Shajing struck for the same reason. According to the report, On January 10, they marched on the Shajing government to protest.

The Zhongda Printing factory is owned and operated by the Neway Group Holdings Ltd, a Hong Kong firm (香港中星集团).

Thoughts on Shenzhen’s New New Districts: Longhua and Dapeng

This past week, when the Center brought the country’s 3,300 provincial, municipal, and county members of the Politics and Law Committee (政法委) to Beijing to learn “what to do and how to do it,” they did so to strengthen top-down unity, or the line from the Center (中央) to the “local (地方)”. Party control of the Politics and Law Committee means that it directly controls the writing of laws, their interpretation, and enforcement. As far as we know, Zhou Yong “Noodle Master” Kang remains the Chair of the National Committee. We hypothesize that Hu Jintao was critical to making the decision to convene a Politics and Law Committee meeting and what would be taught there. Ergo, we are waiting to see whose line actual becomes the standard that will be brought back to Local governments, like Shenzhen.

How does this administrative apparatus shape the possibility of progressive social transformation in Shenzhen?

One way to answer the question is to think of all the districting and redistricting and micro-districting and statutory planning that create what the Municipality spins as Shenzhen’s “Industry First” as ways of side-stepping Center intervention and oversight by giving investors in hi-tech manufacturing, logistics, finance, and cultural industry preferential policies without any kind of political reform. Continue reading

南岭村:even after death our ashes won’t return…

Episode 4 of the Transformation of Shenzhen Villages focuses on Nanling Village, which became famous throughout the country as the “争气村 (hardworking village)”.

Nanling’s [Shenzhen] story begins in 1979 with the last mass exodus of Baoan economic refugees to Hong Kong. That day, Shaxi Brigade [Nanling’s collective predecessor] Vice Secretary Zhang Weiji came home to discover that his wife had joined several hundred other villagers who had decided to make the run for Hong Kong. Zhang Weiji went to the border and called for his wife and fellow villagers to return home with him. One of the runners looked over his shoulder and shouted, “Even after I’m dead my ashes won’t return to this place.” In the end, 50 villagers and his wife returned with Zhang Weiji to what had become another of Baoan’s ghost villages. The secretary vowed to transform Nanling into a village where people would stay and live out decent lives. Over the next decade, Nanling became one of China’s most important symbols of Reform and Opening as a means of achieving rural urbanization. Indeed, both Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao have visited the village on inspection tours to promote and confirm Nanling as a model for other village urbanization projects.

Continue reading