no time passing… The melody is Pete Seeger’s, but the context is Shenzhen. Last night I was talking with friends, older friends of many years who have lived in Shenzhen since the early 1990s. We ended up talking about China’s population crisis and how it has been manifest in Shenzhen as the aging of menial laborers, the ongoing removal of affordable housing stock as urban villages are razed, and the flight of young families to cities like Changsha, which are actively trying to attract young people using methods that range from housing policy to social media campaigns to create a hip and friendly city image.
The current situation in Nantou illustrates how these issues come together on the ground. The sanitation crews for the area comprise older people, many who had joined their children in Shenzhen to take care of grandchildren, but once the grandchildren started attending school full-time found themselves both with time on their hands and in need of supplemental income. Many of these crew members are past the age of retirement and ineligible for retirement benefits in the city, making them a vulnerable workforce. In terms of affordable housing, Vanke has upgraded many of the handshake buildings on the two main streets in Nantou, replacing family housing with transitional rentals for singletons. Indeed, last time I went to Nantou, the rates for upgraded housing stock was 5,500 yuan a month, while older housing was still priced between 2,000 to 3,000 yuan, depending on location and size. Moreover, over two years of zero-Covid enforcement means that many mom and pop shops have closed up with generational implications. On the one hand, older entrepreneurs have lost accumulated capital and income. On the other hand, that wealth can no longer be passed on to children who may have been raised in Shenzhen, but do not have city hukou.
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.
An essay that looks back at the past five years at Handshake 302, “Figuring Post-worker Shenzhen” has been published in Made in China (vol. 3, issue 1, Jan-Mar 2018). In happy coincidence, one of the contributors to Learning from Shenzhen, Eric Florence also discusses representations of migrant labor in this volume (“Rural Migrant Workers in Independent Films: Representations of Everyday Agency,” pp 96-103). The journal is hosted at the website, Chinoiresie.info.
Episode 3 of Shenzhen Book of Changes is up! Like millions of migrants, Hu Yuefu has come to Shenzhen to make a life and business for himself. We visit Baishizhou – Shenzhen’s largest urban village – to learn his story.
It’s instructive to jump off the number 11 subway line, once its passed the airport station. In Bao’an District, the No 11 line runs parallel to Bao’an Road, which delineates the inner border between the older, historic village settlements and their industrial parks. East of Bao’an Road, one heads toward the Pearl River, land reclamation, and scattered reminders of this deeper history. West of Bao’an Road, one heads through large industrial parks toward National expressway G107, which was the road that first connected the original Special Zone to Guangzhou via Songgang (images of a 2008 walk, here). At Nantou Checkpoint, National Highway 107 becomes Shannan Road and a fast track to the inner district real estate boom. Continue reading →
Yesterday at the Dalang Youth Dream Center, we created a large mural/graffiti image on the public steps/bench. It is a two-picture work: from the front it simply says “youth”, but from the upper levels of the dormitory, it is possible to see the larger images of flowers and cartoon monsters playing in the grass. Walking the steps gives even more chances for discovery. We were amazingly lucky with the weather; just as we finished, the skies let loose a major thunder storm. Below, a slideshow that documents the process.
Talking about migrant workers in China (and throughout the world’s booming mega-cities) usually means “rural to urban migration”. However, this is not the case in Shenzhen, where “urban to urban immigration” has been as fundamental to the city’s success and growth. Indeed, the diversity of Shenzhen’s migrant population complicates easy understanding of what it means to be a Shenzhener, let alone academic debates about urban belonging and ideologies of exclusion. Continue reading →