I’ve just returned from time in North Carolina and what have I learned? In addition to realizing that Donald Trump and Xi Jinping both have distinctive and easily mocked hairstyles, I also learned that ordinary US Americans are as worried about the trade war as are ordinary Chinese citizens. Indeed, in both countries I’ve been advised to invest my money “over there.” Chinese friends encourage me to take the money and run back to a US bank, while American friends tried to convince me to invest more in the Chinese stock market. In both Shenzhen and NC, there is a sense of frustration and defeat over the antics of leaders who are not leading, but rather seem to be wandering aimless instead of dealing with real problems and the well-being of ordinary people.
(cartoon from scmp editorial)
Today, I walked the village named Baishizhou, which is located south of Shennan Road and is not scheduled for demolition. This other, lesser known Baishizhou is tucked away behind Window of the World, middling housing estates, and the KK Banna Mall. Unlike the Baishizhou that is scheduled for demolition, this other, less expensive Baishizhou does not hum and pop, does not buzz with entrepreneurialism and the rush of young office workers, but rather transports us back to Shenzhen 2.0; at the turn of the millennium, most Shenzhen neighborhoods were like this: straight-forwardly residential in the middle with an outer ring of functional shops and fast food, and hardware stores that spilled into the street because the sidewalk had not yet been laid down. Continue reading
Friday, April 20, 2018, Handshake 302 had the privilege of hosting Wu Xiaoya’s (吴晓雅) sharing about her recently published book, Baishizhou: Shenzhen’s Center and Periphery (白石洲：深圳的中心与边缘。深圳报业集团出版社，2018). Roughly twenty people squeezed into the backroom at Banxian Coffee House, which graciously offered its space for the two-hour event. Of note? The audience comprised a representative sample of the young intellectuals interested in Shenzhen’s urban villages, including recent college graduates who currently live in urban villages, graduate and doctoral students from Shenzhen University, and several second generation Shenzheners who are active in the city’s 公益 scene. We gathered not only to discuss Baishizhou specifically, but also the so-called “urban village phenomenon.” Continue reading
Our trip began with Mark Zuckerberg “forced to apologize to the world” for allowing Cambridge Analytica to mine Facebook users’ data and influence the US and other elections. It ended with the notice that “From July 1 Aadhaar to have face recognition facility too.” Aadhaar means “foundation” in English and refers to the 12-digit unique identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. It turns out that we are the bits and pieces necessary to animate the Franken-city, where “bots” belch ugly comments into debate and Russians in virtual trench coats haunt our digital consciousness.
On Friday morning, March 23, 2018, Partha Mukhopadhyay of the Centre for Policy Research, had a powerpoint slide that asserted the rural is not a collection of farms. The assertion had me juxtaposing specific urban villages in Shenzhen and Delhi to think about how macro-stories converge even as our detailed, specific and constitutive micro-stories continuously repulse each other. Continue reading
Yesterday I walked the Huaqiangbei pedestrian street, from Shennan Road through the Jiufang (九方) Mall and then deeper into the area, which nearly forty years ago was known as the Shangbu Industrial Park. Yes, come November, we’ll be celebrating (or not) the fortieth anniversary of Reform and Opening. That’s ten years longer than the Mao era. Indeed, for many in Shenzhen the reference that many have of “long ago” is now the 1980s. Impressions from my walk: traces of early manufacturing are scattered between the malls and towers, as is evidence of the shift from textiles and electronics to a focus on cell phones and IT.
This year I was in the Chinese northland during the first week of the Trump presidency, a fact which had me thinking about national geographies of opportunity and despair. (Honestly, how could I resist when we were celebrating the Year of the Cock?!) Of note? The pride and resentment, wellbeing and jealousy that I encountered in the Chinese interior resonated with my experience of the American heartland, where my parents were born, even as the valuation of Shenzhen and other southern cities seemed much like American valuations of the progressive northeast, where I was raised.