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.
100 rmb notes and US C notes go together like boy and girl, like modernity and tradition, like Mao Zedong and Benjamin Franklin, like officialdom (guanfang) and society (minjian), like yang and yin. I was thinking about how in Shenzhen du jour tradition is being (re)constituted through economic reform–specifically, I was thinking about how tradition has become the vehicle that naturalizes the demolition of (unnatural) urbanized villages in a city long described as “lacking history,” and this matched New Years set shows up on the entrance to my apartment building. As with many symbols of Chimerica, gender suggests the multiple forms of power that create particular subject positions, especially in the figuring of ideal relationships, where even if the male, head-of-house holds money that is ostensibly worth less than the female, nevertheless, in Chimerica East the primacy of renminbi makes sense (cents) precisely because “tradition” keeps us in place.
These past two days, Zhang Kaiqin led a Handshake 302 art workshop in the Shenzhen Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. The workshop was organized quite simply: on the first morning we learned about the plants and then in the afternoon and next day we created site-specific art. The only rule was that we couldn’t bring anything (except tools) into the botanical garden. And that limitation led to visceral experience of how narrow the actual space for creative subjectivity is in modern spaces.
In 2010, when many of the 90s kids where applying for college, they were encouraged to become economically independent. Shame was also deployed, and recent college graduates who couldn’t find a job and continued to live at home were accused of “gnawing on the old folks (啃老)”. Of course, these were the same kids who were also accused of “being too rich for their own good (富二代)”. Continue reading
Here’s the thing, when making dinner plans–or dim sum plans or coffee plans or dinner plans–there are some neighbourhoods that are better than others.That said, its also clear that the consequences of village demolitions and ongoing construction of residential developments at subway stations include the replacement of independently owned restaurants with more expensive chains. This means that it is not only increasingly harder to afford just to go out, but it is increasingly difficult to find mom and pops places around the corner for a cheap night out. Sigh.
When I was young, Christmas was a special time that started just after Thanksgiving. Indeed, in the month before Christmas there was much work. We made lists of presents for our parents, siblings, and friends. We went Christmas tree shopping and then spent an evening decorating the tree. Each decoration had a story. Each year I would make an angel or Christmas mouse for the tree and my mother had special lights. We practiced singing carols and made cookies, delighting in reindeer and elf shaped cookies. We watched the same classic movies (“Miracle on 42nd Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”) as well as the same TV specials (“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Frosty the Snowman.”) Several days before Christmas we went on vacation and if we were lucky and if it had snowed, we made snow people and snow angels, and then when we were cold and tired we had hot chocolate at a friend’s house. The night before Christmas we made a plate of refreshments for Santa Claus and even remembered to put out carrots for Rudolph. And then. On Christmas morning we woke up laughing to discover what presents Santa had left us and to feast and play all day. Even today, Christmas still sparkles in memory and I am happiest when I have a chance to go home and celebrate with family and friends. Continue reading