Yesterday, I visited the former Tanglang Industrial Park, which has been rebranded as 集悦城 (SoFunLand), a residential area for young workers. The first floor of the factories have been rented out for commerce and the second to fourth (or sixth) floors have been retrofitted as dormitories. This, we are told, is the future of post-Baishizhou downtown; young migrants can live in the dorms until they secure housing elsewhere. Continue reading
In order to talk about the ways in which urban villages are both the form and content of the emergence of Shenzhen, the mind searches for a narrative arc in the earnest hyperbole of a Sci-Fi universe where the good is still mostly good and the bad drags its slimy tale through fetid waste streams. However recycled and repurposed, we’re still talking about the contradictions that made Fritz Lang’s Metropolis so compelling. Above ground, the Metropolis boasts spires and towers for scientifically enhanced bodies that play in an Olympian stadium and pleasure gardens. These beautiful bodies can only be achieved through exploitation and guided mutation; evil is attractive. Underground, human workers endlessly labor. Unappealing and gaunt, shriveled and inert, these low-end bodies are fashioned through usefulness to the machine and dreary tenement lives.
My recent turn to Sci-Fi is (as were Mary Shelley’s and Fritz Lang’s respective turns) informed not so much by a fear of mad science, but by distress over how technology is produced, distributed and used in neoliberal cities. Technology has been central to the form and content of social polarization in Shenzhen. Urban villages are not substandard living spaces. In fact, when compared to low-income neighborhoods in other Chinese cities and abroad, Shenzhen’s villages are almost middle middle class quality. But here’s the rub. Shenzhen’s urban villages are substandard with respect to the city’s gated communities, shopping malls, and office towers–and the gap is growing.
Today, I went to the Software Incubator Area and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a landmark tried and true and watched for the past decade. It’s true and unexpected, but for years I have been documenting the land reclamation area east of Guimiao and north of Binhai (first impressions, here), and today on an errand to meet someone about the upcoming Maker Faire, I realized the road I was on–Xuefu Road–was in fact the road I had walked while documenting the emergence of New High Technology Park. Anyway, some before and after pictures:
How will you celebrate the 18th Anniversary of the Handover / Return of Hong Kong to Chinese Sovereignty? This July 1, 2015, China will launch the “mutual fund recognition framework” which will allow international assets managers to sell their Hong Kong registered fund products to Mainland investors. How’s that for a celebratory mouthful of globalization?
In 2009, Sam Green and Carrie Lozano made the short documentary Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall about the South China Mall in Wanjiang, Dongguan. On November 1 and 2, 2013, I visited said mall. This post serves as a partial update. It also a brief response to the ideas of “too big to fail” and “acceptable capitalism” that haunt so many apologies for contemporary neoliberalism. Continue reading
So hukou remains an ongoing problem. According to Dec 2012 Sanitation Bureau statistics, Shenzhen has a long term resident population of over 10 million and resident (hukou) population of 3.05 million. In order to bring some balance to the demographic, a 2014 regulation has dropped the education requirement from college graduate to associate’s degree. Apparently, they’ve also simplified the process.
The measures come about as both the rates of population growth AND turnover has slowed. It used to be that every Chinese New Year millions left, while after New Year a different batch of more millions returned. Now more and more temporary residents are making Shenzhen their primary home. These new migrants are different from earlier migrants in that they tend to be better educated, and have come to participate in Shenzhen’s new core industries–finance, logistics, culture, and high-tech, as well as the city’s strategic industries–bio-tech, internet, and alternative energy. So they are settling in and raising families without hukou.
In addition, the City’s second generation is starting to participate in Shenzhen society, and many are not actually legal residents. Along with new migrants, they are giving birth to the City’s third generation. In fact, there are so many children in the SEZ, the ongoing Shenzhen baby boom has become something of a marketing niche, despite the fact that young parents must return to their legal residence in order to receive subsidized neonatal care. In fact, Shenzhen has the highest birth rate in the country. The biggest economic beneficiaries of the boom are owners of homes with seats (学位) in the top schools. And real estate websites happily speculate (all puns intended) on the price of those houses over the next decade.
Inquiring minds want to know–what about the illegal floating population? And this is one of the interesting aspects of Shenzhen’s shifting demographic. As factory jobs have been moved elsewhere, we see a corresponding social restructuring–more white collar technocrats, fewer blue collar workers. At the same time, the City seems willing to formally claim these new migrants, even as requirements continue to exclude manual laborers, sanitation workers, and other low-end migrants from transferring their hukou to Shenzhen. Importantly, the social eugenics of this process dovetail with and reinforce the gentrification that the demolition of centrally located urban villages has brought about (Laying Siege to the Villages).
Dongguan is passing similar laws to manage its disproportionately large floating population, and one assumes its highly visible sex industry.
Shenzhen parents worry about education — it’s quality, content, methods, and test results. Indeed, I have yet to meet a parent unwilling to spend several hours discussing their child’s education, while activists raise social problems in terms of education.
I have recently received a revisinist version of the childhood classic, “Kong Rong Shares a Pear“. The rewrite is fun and illustrates one of the ways in which the United States (as a symbol) has been put to work in contemporary Chinese debates about the contradiction between a society that values an integrated whole at the expense of individual desire and a society that values individual desire at the expense of social integration.
Kong Rong Shares a Pear
For thousands of years, the moral tale of “Kong Rong Shares His Pear” has been told, becoming the standard for parents who want to teach their children manners. But how do American kids think about this story? Below is a transcript from a class of American students who are studying Chinese. The students range from 8-12 years old.
Teacher: When he was young, Kong Rong was an exceptionally bright student. When he was four, he could already recite many poems. He was polite and courteous. One day, his father’s friend brought a box of pears to the family. His father asked Kong Rong to share the pears with his brothers. Kong Rong took the smallest pear for himself, and the shared the pears based on age rank, giving the largest pear to the oldest, the second largest pear to the second oldest and so on. As he distributed the pears he said, ” I’m the youngest, so I should eat the smallest pear.” His proud father heard him and asked, “But you’re older than your baby brother. Why didn’t you give him the smallest pear?” Kong Rong said, “I am older than him, so I should give it to him.”
What do you think of this story?
Student: Why did the father’s friend give the Kong family pears?
Teacher: they were a gift.
Student: If it was a gift, then all the pears would be good. Why were there obviously big pears and small pears? Why weren’t they all the same size?
Student: Now, if there were big pears and little pears, why did the father put all that responsibility on a four year old’s shoulders? What would have happened if Kong Rong had made a mistake? Would the father have taken back the pears and distributed them correctly?
Student: Why did everyone have to eat a pear? Couldn’t alone leave the pears and let those who wanted a pear choose for themselves?
Teacher: That might have been unfair.
Student: But Kong Rong didn’t necessarily distribute the pears in a just manner. All the brothers had to accept whatever pear Kong Rong decided to give them. Their right to choose was violated. The brother who received the largest pear might have been the brother who hated pears.
Teacher: That’s correct. This story is based on the premise that everyone likes pears.
Student: Why did Kong Rong give pears to the oldest first? If he was going to use age rank, why not start with the youngest?
Teacher: He was being polite.
Student: But after he took the smallest for himself, he didn’t give anyone else a chance to be polite. Why didn’t he give anyone else a opportunity to share pears?
Teacher: So what do you think about Kong Rong?
Student: I don’t like him. What he did wasn’t fair to others, taking away their right to choose and their chance to be polite. Kong Rong isn’t sincere.
Student: This matter is internally contradictory. What if Kong Rong didn’t like pears, so he chose the smallest for himself? Nevertheless, his behavior earned praise? This is hypocritical. On the other hand, if he really liked pears, he should have said so. Otherwise, giving the biggest pears away wouldn’t have made him happy. When we like something we should bravely say so.
I also didn’t like his father.
Teacher: Why not?
Student: He didn’t take responsibility and asked a four year old to do something he couldn’t do. Also, he had no standards, he praised Kong Rong for being polite, but we’ve already seen that Kong Rong was disinterested in sharing the pears.
Student: This was a bad story. It encourages subjective standards and praises one for violating democratic rights. This kind of twisted logic story praises a child for developing unhealthy psychology.
Teacher: So what do you think Kong Rong should have done?
Student: Put the pears on the table and let people who wanted to eat pears take what they wanted.
Postscript: From the perspective of an American student, a Confucian classic becomes a tale of twisted psychological motivations. Where do you think the problem lies?
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.
When I’m free associating about the dovetail between addictions to pharmaceutical and economic speed, the problems of capitalism make uncanny sense.
Deng Xiaoping first used the term “Shenzhen Speed” during his 1984 tour to describe the construction of Shenzhen University, where students designed and built their own campus. During his second tour in 1992, Deng was taken to the revolving restaurant at the top of the the International Trade Building (国贸大厦), which went up one floor every three days. Just recently, the KK 100 Plaza broke that record, going up one floor every two days.
Today, most Shenzhen workers and leaders, in both the public and private sectors need to produce “results” at Shenzhen Speed. In addition to construction times, for example, students are expected to learn more Chinese characters in less time than students in other cities; workers are expected to fill orders as quickly as possibly; and leaders are expected to continue to grow the economy faster than other cities both in China and abroad.
All this speed, of course, is about competative advantage. If a student knows more characters than another, she gets a higher grade and more social status. If workers fill orders faster than in other companies, they get more orders and earn more money for their company. If leaders grow the economy, they get promoted from sub-provincial positions (like mayor) to provincial positions (like minister of transportation, Guangdong Government). And yes, all that social status feels good and is precisely why we push ourselves into the future — we win. If we learn more faster, we become valedictorian. If we make more faster, we get on the Forbes 500 honor roll of largest companies. If we grow the largest economy, we can start interferring in the economies of neighboring countries to our own benefit.
Shenzhen residents are justifiably proud of all they have accomplished in just over thirty years. The Municipality has become not only one of the most important cities in China, but also changed how the developing world thinks about development and how the developed world thinks about China. Sometimes, however, when I think about Shenzhen speed, my mind wanders off the question of rising gross domestic product (GDP) free associates to questions of drug addition and how good a rush can feel, even as it fries our brain.
Speed is the street name of
amphetamine, a psychostimulant drug that produces increased wakefulness and focus in association with decreased fatigue and appetite, which is to say amphetamine makes us feel more awake, happy, and sexy, without giving us the munchies. We feel like we’re moving. Fast. It turns out that Methamphetamine or ice or crystal meth is basically amphetamine squared, which is to say that meth does everything that amphetamine does and then metabolizes into amphetamine and so the body gets to go through the whole process again. Faster and faster and faster and faster. And moving fast can be fun.
One of the earliest uses of methamphetamine was to keep soldiers awake and fighting during WWII. In fact, it went under the names Pilot’s chocolate and tankers’ chocolate. After WW II, Japanese companies used meth to keep workers awake, while the United States and Western European countries imported methaphetamine to treat narcolepsy, Parkinsons, alcoholism, depression, and obesity. Methamphetamine was also marketed for sinus inflammation or for non-medicinal purposes as “pep pills” — and there’s the connection between pharmaceutical and economic speed. “Speeding up” feels good and enables us to achieve what we otherwise couldn’t. Indeed, students and workers take amphetamines to gain momentary competative advantage, while leaders constantly stimulate the economy.
Downside to amphetamine? It’s highly addictive and if we keep taking amphetamine we experience delusions and paranoia that are indistinguishable from a schizophrenic psychotic episodes. The crash and burn that comes from amphetamine abuse happens faster on meth. Unfortunately, the downsides of meth and regular amphetamine addiction can also metaphorically describe the downsides of cram schools, forced overtime, and urban planning that emphasizes real estate development rather than social wellbeing. Students are worried about getting good grades, workers are deluded into thinking that overtime will get them out of debt, and our leaders are paranoid about the aims and intentions of neighboring countries. Meanwhile, environmental deterioration continues accelerate.
Thought du jour: to the extent that profit under global capitalism is a function of time, we are all on speed. Moreover, that rush is about ranking and inequality and ultimately about how we define membership in world organizations. If nothing else, Shenzhen Speed set the pace for development in the Post Cold War order and it would behoove us to think about whose pushing the drug and why.
For those inquiring minds that wonder, what was Shenzhen before it was Shenzhen, the opening scene from the 1963 classic Tracking Threats (跟踪追击) 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.