SZ8X80208//The Myriad Transformations//City on the Fill: Oyster Beds

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.

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人才公园: the new new coastline

Several days ago, I walked from Coastal City (海岸城) to Shenzhen Talent Park (深圳人才公园). Previous walks–now long ago and far away, and besides that was a different city–had me wandering the reclaimed land behind Coastal City. However, the new coastline is as firmly in place as anything on shifting sands. What’s more, its a popular destination for families and this popularity deserves comment. After all, people are walking from the old new coastline (at roughly Houhaibin Road) to its newest coastline, a walk that takes at least fifteen minutes one way. Below are images that give a sense of the layout of the new park. In the maps, the purple line is Houhaibin Road, the approximate old new coastline. Continue reading

shajing oysters

Today I learned about cultivating oysters. I also visited Shajing, the town that oysters built even though oysters are no longer cultivated here. Instead the oyster babies are sent to Taishan where they are raised and returned to Shajing for processing. It’s almost like assembly manufacturing, except its agricultural production. Continue reading

fishermen’s wharf, shekou

First day of 2015, I walked Fishermen’s Wharf, Shekou where they’re still selling fish. The oysters cultivated on the Hong Kong side of Shenzhen Bay are sold in Dongguan and Guangzhou. Impressions, below.

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“evolution” in progress

Lei Sheng and I have worked together with a team of craftsmen from a Shenzhen factory to create “Evolution”, a site specific installation for the Shenzhen Public Sculpture Exhibition. The show opens tomorrow in Shenzhen central park, along side the Futian River. Comments and thoughts tomorrow, along with images of finished sculpture and other installations. To contextualize project, please click houhai, land reclamation and/ or oysters in the tag cloud. Below, pictures of evolutionary progress.

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more about oysters

Anyone who has crossed from Shekou to Tun Mun via the Shenzhen Bay Western Corridor Bridge has seen the clear line that demarcates the Shenzhen-Hong Kong borridor. South of the border are floating oyster beds. North of the border, it has been illegal to raise oysters since 2006. However, at the remnants of what was once Shenzhen Harbor, those oysters are sold by the men and women who raise them — all of whom live in Shenzhen. Today’s impressions from a walk that stretches from the upscale neighborhoods of the Peninsula Estates and the Shenzhen Bay Park to the impromptu docks, where oysters were being unloaded and sold, along with a yellow fish.

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海湾村: land locked futures

The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田深圳村庄30年), Episode 9: Haiwan Village tells the story the Nantou Peninsula and the reclamation of land in Houhai (the southern coast facing Hong Kong) and Qianhai (the northern coast facing Guangzhou). This was the platform from which Hong Kong entered China and Baoan villagers once launched themselves to Hong Kong.

During the Mao era, Wanxia Village was divided into two production brigades, one land based for agricultural cultivation and the other water based for oyster farming. Eventually, the Wanxia Oyster Brigade was renamed Haiwan Brigade, creating two administrative villages through the division of one natural village. This division points to the importance of production — rather than history — in defining Maoist administrative units, especially in rural areas, where villages were integrated or split depending upon production needs. Importantly, however, these administrative categories were not naturalized in the same way during the early years of Reform and Opening, when some administrative villages re-instituted traditional boundaries while others did not. Haiwan retained Maoist status and began building village level factories.

Access to the sea shaped village demographics, with a population gap of people, ages 45-65 who escaped to Hong Kong in the last large flights in 1968 and 78, respectively. Nevertheless, traditional land rights enabled Haiwan to prosper. In addition, we learn from an older, Cantonese-speaking villager that Haiwan Village is an Overseas Chinese village, with many descendants scattered throughout the world with village association buildings in the United States and Hong Kong, representing support, ranging from monetary to knowledge to investment connections. The village has also maintained its identity through traditions and ritual that centered on a small Tianhou Temple.

Watching this episode, I suddenly realized something that was clearly obvious to the filmmaker: Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 Southern Tour coincided with the establishment of guannei villages as stock-holding corporations and urban neighborhoods. In other words, the second tour did result in new policies or breakthroughs as they are known. My a-ha moment was in seeing the connection between politics and the radical restructuring of the south china coast.  The episode ending rhetorically juxtaposes images of Wall Street with Houhai, asking if Shekou can become the next Manhattan. The question is illuminating not for its booster-hype pretensions, but rather because it clearly reiterates the primacy of investment and real estate over traditional livelihoods such as oyster farming. In such a world, insofar as the sea becomes a factor in determining property values and not an independent source of value, reclaiming the sea makes good business sense.

return of the bivalves

Yesterday, I walked around Dongjiaotou, which in days earlier served as a small port for building materials coming in from Foshan and other Delta cities. Pedestrians jumped the fence to get to the small strip of beach where several families were selling oysters. In 2007, Nanshan District removed all oyster cultivation and processing from the Houhai coastline, especially around the Seaworld area (pictures from 2003 and 2007, here).

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settled in?

Am now moved into new home in Shekou. Yesterday, rode the Shekou line to Window of the World, changed for OCT East and arrived for coffee at OCT Creative Park all in about 30 minutes. Very convenient. Nevertheless, half an hour was more than enough time to notice and set me wondering about one or two, well three actually, discordant notes.

Do: The Shekou line advertising is playing to the cultural Nantou theme. Those who know a bit about Shenzhen’s history, know that Nantou is the oldest city in the area, having been a salt yamen 1,000 years or so ago.Know that there was (and still is) a small temple to those Gods that bless Cantonese Opera singers. Moreover, Reform began in Shekou and the first Chinese themeparks (strictly speaking) were built in OCT, Nanshan; Shenzhen University is also here. So, the Shenzhen Subway company has illustrated these themes from Nantou’s cultural history. Wanxia, for example, is morning tea and Dongjiaotou has a Cantonese singer. An image of Nvwa illustrates Shekou’s importance in Reform and Opening; Windows of the World is the Eiffel Tower.

Alas, those who know this history also realize that this historical trail ran along “old street” from the west gate of Jiujie to Shekou. They also know that know that there was no direct path (except a mountain trail over Nanshan Mountain or on a boat around the peninsula tip) from Shekou to Chiwan. However, the Shekou Subway rewriting of this cultural history is on the order of land reclamation and, in fact, the subway does not connect Shekou to Nantou, but instead at Houhai (and more about Houhai below) turns east, heading through Science and Technology Park South though Mangrove Park to Windows of the World. Thus, the Subway Station History of Nantou appropriates and displaces the cultural ecology of the area. Wanxia, for example, is a local village and yes, you can have morning tea there, but Dongjiaotou was a riparian port, where trade goods from Zhongshan and other parts of the Delta were shipped to and from Nantou. Today, Dongjiaotou is the site of The Peninsula Estates, high end real estate development that winds around a genuinely old and decaying, already being “reclaimed” part of Shekou.

Re: Within this postmodern rewriting of Nantou’s history, Houhai is now a subway station and no longer a sheltered backwater. I have commented upon the Shenzhen tendency to raze mountains and lychee orchards and then name malls and housing estates after the no longer extant land formation. Land reclamation naming practices follow apace. Not only only has Nantou’s cultural history been rewritten as a series of Subway Stations through what used to be Houhai Bay, but also that Bay is now just another subway stop.

More importantly, Nantou’s cultural history was a history of backwater fishing, oyster cultivation, and riparian trade between small, village owned docks. A two-step sequence of appropriation is at play. First, the actual socio-economic base of local history has been destroyed. The last oyster fishing folk were relocated in 2006. Thus, in order to live here, one needs to be part of the new economy, which includes real estate development and working in more abstract cultural industries such as academia and tourism. Second, local history is now being deployed to add “flavor” or “local interest” to rich outsiders who are inhabiting Shenzhen. And real estate promoters can get away with this because most of those moving into Nantou don’t know the history of the area.

Mi: I also noticed that on the “local street map” which hangs in our station, our housing estate is conspicuously absent. There still remains much construction behind us, although I suspect that come Universiade, our own Europe [Shopping Mall for those living in Dubai style condos] will open. Here’s the point: with the opening of the Shekou Subway our housing estate is now part of the historic backwater. And as those of us who have watched the development of Nantou know, the purpose of backwater has been to reclaim it for ever-higher end development. Once all the reclaimed land has been filled in, our short walk to the Subway makes our housing development a prime target for upgrading and us for resettlement. Upside to looming displacement: we aren’t the only affordable housing development not on the map and maybe someone else will be targeted first. More upside: negotiations to raze a development usually take longer than the actual razing an old development and building a new development. We probably have several happy years ahead of us.

So yes, we are as settled as anyone in Shekou, where the landscape has been reshaped, cultural history is being rewritten, and the sands of prime real estate shift beneath our feet.

classical thinking

Many have told me that the Yi Jing is always relevant, even in Shenzhen; it’s just a question of knowing how to interpret what is already there. Consequently, I have been wondering how I might use the Yi Jing as a way of understanding Shenzhen.

According to Yuasa Yasuo (2008) divination in the Yi Jing designates the act of knowing the dao or the way. One comes to the Yi Jing when one makes a decision that will determine one’s future, but in order for the divination to be accurate, one must come to with an ethical purpose and clear intention. So defined, divination as understanding is both teleological and practical. On the one hand, the Yi Jing counsels that we interpret any event in terms of both its origin and its telos, which is often unknown, but assumed to comply with the inner logic of the events that will have led to its arising. On the other hand, the Yi Jing provides strategies for harmonizing one’s particular intention with nature and society such that negative consequences of contradiction and imbalance might be ameliorated. Together, divine understanding and action constitute the dao, an ethical unfolding of natural processes, agrarian seasons, social mores, and human intention. Thus, the Yi Jing is a book about time, its possibilities and complications; it not only anticipated Shenzhen by two thousand years, but also provides a moral ecology for narrating both the city’s history and what this history might mean beyond the righteousness of facts.

In other words, interpreting the Shenzhen built environment would be an act of divining the new world order that Shenzheners are trying to realize by constructing the city. What then are we to divine from the self-fashioning of Shenzhen’s urban villages? What are the longings that have been built into an environment that prevents them from being realized? Continue reading