SZ8X802//The_Myriad_Transformations//City on the Fill

The next installment in the Myriad Transformations, “City on the Fill” is a series of riffs on land reclamation, both as an important feature of Shenzhen’s cultural ecology and as a metaphor for the replacement of southern Chinese culture with northern norms. 

2002

This image of the Shenzhen Bay coastline was taken behind the south gate of Shenzhen University in 2002. Squatters occupied the landfill and planted small vegetable gardens and raised chickens near their houses. Most worked in the informal economy, sorting garbage, working on nearby construction sites, and cultivating the oyster and fish farms that would be shut down in 2006. Today, the water  has been reclaimed and is part of the Hi-Tech corridor that connects the Tencent Headquarters to University town via Shenzhen University, branch campuses of Hong Kong universities, and office buildings of Shenzhen and China’s top hi-tech companies. Indeed, this area was the site of the Shenzhen Maker Faire, 2015. The building under construction in the background is the Yangri Wanpan (洋日湾畔)estates, next to the Coastal City Shopping Mall complex. However, what strikes me more than the “that was then feeling” of a landscape transformed is the squatters’ clothing; even in 2002, when Shenzhen was still a manufacturing city, squatters would have difficulty finding jobs in the formal economy where appearance was part of gaining employment.

2015

This is the Hi-Tech area, circa 2015. The white buildings in the left of the photograph comprise the Yangri Wanpan housing estates, which were under construction (and considered seafront property) in 2002. In 2015, the Hi-Tech area was the site of the Shenzhen Maker Faire, shown in the Chaihuo clip, below:

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the left behind

Here’s the thing about the retreat of manufacturing from the townships and villages of the Pearl River Delta; these areas have urbanized, migrants have settled in and are raising families, but as the low-end jobs and shops that once sustained local and migrant communities follow the factories elsewhere, these neighborhoods are withering. Consider, for example, the older section of Dongguan–莞城, which only twenty years ago was a vibrant community and today is an abandoned reminder of the area’s complicated history with Ming pirates and British opium, its deep relationships with the late Qing Chinese diaspora, and the Pearl River Delta’s urban village origins. Old Dongguan has become a focus of concern for urban planners and concerned citizens: how to revitalize an “old street” that is no longer viable, but sits on prime real estate, or more precisely, inquiring minds want to know: to raze or not to raze historic areas and landmark buildings? Continue reading

post-industrial villages

Last year, the last of Foshan’s famous pottery kilns was decommissioned, leaving the city poised at the edge of a complete renovation–from a dense network of markets, township and village owned industrial parks, and new villages into something bright and shiny, an amalgamation of high-rises, offices, and malls,  where products that are no longer produced in Foshan can be purchased by people who suddenly find themselves positioned to become a next generation of “urban village” landlords.  Continue reading

handshake 302 at berkeley!

Happy happy to have been part of the wonderful exhibit, Art+Village+City. Margaret Crawford and Winnie Wong curated the exhibition. Featuring the work of the Art+Village+City Research Studio, SHIMURAbros (as researchers at Studio Olafur Eliasson), Sascha Pohle, Jing Wen, and José Figueroa. The exhibition is on in Berkeley and Shanghai; those in either area, check out the challenges and opportunities that urban(izing) villages in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou present.

Main Exhibition:
Wurster Gallery, Wurster Hall, UC Berkeley
October 13-November 14
Tuesdays-Saturdays 12-6pm

Satellite Venue:
Shanghai West Bund Biennale/Urban Art Space Season
West Bund Cultural Center, Shanghai
October 1-December 31, 2015

idiots we be…

…and yes “we” is you white man. I began this morning grappling with the problem of statistical representation and sustainable imaginaries in the Pearl River Delta, which has roughly the same GDP as Switzerland spread over an area that is only 1.3 times greater than Switzerland. So yes, I live in an important region of the global economy. But here’s the rub: the PRD has a population that is almost 8 times that of Switzerland. This means that sustainable development in the PRD entails grappling with issues at a scale much greater and with fewer resources per person than in Switzerland.  Continue reading

the thing about egalitarian ideologies

is that very unequal material living environments have to be made to look, well, equal. This is why the current Chinese government focus on growth rates, rather than actual GDP figures matter. With mandated growth rates, every city looks like they’re growing (more or less) equally, while others don’t look like they are stagnating. However, when the actual GDP figures for, let’s say, the Pearl River Delta cities are compared, what we see is that three cities–Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen–completely dominate the region, even as collectively the 9 PRD cities are estimated to account for 70% of Guangdong’s GDP (and only 30% of population). Moreover, given that sub provincial Shenzhen can’t (yet) officially have a higher GDP than provincial Guangzhou, we have know way of knowing if Shenzhen is in fact earning less than Guangzhou.

Provocation du jour: government growth rate targets directly impact a functionary’s ability to rise within administrative ranks, even as the business of Shenzhen remains, well, profitable business. Inquiring minds want to know: is this a contradiction between the people, or a meaningful crack between the government and its residents (居民)?

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

shekou redux

For those following the shifts in Guangdong structure, you noticed that yesterday Shekou, along with Qianhai, Nansha, and a bit of Zhuhai was designated a self-governing trade zone (自贸区). Inquiring minds want to know: what does that mean? Speculation abounds and adjustments are coming, but there seem to be two key points. Continue reading

三打两建:ideology in guangdong

Guangdong Party Secretary, Wang Yang has been busy shoring up his position as a reliable, upstanding, and neo-liberal party member.

Since February this year, all of Guangdong has been engaged in “three attacks and two establishments (三打两建)”, a movement that has its own, quite extensive website. The three targets of attack are “illegal monopolization of the market through violence (欺行霸市)”, “manufacturing and selling fake goods (制假售假)”, and “commercial bribery (商业贿赂)”. The two principals to be established are “a system of social trust (社会信用体系)” and “a system of market oversight (市场监管体系)”.

It seems on first glance a call to rationalize highly local systems of production, consumption, and regulation because I have usually seen movement banners in urban villages, rather than in malls, making villagers the target of Guangdong’s current ideological movement. For example, “illegal monopolization of the market through violence” and “commercial bribery” seem to be descriptions of how markets and shops are actually run (with their reputed mafia ties) in villages. Likewise, “manufacturing and selling fake goods” also seems to be located in villages, with low-level investors setting up shanzhai factories in older, under the radar of municipal oversight spaces and then distributing these goods through local outlets. In contrast, the double aim to establish systems of trust and market regulation point to the government’s determination to bring all production, distribution, and consumption under a system of generalized oversight.

Currently, Shenzhen’s villages have all been incorporated into the municipal apparatus and villagers given citizen status. However, to the extent that industrialization in the Pearl River Delta has created rich villages that cultivate loyalty to the collective (or extended family) rather than to the state (as an abstract system), the next step in rural urbanization has become transforming villagers into citizens. Currently, one of the defining characteristics of a citizen in contrast to a villager is that “citizens” position themselves with respect to national laws (shared with strangers), while “villagers” position themselves with respect to traditional values (shared with familiars and intimates).

Point du jour, an important task of Chinese governance has become shifting how the state interpellates rural residents, hailing them as individualized “citizens”, rather than as collectivized “farmers” even when and despite the fact that many villages (such as Xiasha) are investing in symbols of collective identity, and the “urban village” has become a stereotype of Shenzhen cultural identity.

渔一村:of old men and the landfilled sea

Yesterday’s bloggy romance with the sea continues and although I have shifted my gaze from Cuba to Shekou, it is worth mentioning that the writers’ emphasis on masculine conquest continues; today, in episode 8 of The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田:深圳村庄三十年), Chen Hong tells the story of Fishing Village 1 (渔一村), Shekou. Again, the story begins in a village, but this is also where similarities between the two narratives end. Hemingway figured human life through the isolated figure of an old man navigating the Caribbean on a rickety skiff and superstition. In contrast, Chen Hong figures humanity through the construction of ports, trading ventures and the world-making connections that they enable, suggesting that the opportunity to launch one’s skiff is itself a political decision which once made determines the fate of villagers. For those who remember the 1988 television documentary, River Elegy (河殇) which linked China’s decline and ultimate humiliation to the Ming decision to ban maritime activity, a not-so-subtle critique of Maoist isolation, Chen Hong’s passion for the sea and the [free trade] world it symbolizes is self-evident.

Episode 8 opens by juxtaposing images of Ming and Qing trade centered on Guangzhou with pictures of the construction of Shekou, reminding viewers that Zheng He (郑和) set forth from or loaded supplies at Chiwan Port at least five times. Lest the viewer forget the consequences of isolation, the opening sequence ends with bleak, black and white footage of a backwater port, overgrown and clogged with weeds, small wooden boats berthed in stagnant waters. Boom! The first explosion opens the door to new world order, which is also, new village order.

Traditionally, the villagers of Fishing 1 weren’t actually villagers but individual fishing families who lived on boats, coming onshore to sell the day’s catch. Families came from all over the Pearl River Delta forming a community through their livelihood, rather than through ancestry or even a common version of Cantonese. However, in 1959, the political decision was made to organize them as a brigade (生产大队). They were 90 households with a total population of 450 people and settled as four small production teams (小队) in Nantou, Gushu, Neilingding Island, and Shekou. The Fishing Brigade worked to modernize the fleet and in 1978 during a meeting on scientific production, Hua Guofeng actually gave the brigade a first place award. Indeed, at the beginning of Reform, the Brigade had 69 ocean fishing vessels, 72 transport ships, and 18 oxygen boats that fished the South China Sea and Pearl River Delta bringing in fresh seafood for Cantonese dishes and by 1992, had accumulated enough capital to invest in modern industrial deep sea fishing vessels.

From 1978 through 1986, the Fishing Brigade lived the socialist dream, which was a traditional Chinese dream; the men fished, going as far away as Guangxi, the women kept house, children went to school and had medicine, and all ate in a common canteen, where the work team provided delicious food, including squid and shrimp. The system was called the 8 provisions (八包). However, by the late 80s early 90s, the scale of urbanization and land reclamation meant that traditional fishing areas had been contaminated and fish breeding grounds buried, and it was impossible to continue living from the sea. Suddenly, the advantages of the sea declined as property values soared and Fishing 1 faced a contradiction that many other villages would eventually face — what to do when urbanization decimated the conditions of traditional livelihood?

Once the sea was gone, Fishing 1 had no way of making a living because it did not have any land, except for that which the government had given it for housing in 1959, including a section on Neidingling Island, which Fishing 1 decided to develop as a resort and in 1992 as part of the guannei rural urbanization movement, the Fishing Brigade became the Fishing 1 stock holding corporation. However, after Fishing 1 had already invested their accumulated capital and borrowed against the development, Shenzhen and Zhuhai began a court case over who actually owned the island. Traditionally, the Island belonged to Zhuhai. However, in 1955, the Center had assigned Neidingling to Baoan, but no one could actually prove whether or not the transfer had gone through until 2002, when a copy of 1955 decision was found. In 2009, the Guangdong Provincial government finally ruled in favor of Shenzhen’s claim to Neidingling Island. However, the case raged long enough to impoverish Fishing 1 as the joint stock corporation/ fishing brigade/ village could no longer fish and except for Neidingling had no other traditional land rights. Indeed, by 2009 when the case was settled, Fishing 1’s deep sea fishing rights had already been bought out by China Merchants, which in turn sold them to Wanxia, one of Shekou’s original land-based villages.

And so here’s the neoliberal twist in Chen Hong’s story of old men and their vanishing sea: Fishing 1 re-entered Shenzhen urban planning as part of the Together Rich Project (同富裕项目), and over the past decade restructured and invested elsewhere: an industrial park in guanwai Gongming and fish breeding farms in Zhanjiang, for example. In addition, the Municipality organized training for fishermen to learn new skills. Nevertheless, the members of Fishing 1 have not only been proletarianized over the past 30 years, but are still paying off one of the debts that fueled Shekou’s growth. After all, Fishing 1 had no rights to any of the coastal property developments that enriched both China Merchants and neighboring Wanxia Village. Instead, Episode 8 ends with exhortations — from the Municipality and from the filmmaker — for individual development and initiative, ironically and inexorably returning us to Hemingway’s sea, where old men struggle feed themselves because they have been isolated by .

For more on my obsession with Houhai Land reclamation, more entries, here. A wander through the earliest Shekou landmarks, including the Shekou and Neilingding fishing families settlements, below:

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