one tradition, two villages

The entrance to Changling Village (长岭村) is located on the southern side of Luosha Road at the foot of Wutong Mountain. Before the construction of the Binhai Expressway (1999) and the opening of the East Coast Highway (2008) made traveling across Shenzhen commonplace, Changling marked the practical eastern edge of the early Special Zone. Today, however, Changling is conveniently located on the J1 bus route which connects Seaworld at the southern tip of the Nantou Peninsula to Dameisha on the eastern edge of the Dapeng Peninsula. The entire trip takes 90 minutes without traffic, but usually takes over two hours. Indeed, the J1 route traverses the entire Shenzhen-Hong Kong border, and its constituent roads—Houhai Road, Binhai Expressway, Binhe Road, Luosha Road, and Huishen Coastal Express—literally name the waterways and migrations that once shaped the area: Backwaters, Oceanside, Riverside, Luohu to Shatoujiao, Huizhou to Shenzhen. Continue reading

changling village: spring festival traditions

Tonight, I was one of roughly 2,000 people who welcomed spring in Changling Village (长岭村) by eating pencai together. Like a wedding banquet, a pencai banquet constitutes society table by table. The hosts were the 40-odd families who belong to the village, and their guests came from the Hong Kong side of the family, affines from neighboring villages, friends, street office officials, and representatives from the developer who aims to transform Changling into high end real estate on the Shenzhen River.  Continue reading

tianmian celebrates 20 years of incorporation

Yesterday evening, Tianmian Industries Ltd (田面实业股份有限公司) celebrated 20 years of incorporation, simultaneously confirming the group’s new status as a corporation and the corporation’s status as the continuation of Tianmian Village. The celebration achieved this sense of historic continuity through the sequencing of socialist and traditional customs, including the presentation of and speeches by Tianmian, Fuhua Precinct, and Futian District leaders, which was followed by singing and dancing performances, a demonstration of Bruce Lee style kongfu by one of Bruce Lee’s students, and pencai, a local specialty that is only eaten at collective ceremonies. The speeches and performances took place on a stage in the vip area, while two large LED screens had been set up throughout the common area so that guests could watch the entertainment while eating.

Another important ceremonial function was to demarcate borders both within Tianmian and between Tianmian and outside communities. The 137-table event occupied  most of the main road into the village (directly off Shennan Road) as well as adjacent public areas, dividing Tianmian into two sections: the ceremony area and the rest of the neighborhood. Importantly, only Tianmian Ltd has the authority to cordon off public areas for private ceremonies. The ceremony area itself was subdivided into a vip area for leaders, their families and guests and a common area for Tianmian stockholders, their families and guests. Tianmian guards prevented non-guests from passing the red cordons.

Rituals such as these and the concomitant right to occupy public space are perhaps why we continue to speak of Tianmian Village as a village. In point of fact, we were celebrating the dissolution of Tianmian Village and its reconstitution as Tianmian Ltd. In ritual terms, however, the celebration clearly established Tianmian Village as the host and hegemonic subject of this territory and Tianmian Ltd as the contemporary manifestation of the village. What’s more, throughout the evening the gaze of outsiders — many of whom live in Tianmian housing stock — reinforced the sense of Tianmian as a vibrant and recognizable collectivity.

These rituals are particularly important in Tianmian because the corporation has not built traditional village buildings, such as an ancestral hall or a temple. In obvious contrast to Tianmian’s appropriation of public space, when larger village-corporations hold pencai ceremonies, they set their tables in designated village plazas that are surrounded by traditional buildings. In Xiasha, for example, the large village plaza includes an ancestral hall, a temple, a public theater, a traditional garden, and a path to the Xiasha Museum. Consequently, where Xiasha relies not only on ritual, but also on the built environment to reinforce communal solidarity, Tianmian’s village identity remains as such primarily through what is commonly called “non-material culture (非物质文化)”, or rituals.

It will be interesting to see, say in twenty or fifty years, how strong Tianmian’s sense of village solidarity remains and to compare that solidarity to that of a village like Xiasha, where the construction of village architecture sets the stage for village rituals. In other words, although Shenzhen has been seen as a laboratory for economic and social experimentation, we might specify further, and watch the ongoing reconstruction of traditional solidarities despite and within the maelstrom of modernization. Impressions from Tianmian’s 20th anniversary celebration, below.

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Xiasha: What continues and what fades away

Yesterday, I met Chen Hong (陈宏), executive producer of the Shenzhen Villages documentary mini-series (桑海桑田:深圳村庄三十年) and was gifted my own set of DVDs and associated book! No longer dependent on the odd youku upload, I can now finish my review of episode 5, The Background of Xiasha (下沙背景).

The opening begins with the last Song Emperor fleeing the Yuan. His grave, of course is in Chiwan, but it turns out, over 800 years ago, Xiasha villagers met the imperial refugee and his ragtag army with large casseroles of chicken, seafood, pork, and vegetables or pencai (盆菜) as they are known in Shenzhen. The mini-series narrator solemnly intones that although the Emperor died before his ninth birthday, the pencai tradition lives on in Xiasha Village.  Continue reading