books and aftershocks

In the aftermath of Kunming, the military armed and in groups of three can be seen at the odd subway station. The machine guns and bullet proof vests are disconcerting and, given the extreme lack of news, feel like overcompensation. If the situation really is this fraught, why haven’t we heard anything? And if it’s not, why the anti-terrorist performance?

In less distressing news, I finally got a copy of 深圳记忆 (Shenzhen Memory) by Nan Zhaoxu (南兆旭). It is an archive of Shenzhen pictures and stories from Liberation to the present. It’s organized by theme, such as “love” and then offers a selection of materials that highlight the vast transformation that has occurred. Under “love”, for example, Nan Zhaoxu has filed a 1954 article from the Bao’an Daily on the topic “How to find a spouse”. In contrast, in 2006 the Shenzhen Women’s Federation confirmed that Shenzhen had the highest number of divorces in the country.

I also snagged a copy of 深圳拓荒人 (Shenzhen Pioneers), which tells the story of the engineering corps that put in most of the City’s basic infrastructure. This history interests for many reasons, but also because I hadn’t realized that when the 20,000 odd strong brigades of engineering soldiers came in, the doubled the population in the Luohu area. Interesting way to think of demilitarizing the border by having soldiers dig trenches for civilian use. In this sense, the book also introduces the companies that arose out of the restructured military, including the rise of Huawei and it’s links to this transformation.

Utopian Shenzhen, 1978-1982

Below I summarize thoughts about the importance of Shenzhen in shaping China’s post Mao utopianism.

In the heady rush of hyperbole, it is tempting to describe the SEZ’s first thiry years as the – Unprecidented! Miraculous! Epic! – jump of a lowly county from the lowest escholon in the state apparatus to one of the highest. More prosaically, the systemic re-invention of Baoan County as Shenzhen Municipality took place over a series of administrative adjustments and concomitant reallocation of authority, responsibilities, and fundamentally, rights to the national allocation of people, services, and goods. From 1978-1982, the Central Government and/or Guangdong Province restructured Baoan County four times. Each restructuring had a different ideological meaning and aimed to created a different form of post Mao utopia. These ideological differences – more precisely different understandings of the utopian content of modernization – continue to vex the development of Shenzhen.

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