Body shaming and its ills are familiar: eating disorders in the pursuit of an ideal body-type; feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem caused by fat-phobic, misogynistic, racist and anti-trans bullying; and the intense pain and despair that come from being isolated from those around us simply because of who we are. Indeed, shame is an important component of social control precisely because it shifts responsibility for indifferent and cruel treatment of others from the shamer to the shamed. The logic is insidious, direct and more often than not internalized before we finish elementary school: I am treated like shit because this body is fat/ ugly/ female/ trans/ black/ old…
Recently, I’ve realized that mandatory covid testing manipulates body shame to achieve political and social goals. It has also changed previous expressions of care for family and friends.
Inquiring minds want to know: How does zero-covid play upon extant forms of body shame in Shenzhen? Well, if you lived through the US AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, you have (because you read Susan Sontag) a pretty good understanding of how illness and shame work to prevent the ill from receiving necessary care, while allowing the healthy and the powerful to justify their indifference to the pain of others. Below, I track how regulation of over the counter cold medicines is part of a bio-governance regime that has made it shameful to catch a cold.
Yesterday evening between 7 to 9, depending on the housing estate, Shanghai people took to their balconies and clanged on pots and pans to demand food. The event, “Music Party” seems to have been widespread, with organizers making and circulating individualized posters, telling neighborhood participants when their group would be playing. “Music Party” allowed Shanghai residents to tactically fill the city with alternative sounds–sounds that were meaningful to them, rather than the sounds of impersonal management.
As Jing Wang observed, sound has become a critical feature of locked-down Shanghai. Robotic dogs and drones carry loudspeakers through neighborhoods, instructions blaring. On repeat. Everyday. In a city where isolation has become the new normal and cell phones mediate intimacy, the materiality of a common voice (or clamor) shared across time and space allows for the mutual recognition that makes us human. Videos of the clanging and robotic dog (and yes the ‘bitch’ speaks with a female voice) as well as some of the posters, below.
When I speak with U.S. Americans about China’s commitment to zero-Covid, I find myself comparing it to north American support for second amendment rights. We are no longer talking about a policy that is or is not working, but rather about a belief that the country itself is in danger. In China, the central government is acting as if any form of living with Covid will harm the country more than disrupting daily life for millions of people; and many agree. Similarly, the NRA acts as if the foundations of U.S. American democracy will be permanently damaged by background checks on people who want to purchase guns; and many agree. In both cases, what seems from the outside as an irrational escalation of commitment to an outdated policy, from the inside looks like a fight to maintain an imperiled way of life.
It seems that a Shanghai community has established its own provisional community office because of the incompetence of the official community party secretary. The above photo is a picture of the first edition of their community bulletin, which is called “Tiandi Estate Epidemic Prevention.” The headline is, “Announcing the Establishment of the Provisional Autonomous Community Office for Phase 1 and 2 Second Tiandi Estates.” How cool is that?!
Yesterday, Xinhuashe circulated #动态清零怎么看怎么干# (image below), which translates as #how to understand and implement dynamic zero-Covid. Inside the parentheses, the question is raised: “if so many countries are ‘lying down,’ #why are we persisting with dynamic zero-Covid#? The answer to the question hinges on how population governance works in China. According to the article to which the weibo tweet refers, there are over 50 million elderly Chinese who have not yet been vaccinated. They are all vulnerable to catching and dying from Covid. Anyone who doesn’t comply with current protocols is (implicitly) threatening the health of those 50 million elders. Indeed, the rhetorical power of these tweet hinges on an unspoken assumption: what is more anti-social than threatening the lives of elders? Thus, alternative opinions on how the outbreak should be handled are not simply debates about public health protocols, but also and more importantly pose a serious challenge to social stability because they are intrinsically anti-social behaviors.
In trying to think through the logic behind the connections between public debate about health protocols and social stability, re-reading Susan Greenhalgh‘s work on population governance has proven incredibly useful. Her basic point is that the politics of reproduction is a key feature of modern government, especially how we imagine embodied relationships between past and future. Population governance touches on all aspects of citizen rights and obligations, specifically access to birth control and abortion. However, during the late 20th century, population governance has expanded to include how societies organize access to healthcare, economics (workforce ratios), environmental issues (population densities) and the meaning of human life (gerontology as an expanding field of study, for example). Population governance also shows up how eugenics have shaped modern politics throughout the world. In other words, population governance has become central not only to how we imagine ourselves as belonging (or not) to society, but also to how governments justify which public health programs to pursue and how to implement them.
I was flitting about the internet and discovered that as of May 19, 2020 the portal for the Qianhai Cooperation Zone had moved [from Shenzhen] to the management platform of the Guangdong Provincial Government, which means that the administrative unification of the Greater Bay Area proceeds and that much of what happens in Qianhai will now have to be approved in Guangzhou. The political ordering is clear on the Chinese site. The official name on the platform is: 广东自由贸易试验区深圳前海蛇口片区前海深港现代服务业合作区, which translates as: Guangdong Free Trade Pilot Zone Shenzhen Qianhai Shekou Zone, Qianhai Shen Kong Modern Service Cooperation Zone. The order of the place names tells us that Guangdong Province is the ultimate authority over Qianhai, and that Qianhai and Shekou are both under Shenzhen. Hong Kong only appears in abbreviated form as part of the cooperation zone in the second part of the name.
What might this mean for Shenzhen and Hong Kong? Thoughts du jour:
A recent article from the Epoch Times asserts that Shenzhen has surpassed Hong Kong in competitiveness because of the way Beijing has intervened in the economies of the two cities. Indeed, the establishment of the Qianhai Free Trade Zone speaks to the continued transfer of international economic functions from Hong Kong to Shenzhen through the deployment of “special” policies. This is, in fact, a solution to the one country-two systems policy that–for years–many foreign commentators ignored, when it was thought would Shenzhen become more like Hong Kong? Well, it has. And inquiring minds want to know: cui bono?
From the Epoch Times article: For the first time in a decade, Hong Kong no longer tops the list of competitive cities in China, and its due to the stifling hand of the Chinese regime, commentators note.
According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ recently released Blue Book on Urban Competitiveness—a survey of 294 China cities, Taiwan included—Hong Kong now ranks number two, falling behind its neighbor just across the border in mainland China, the metropolis Shenzhen.
The survey report claims Shenzhen topped Hong Kong, a bustling international financial hub and former British colony, because the mainland city better backed innovation—in 2014, Shenzhen government spent 4.05 percent of its gross domestic production supporting its innovation and technology sector compared to Hong Kong’s 0.73 percent.
The report also said Hong Kong’s standing was affected by last year’s student-led Occupy protests. From the end of September to mid December, hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers held three areas of the city to protest a restrictive Beijing diktat on political reform in Hong Kong (more).
…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 →
I’m curious about how the play “World Factory” works. One review said the show can turn a liberal hipster into a capitalist tyrant in one evening–and I think it was a compliment?! The point, of course, is one that I frequently hear; it you were a leader you’d probably make those decisions, too.
Talking about migrant workers in China (and throughout the world’s booming mega-cities) usually means “rural to urban migration”. However, this is not the case in Shenzhen, where “urban to urban immigration” has been as fundamental to the city’s success and growth. Indeed, the diversity of Shenzhen’s migrant population complicates easy understanding of what it means to be a Shenzhener, let alone academic debates about urban belonging and ideologies of exclusion. Continue reading →