The history of the city is underfoot and can, when the light is clear, old waters shimmer into awareness. Twenty years ago (give or take) Houhai Avenue and New Shekou Road met at a 90 degree angle. To the northeast was the entry to Dongjiaotou Port, where sand, building materials and “unauthorized stuff” were brought in. The port entry faced a gas and oil supply station, which was located at the northeastern foot of Shekou Hill, behind the hill, away from the water, where there were docks for ships to anchor.
Today, I noticed the intersection is an intersection. Both the entryway to the port and the gas supply station are under construction, as is the former dock area. The northeastern and northwestern corners of the intersection remain unchanged and thus are showing their age. In the northeastern corner is the Shekou #4 pump station, which was built as a work unit compound. In the northeastern corner is an older Shekou administrative building that looks abandoned?
Point du jour: the intersection is an uncanny reminder of the coastline that is no longer. Walking west along New Shekou Road, you enter that once-upon-a-time coastline. At Wanxia Road, you turn north to enter Wanxia Village and south to enter Fishing #2 Village. A few meters ahead is Old Shekou Street, follow it west to the Industrial Zone. Below, pictures of the intersection four corners. Imagine salt in the air, the approach of ships, and workers on bicycles navigating muddy roads…
Over at Made in China, Ivan Franceschini and Christian Sorace have co-edited Proletarian China: A Century of Chinese Labour, which traces the history of Chinese labor since 1898. Compiling events from the late Qing, Republican, and PRC eras, the book offers a diversity of voices and perspectives on the meaning and experience of work in China. Indeed, the brevity of each chapter allows for a comprehensive introduction into how political movements, economic restructuring and individual desires have constantly shaped and redirected the norms and forms having (or not) a job and the meaning of said job within and against a landscape of shifting national goals. Moreover, the scope of the volume allows for more refined comparison; for example, the unstable meaning of women’s labor, how technology has been mobilized inside factory walls, or even how the spatialization of labor has changed in the years from the rise of Shanghai to the socialist factories of Tianjin and then the emergence of assembly manufacturing in Shenzhen. I contributed a chapter on the moral geography of Shenzhen’s dagongmei 打工妹 during the early years of the Special Zone, mapping how the path to respectability was differently manifest in Shekou, Luohu and Bao’an.
I walked from Coastal City to Shenzhen Bay Park via Talent Park. It is a stunning venture, where it is possible to experience the best of what Shenzhen offers–futuristic architecture, sparkling coastline, and expansive skies–without having to deal with the consequences thereof–overbuilding, monopolized waterways, and pollution. Indeed, as in the city’s beautiful parks, this stretch of modern living embodies the goals, aspirations, and ideologies of reform and opening.
I know, you’re asking yourself: how is it already 2019? The date pounds like a migraine because once again we’re in the middle of a China-history countdown: 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, 60th anniversary of the start of the great leap forward famine, 50th anniversary of the Sino-Soviet border conflict, 40th anniversary of the “First Blast” of Reform and Opening chez Shekou, 30th anniversary of the Tian’anmen democracy movement, 20th anniversary of the crackdown against Falungong, and the 10th anniversary of Shenzhen’s decision to upgrade its “dirty, chaotic, and substandard (脏乱差)” urban villages. Continue reading →
On October 27, Handshake 302 welcomed 15 Shenzhen people to participate in the second chapter of “Urban Flesh and Bones”–Shekou: Globalized Geographies. Our walk traced the original coastline of old Shekou and made several stops in the landfilled gardens of new Shekou. terms, Walking along the coastline of the Old Shekou reminds us that the “local” Shekou is actually composed of important elements such as international connectivity, industrialization, business culture and personal mobility.
A current exhibition of the photography of He Huangyou (何煌友), Shenzhen Memory is something of a historical mashup. It includes many of He’s most-well known photographs, which have shaped our visual imagination of the Shenzhen before and at the cusp of reform. These photographs are well worth seeing in person. However, the exhibition neither contextualizes nor places the photographs in chronological order, leaving interpretation up to the viewer. This form of representation may in fact conform to what we know of how memory works–it is highly personal and unreliable–but it makes it difficult to place the images into larger histories. It feels as if we are suddenly viewing the illustrated introduction to the “fishing village to world city” narrative without bothering to mention that the exhibition includes pictures from at least three different coastlines and two different epicenters of reform (Shenzhen and Shekou).
So it’s that time of year when Shekou celebrates its still walkable neighborhoods with a car free Saturday. In addition to promoting environmental awareness, the festival includes games and food and a parade. This year, Handshake 302 worked with Shekou Primary School #1’s after school art club to design and make large puppets to carry from Seaworld to the Sanyo / E-cool area and back again. Below are pictures from the three-days of happiness that was making giant puppets with 8 and 9 year olds.
Its difficult when looking at a map of the proposed Belt and Road and not associate the maritime road with British colonialism, albeit in reverse and more than a century after the fact. But that’s what’s so distressing. When the British parliament dissolved the East India Company (EIC), it did not dismantle the systems of unjust and unjustifiable extraction that EIC had put in place over roughly four centuries of occupation, exploitation, and forced participation in the system. Instead, independence movements saw the rise of local elites who were determined to benefit from the system, justifying their profits with respect to local values and structures of oppression. In other words, it was never just the Brits, but also the Brits and their local running dogs (to use Mao Zedong’s felicitous phrase) and even after Independence, the dogs kept yapping, securing military support from the US and elsewhere (for the distressing tale of the fate of the Third World as a revolutionary ideal, check out The Darker Nations by Vijay Prashad).
The problem, of course, was that the profitability of the British system depended on opium; where would surplus profits (to fund industrialization, for example) come from without monopoly, forced labor, and addiction? Certainly, once India regained control of the Bihar plantations and China retook its ports, both countries were faced with the problem of “surpassing England and catching up with the United States” in the absence of captive markets and a drug monopoly to finance their industrial revolutions. And this may be why Europeans and US Americans fear the Belt and Road: if you’re not a running dog with Chinese characteristics, just what are your options in the new world dis/order (and yes, I’m looking at you, midwestern farmer)?
Map from an early analysis of Belt and Road, eurasia review.
For those who haven’t visited the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, it’s worth a trip if only to check out where the story begins. All stories of the Special Economic Zone begin with Deng Xiaoping, however, the historical problems that Deng Xiaoping is said to have solve differ from museum to museum. At the Shenzhen Museum of History, for example, Deng Xiaoping solves the historic problem of colonialism. In contrast, at the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, he solves the social problems that were caused by political mistakes–famine during the Great Leap Forward and relative poverty during the Cultural Revolution.