first look at the belt and road

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)?

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Map from an early analysis of Belt and Road, eurasia review.

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remembered origins

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.

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let’s debunk the fishing village myth

and while we’re at it let’s talk about food.

the new shekou cruise ship terminal…

…is big and far from the subway station that so usefully served the old ferry terminal. And yes, hidden behind reclaimed construction sites, the new terminal embodies how Qianhai–as a place and eponymous ambition–is reshaping the coast. Again.

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patchwork shekou, 2016.10.28

New edges and older sections, urban tumescence overtakes low-lying hills and buries oceans. The strength of urban expansion, its righteous inevitability, shimmers and jiggles, impresses–even though eventually paths peter out and doors remain bolted.

Closed off closed out: enclosed.

This is not the city that I want. It is however the city that has shaped my dreams and fears, given form to what I think is possible, what I believe to be necessary.  Continue reading

yuan geng memorial

Yesterday morning, the Shekou Community Welfare Fund received word that Yuan Geng, former CEO of China Merchants Shekou had passed. They immediately set to organizing a memorial, which was held on January 31, 2016 at 8 pm. The official memorial was held earlier in the afternoon at the Shekou China Merchants Museum, which is the official mourning hall for the departed leader. “The difference,” one participant commented, “between the two memorials was obvious. At the official memorial, people were waiting for Shenzhen Party Secretary Ma Xingrui and Mayor Xu Xin to arrive and pay their respects. In contrast, at the Shekou Community memorial, Old Shekou people came to mourn the end of an era.”

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local is as local does. or not.

This week I have been thinking about iterations of the “local” in two sites: the 2015 Shenzhen Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture and the Baishizhou Street Museum. In particular, I’m thinking about the possibility of making connections from “here” to “there” when they hinge on the distance between (a) some outside understanding of what the local might be and (b) what might be interesting to actual locals. The possibility of meaningful dialogue is further complicated when “outsiders” and “locals” are organized by global hierarchies, internal class structures, and unquestioned ideas of what might be intellectually and/or aesthetically engaging. Continue reading