cutting edge: shekou and the construction of the global order

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.

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the photography of he huangyou

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).

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shekou car free festival

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.

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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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