It’s been a while, but I’m back online, thinking the world through Shenzhen. Most recently, Made in China published a forum–Transformation of Shen Kong Borderlands— about the Shen Kong border. Denise Ho, Jonathan Bach and I co-edited the forum, which introduces the border, its history, and new perspectives on how people have lived within and between opportunities it has afforded.
The intro to the forum reads:
In August 1980, the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was formally established, along with SEZs in Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen. China’s fifth SEZ, Hainan Island, was designated in 1988. Yet this year, the only SEZ to receive national attention on its fortieth anniversary was Shenzhen. Indeed, General Secretary Xi Jinping attended the celebration, reminding the city, the country, and the world not only of Shenzhen’s pioneering contributions to building socialism with Chinese characteristics, but also that “The construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is a major national development strategy, and Shenzhen is an important engine for the construction of the Greater Bay Area (Xi 2020).” Against this larger background, many interpreted the General Secretary’s celebration of Shenzhen to have put Hong Kong in its place, so to speak; Hong Kong may have contributed to the SEZ’s development, but the region’s future is being shaped in and through Shenzhen.
This forum offers historical and ethnographic accounts of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong borderlands as sites where cross-border policies, situations, and aspirations continue to inform and transform everyday life. In political documents, newspaper articles, and the names of businesses Shenzhen-Hong Kong is shortened to 深港 or “Shen Kong,” suturing the cities together as specific, yet diverse socio-technical formations built on complex legacies of colonial occupations and Cold War flare-ups, checkpoints and boundaries, quasi-legal business opportunities and cross-border peregrinations. The following essays show how, set against its changing cultural meanings and sifting of social orders, the border is continuously redeployed and exported as a mobile imaginary while experienced as an everyday materiality. Taken together, the articles compel us to consider how borders and bordering protocols have been critical to Shenzhen’s success over these last forty years. Indeed, we would argue, Shenzhen succeeds to the extent that it remains a liminal space of passage and transformation. As the Greater Bay Area once again remakes the region’s cultural geography, the stories and voices herein provide food for speculative thought about today’s Pearl River Delta betwixt, between and within China’s domestic and international borders.O’Donnell, Bach, and Ho. 2020. “Transformation of Shen Kong Borderlands.” Made in China Journal 3: 93.
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:
Today’s postcard is a bit of jump jump jump–from Hong Kong free traders to the rise of openly Nazi candidates in the 2018 midterm elections via a bodice-ripper or two.
Here’s the question: Is E.J. Eitel’s Europe in Asia actually a Victorian-era pirate bromance before the fact? That’s the question that keeps bubbling up when I read his characterization of opium pushers free traders like William Jardine and James Matheson. Compare, for example, how smoothly the prologue from a popular historical romance links up with a passage from Eitel: Continue reading
As I watch the US president scream and shout and justify his socio-pathologies, as I engage low-ranking officials who change their minds and force their subordinates to work unnecessary overtime everyday, and as I argue with parents who think that their children are not “strong enough (不够厉害)” to take what they want in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies and institutional forms of bullying that are misrecognized as education or leadership or honor and virtue. Like many in the United States, a significant number of Chinese people accept social Darwinism as an accurate description of “the real world,” rather than recognizing social Darwinism for the self-serving misreading of evolutionary theory that it is.
Then, after a grumble about the normalization of bullying in everyday life, I continue reading E. J. Eitel’s Europe in China: the History of Hongkong from the beginning to the Year 1882, which compounds my frustration with righteous bullies and their inability to empathize with anyone’s pain, including their own. I manage three sentences before the arrogance, misogyny and general smugness of Eitel’s text force me to consider if I really want to read over 600 pages of what must have been considered “edifying” reading material. The text does make clear is the extent to which imperial bureaucracies, colonialism and some misplaced yearning for civilization continue to overdetermine the hierarchies and injustices that characterize contemporary societies. Continue reading
Like many late 19th century Britons, E. J. Eitel saw the East India Company (EIC) as the economic equivalent of the Qing Dynasty, asserting, “However galling this stolid assertion of self-adequacy and supremacy, and this persistent exclusivism of the Chinese Government, must have been to the East India Company’s officers and to the Ambassadors specially commissioned to bolster up the position of the East India Company in China, it must not be forgotten that the East India Company was, within its own sphere, just as haughty, domineering and exclusive a potentate, as any Emperor of China (19).”
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.
In a series of responses to E.J. Eitel’s Europe in China: The History of Hongkong from the Beginning to the Year 1882, I read within and against the emergence of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. I am not so much interested in providing a comprehensive history of the SEZ as I am in tracking Shen Kong, a form post-Mao post-coloniality that is one of the roots of the Belt and Road initiative. As I read, I note associations that link contemporary Shenzhen and colonial Hong Kong. In those flashes of awareness, the norms and forms of contemporary global restructuring make uncanny and distressing sense. Page citations are noted in parentheses and refer to the 1895 edition of Europe in China.
Sex in the Chasm Continue reading
I’ve been thinking about unexpected outcomes, specifically how mapping practices shape geopolitical imaginaries. So, I’m uploading four maps to make a highly speculative point: The Sino-British buffer zone has been a long time coming and like many contemporary boundaries it is an artifact of colonial institutions, including mapping practices. The way the British mapped Hong Kong included the area that today we think of as the Shenzhen inner districts (Luohu, Futian, and Nanshan) and was once known as “the Special Economic Zone.” For a more detailed development of this argument check out the article I wrote with Viola WAN Yan, “Shen Kong: Cui_Bono.” Continue reading
Tomorrow evening I’ll be talking about Shen Kong at HKU’s Shun Hing College. Please join us. The talk is free, but we ask that folks register at http://www.shunhingcollege.hku.hk/event/the-hong-kong-shenzhen-connection-lessons-challenges-and-outlook/.
Joshua Bolchover and Peter Hasdell edited Border Ecologies, a wonderful foray along the Shen-Kong suture. Contributing to the volume was pleasurable not only for the useful and considered editorial feedback, but also because I had a chance to work with Viola WAN Yan, a thoughtful and diligent young scholar. Please read our chapter, Shen Kong: Cui_Bono?