Hong Kong and Mainland China to Partly Open Markets for Investment Funds

How will you celebrate the 18th Anniversary of the Handover / Return of Hong Kong to Chinese Sovereignty? This July 1, 2015, China will launch the “mutual fund recognition framework” which will allow international assets managers to sell their Hong Kong registered fund products to Mainland investors. How’s that for a celebratory mouthful of globalization?

深港通: it’s not a bus pass

Three days ago, Premier Li Keqiang announced that 2015 was the year in which the yuan could be freely traded within an experimental area in Shenzhen. This Two Meetings (两会) announcement followed his January trip to Shenzhen, when he stated that the Central Government (中央) required three things from Shenzhen:

1) to continue to cultivate the fields of experimentation (继续种好国家改革开放的试验田);

2) to lay the road of creative development (打造创新发展的道路);

3) to become a model of a city that can accommodate development (成为包容发展的示范城市). Continue reading

shen kong: flies, ants, termites, and locusts

In January 2014, anti-Mainland sentiment in Hong Kong resulted in protests calling for the “locusts” of Mainland smugglers to leave the territory and for border controls to be tightened against them. The expression “locusts” appeared again in a 2015 description of Mainland students studying at Hong Kong universities and “stealing jobs” from locals. A week ago, there was another burst of anger against “locusts”, this time against the small time parallel traders (“water guests or 水客“) who purchase goods in Hong Kong for resale in Shenzhen and other Mainland areas. In turn, pro-Mainland blogs have argued that “local termites harm Hong Kong more than locusts do (本土白蚁比蝗虫更损香港)”. Continue reading

shen kong: hoodlum governments

The price of a night of sanctioned thuggery: image

This post from the anti-Occupy Central Blue Ribbon Organization offers HK$ 200 to meet up in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay and HK$ 300 to meet up in Admiralty. Also on offer are HK$ 500 bonus to dismantle supply stations and HK$ 1,000 to create chaos, which presumably means “incite students to violence so police can justify retaliation”. To receive payment, there must be documented proof. Those interested in the job can call Mr. Li at the listed number.

The scale of the October 2 attacks indicate that the thuggery was not only organized, but also condoned by the Hong Kong police. Indeed, tweets, Facebook posts and next day news reports agree that Hong Kong police watched while thugs attacked students. In response, the students held their positions even as leaders urged the to leave the site and keep safe.

The government’s decision to partner up with thugs rather than meet with students to discuss their concerns reveals how unrepresentative the administration is, demonstrating an ugly lack of good faith. More generally, the decision also reveals the foundational violence of states–in choosing not to protect students from thugs, the police reminded everyone that they have the authority to both oppose and sanction violence against unarmed citizens.

In Shenzhen, the ongoing news blackout about Hong Kong protests does more than create an ignorant populace (愚民政府). The Shenzhen news blackout serves the same purpose as Hong Kong police complicity with thugs. The blackout reminds the public (who in fact know about the protests and in general support the students) that the government has unequal access to weapons (informational, economic and military).

In Shenzhen it doesn’t matter what we know to be true because the official account has been set through the blackout–nothing is happening. After all, not just the specter of Tiananmen haunts us. We also know that this show of media dominance is a statement of intent: a government that is willing to suppress information is also willing to use violence to secure its goals. Thus, although we know the official story is a deliberate lie, we do not break it, becoming complicit in the lies and violence against the Hong Kong students, even though we are also being attacked. And thus talk of support protests is effectively stymied.

The logic of informational violence is clear: Shenzhen people know about the protests, but accept the news blackout as inevitable. This acceptance is a demonstration of government power. The blackout is a deployment of informational violence against the people because it indicates that the government is willing to deploy weapons to insure compliance.

Indeed, in Shenzhen as in Hong Kong, the government is acting to isolate people from each other, creating vulnerable individuals and ultimately creating targets. As Beijing lawyer activist Bao Tong (鲍彤) pointedly asks in an opinion piece circulating on We Chat, “who exactly is responsible for blocking peaceful resolution of the universal suffrage question?”

Meanwhile, on October 1, Anonymous, a group of hacker-activists declared virtual war on the Hong Kong government, including the very scary threat to post private information of functionaries.

moral grey zones and economic liberalization

Mary Douglass reminded us that dirt was merely matter out-of-place, and correspondingly that the work of cultural categories was to keep human beings in line. Moreover, these lines are not neutral, but like dirt in the kitchen, have all sorts of practical and moral implications for the organization of human life. In turn, border zones comprise sites of categorical breakdown, where border crossing creativity is possible, and also illicit transgressions.

This morning, I stumbled across The Politics of Cross Border Crime, a book that documents prostitution, smuggling, and gambling along and within the borders of Greater China. According to author, Shiu Hing Lo, patterns of regional cross border crime have been changing. During the 1970s and 1980s, the main types of China-Hong Kong, China-Macau, China-Taiwan crime included illegal immigration, cross border robbery, airline highjacking, and drug trafficking. Since the turn of the millennium, however, crime has become more organized, with kidnapping, human trafficking, money laundering, and transborder triads strengthening their control over these activities.

Shenzhen has been trying to shed its frontier town reputation for shady deals and immoral excess. Nevertheless, the city’s internal borders (urbanized villages, older neighborhoods) and restructured borders with Hong Kong and East Asia provide ambiguous sites, where the unsavory might thrive. The most distressing reports of Shenzhen’s role in cross border crime entail forced prostitution of minors and virginal rape. According to Lo:

Cross-border prostitution is a serious problem in Greater China, where supply and demand are both out of control. On the supply side, many children are smuggled by mainland criminals from poor provinces to Shenzhen, where there were 1,000 child prostitutes in June 2006. On the demand side, many unscrupulous Hong Kong men demanded that prostitution dens provide young virgins for them…The main factors contributing to the grave problem of transborder prostitution in Greater China are a lack of strict enforcement for anticorruption campaigns targeted at Guangdong police, especially in Shenzhen’s infamous villages, and the HKSAR government’s failure to cooperate with the mainland government to severely penalize Hong Kong men who solicit mainland prostitutes, especially children.

Lo concludes that:

Unlike the official rhetoric that underscores the mutual benefits of economic integration, the reality is that economic liberalization along the PRC–Hong Kong–Macao boundaries has generated an increase in criminal activity in the region. As economic relations between Taiwan and mainland China have become closer since the presidential election of Ma Ying-jeou in March 2008, cross-border crime between the two places is destined to increase further.

This kind of report distresses me for two reasons. On the one hand, the prostitutionalization of Shenzhen has been an ongoing theme in reports about the city. Indeed, finding prostitutes, establishing their level of willingness, and complaining about their mercenary tendencies have been common metaphors to describe reform and opening and what it has meant for social mores in the SEZ. A similar rhetoric is used within Shenzhen to describe and undermine urban village neighborhoods. On the other hand, as Lo notes, prostitution and human trafficking have increased because Shenzhen and urbanized villages do offer more spaces for unregulated commerce, which may be either an opportunity or a risk for society. In this sense, there is need for increased vigilance to protect children and vulnerable residents from triad members and traveling businessmen who have more in common than we like to think.


situating the northbound imaginary

A good friend re-discovered an old, 1996 article not only from the early daze of Shenzhen research, but also pre-digital scholarship; when I lost the paper, I actually couldn’t click it back into existence.

Anyway, for the curious, “O’Donnell. Situating the Northbound Imaginery. 1996.“, Hong Kong Cultural Studies, Volume 6, 1996:105-108 pp.

shenzhen publications

In the hope that they may be useful, I am uploading five academic papers from the dark ages of Shenzhen studies. Be aware: much has changed, although much has not. In chronological order:

1999: Path Breaking(on how gendered nationalism facilitated the construction of SZ)
2001: Becoming Hong Kong (on how Shenzhen emerged through globalizing urbanization)
2006: Cultural Supplement (on political power as a cultural value in contemporary SZ)
2006: Fox Talk (on the emergence of neo-liberal urban identities in SZ)
2008: Vexed Foundations (on cultural continuity in SZ urban villages)

border theory

End of last semester, I attended the review for MArch 1 studio: Inbetweeners taught by Joshua Bolchover, The Department of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong. Six teams offered analysis and plans for the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border. I have found it useful to think through and against the students’ work because when juxtaposed, our respective points of departure highlight critical issues that need to be thought if we are to create a genuine cross-border society. So, thoughts:

1) From the perspective of Hong Kong, the SZ-HK border is peripheral to the city proper or downtown. In contrast, the border was the reason that Shenzhen was established. Two areas in particular — Luohu/Wenjingdu and Huanggang — have been exceptionally important to Shenzhen’s ongoing self-construction and yet remain, on the Hong Kong side relatively marginal to the larger society. Luohu and Wenjingdu were of course the points where respectively people and goods passed during the Mao era and early Reform. In fact, Dongmen refers to the area that used to be Old Shenzhen Market and was the commercial area that thrived once the border reopened as both Chinese and Hong Kong residents went there to purchase goods and services unavailable or unavailable that cheaply back home. Huanggang, of course, is an extension of the new central axis and with the construction of the Lok Ma Chau Loop will become even more important to Shenzhen’s construction of its border-crossing cosmopolitan identity.

2) The disproportional population growth in Shenzhen and Hong Kong complicated by residential densities in the region. Over the past thirty years, Hong Kong has had one of the world’s lowest birthrates, growing from a population of roughly 5 million in 1980 to a little over 7 million in 2010. During that same period, Shenzhen’s official population exploded from 300,000 to over 10 million in 2010. However, I have heard that the Shenzhen’s administrative population (管理人口) is over 17 million, while Hong Kong’s population continues to hover at 7 million. Moreover, even though Hong Kong has one of the highest residential densities in the world (6,420 people per square km), Shenzhen has surpassed it (7,500 people per square km), and continues to grow. How to feed, shelter, and provide for the well-being of this population, which is also concentrated along the border fundamentally shapes and will continue to shape both how we imagine the integration of these two cities as well as the social and environmental forms that integration will take.

3) All this begs the question of the appropriate scale of planning and designing for a cross-border society in the absence of a vision of what that society is and/or might be. Does the border area refer to those who live there? Those who cross through? Or those who benefit from the way the border sustains the international division of labor? We all know that borders are social artifacts, built and maintained for particular ends. And that’s the rub: in order to design and plan a better border, we need a vision of how the border might benefit both Shenzhen and Hong Kong, or maybe a vision of how Shen Kong might be differently lived. A story perhaps of membranes and sutures, rather than borders and exclusions.

Impressions from the review, below:

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local historian, liao honglei

How we evaluate the meaning of Shenzhen’s emergence and increasing prominence, both nationally and internationally, often hinges on when we entered the SEZ maelstrom of frenzied development and nouveau riche ambition.

Local historian Liao Honglei (廖虹雷) concludes a post on the thirtieth anniversary of Shenzhen’s founding with the following words:

It’s been thirty years. I remember what thirty years in Shenzhen have given me, I also can’t forget what the thirty years before Reform and Opening left me. What has been the greatest gift of these sixty years? “Life” — two completely different lives. The first thirty years constituted a difficult, pure, honest, and bitter but not painful life; the second thirty years constituted a nervous, struggling, deep pocket, wealthy, and sweet but not optimistic life. (30年了,我记得深圳30年给我什么,也不忘改革开放前30年给我留下什么。60年给我最大的礼物是什么?“就是生活”,两种截然不同的生活。前30年是一种艰苦、清纯、扑实,苦而不痛的生活;后30年是一种紧张、拚搏、殷实、宽裕,甜而不乐观的生活。)

As a local historian, Liao Honglei is sensitive to the disparagement in phrases such as “Shenzhen was just a small fishing village” because he knows that before the SEZ, Baoan Shenzhen was not simply a “one college graduate town” or “border town with only 300,000 residents”. He remembers the first experiments with cross border culture — in the 1980s, Shenzhen made famous al fresco dining (大排档) and night markets (灯光夜市), which were local graftings of Hong Kong’s Temple Street and Western Vegetable Streets (庙街 and 西洋菜街). As well as when and how Shenzhen adopted Hong Kong protocols for the institution of joint ventures, stock issuances, and futures trading. And, of course, the language that came with this change — illegal booth owners (走鬼), settle a matter (搞掂), did you get it wrong (有没有搞错呀), bye bye (拜拜), and bury (pay for) the check (埋(买)单).

Liao Honglei’s blog, 廖虹雷博客 is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Shenzhen’s history. On the one hand, the gritty details of lived experience permeate each post, taking into account how profoundly the establishment of Shenzhen transformed Baoan lives. On the other hand, he calls for the active inclusion of pre-1980 Baoan culture and material history as the basis of any kind of Shenzhen identity. Liao Honglei is a rare Shenzhener: an organic intellectual who advocates the recognition of Baoan as one of the SEZ’s true and necessary roots. Moreover, he actually knows this history, rather than has generalized a Lingnan type past onto the territory. Thus, on his reading, Shenzhen is not just an immigrant town, but also and more importantly, a hybrid mix that has a responsibility to acknowledge and to nurture its diverse origins.

luohu bridge: the bamboo curtain, literally

For many years, but especially during the Cold War, the Luohu Bridge was the narrow connection between China and the world — the bamboo curtain, literally. It is important to underscore the border’s Cold War status because during the colonial era, the Sino-British border was an open border. Indeed, it’s open status had made it an important refuge for Chinese intellectuals during the War against Japan. In fact, the border was not closed until 1950,when Great Britain agreed with US concerns that an influx of Chinese refugees and possible strikes threatened Hong Kong security. Not surprisingly, the border hardened as a result of the onset of the Korean War in June that same year.

In 1955, the Father of China’s space program, Qian Xuesen (钱学森) crossed the Luohu Bridge when he returned to China. Other important Overseas Chinese who returned to China by way of Luohu included mathematician Hua Luogeng (华罗庚), geologist Li Siguang (李四光), nuclear physicist Qian Sanqiang (钱三强), nuclear physicist Deng Jiaxian (邓稼先), and aerodynamics specialist Guo Yonghuai (郭永怀). Qian Xuesen’s life symbolizes how the US and China collaborated to militarize the border as the world shifted from British colonial to US hegemony. In 1935, Qian received a Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship to study mechanical engineering at MIT. He completed his doctoral studies at Caltech. In 1943, Qian and two others in the Caltech rocketry group drafted the first document to use the name Jet Propulsion Laboratory and included a proposal to develop missiles in response to Germany’s V-2 rocket. After WWII, the US Army commissioned Qian, giving him the rank of colonel. However, during his application for naturalization in 1949, he was accused of being a communist and he lost his security clearance in 1950. For the next five years, he lived under constant surveillance, until he was released to repatriate to China, where he helped China develop nuclear weapons, in addition to the country’s space program.

I mention all this history because episode 12 of The Great Transformation (沧海桑田深圳农村三十年) treats 30 years of development at the Luohu Bridge and Luohu Village (1980-2010) without mentioning the Cold War. Nevertheless, the military symbolism of the border is explicit. Images of Qian Xuesen observing the detonation of China’s first nuclear bomb open the episode. Then the episode cuts to “nine years earlier” when Qian crossed from Hong Kong into China by way of the Luohu Bridge. Then we see images of soldiers firing bayonets, and are told that the Sino-British border was established as a result of the 2nd Opium War, 1898. And then, in keeping with this military theme, we jump to images of the 1979 First Detonation, when China Merchants began construction on the Shekou Industrial Zone. All these guns going off and no mention of the Cold War. No explosions in Korea. Or Vietnam. Or ongoing war games in the Taiwan Straits. Instead, after the Shekou detonation, we cut directly to images of bulldozers flattening Luohu Mountain in order to put in the new railway station and infrastructure for the new Special Economic Zone.

Now, I understand the leap from the Opium War to Shekou is through China Merchants. I also understand the the one country two systems debate was rhetorically framed in terms of the end of colonialism. However, none of this explains why the Cold War was not mentioned in the brief introduction to the border. After all, Qian Xuesen and all the other Chinese scientists who returned from overseas did so in the context of the Cold War. To my knowledge, the history of that era, especially the pre- Lushan Conference history, is not sensitive, so there’s no reason not to mention it because the border was militarized during the Cold War and not during the colonial era.

Question du jour: does the general dampening of interest in Maoist history also mean that the Cold War is ignored? Or are we to understand Shenzhen history only in the context of the end to colonialism? And if so, does this mean that the Cold War will only end when Taiwan has been returned through another version of One Country, Two Systems?