cui bono at the border?

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?

changling village: spring festival traditions

Tonight, I was one of roughly 2,000 people who welcomed spring in Changling Village (长岭村) by eating pencai together. Like a wedding banquet, a pencai banquet constitutes society table by table. The hosts were the 40-odd families who belong to the village, and their guests came from the Hong Kong side of the family, affines from neighboring villages, friends, street office officials, and representatives from the developer who aims to transform Changling into high end real estate on the Shenzhen River.  Continue reading

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.