Long-term collaborator, Jonathan Bach and I reflect on the shifting meanings of local identity and local belonging in “Reclaiming the New, Remaking the Local: Shenzhen at 40,” which was published in china perspectives, 2021/2 pp. 71-5.
In Shenzhen, mobilization to get people tested for covid-19 continues, as does pressure to get vaccinated. Everything is online and seemingly streamlined–from registering, to getting an appointment, to having the information pop up on your cellphone covid-app. And it works, until it doesn’t.Continue reading
The other day, I was asked for my thoughts on the trending hashtag, “Shenzhen girl (深圳女孩儿).” I didn’t understand the question because I don’t Tik Tok. According to my young friend, the hashtag origin story occurred when a couple Shenzhen girls walked into a Beijing bar. The Beijing girls chatted about falling in love and relationships; the #shenzhengirls talked about making money and what they would buy with their cash. Apparently, this generation of #shenzhengirls are too materialistic. I wasn’t shocked by the hashtag because sexing the greed is an ongoing Shenzhen conversation, where people have tended to attribute a woman’s economic success to an immoral character.
But things aren’t so straight-forwardly chauvinistic.Continue reading
I was playing with the 1866 map of Xin’an County (above) and ended up labeling three important sites on the map–Chiwan, Nantou, and Xixiang. These are the important sites on what used to be called Dachan Bay, and is now known as Qianhai. The reference to all these place names is “Nantou,” which is the colloquially name for the Xin’an County Seat. “Xixiang” means “Western xiang” because it was west of Xin’an. Qianhai means “Front Sea” and Houhai means “Back Sea,” and both are named with respect to Xin’an. Chiwan, of course, was the site of departure for the Western Seas in the Ming and then the South China Sea in the Qing.
The historical relationship between these three places has been gradually restructured since the establishment of the PRC in 1949. First, the County Seat was moved from Nantou to Shenzhen. In practical terms, this meant moving from the PRD to the Kowloon-Canton Railroad. It also meant that Xixiang became the most important town on Qianhai. Second, in 1979, the development of the Shekou Industrial Zone incorporated Chiwan into the new port area. Third, when the Second Line was fixed in 1982, it was drawn just north of Nantou. The new county seat was built up between Nantou and Xixiang. This new county seat was called Bao’an, after the rehabilitated name of the county.
Most recently, this area has been restructured as Qianhai, within the context of the Greater Bay Area. The borders of the Qianhai area run parallel to the coastline (new, reclaimed, but another story), but do not include Xixiang. In other words, what is being restructured as the city’s future are Shekou and Bao’an, while Nantou has been repositioned as a tourist site and Xixiang is on the rise as a residential area.
Below are some impressions of Xixiang, its history, and residential diversity.
Just when I thought it was safe to go out in public without having to refute the fishing village myth and the city’s nets-to-riches origins, I attended a meeting organized for foreigners visiting Shenzhen. The host (from England via Beijing) asked me point blank to talk about the city that used to be a fishing village. Clearly, my efforts to get a more accurate first impression into the world have not been as successful as I had hoped. Sigh.
There was, however, an unexpected silver line to this encounter; I’ve streamlined my takedown!Continue reading
Yesterday, I attended a high table dinner for Muse College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. CUHK-SZ is located in Longgang, next to the Shenzhen Moscow State University-Beijing Institute of Technology University (Shenzhen MIS-BIT) and the Longgang sports stadium, which was built for the 2011 Universiade. Both universities were established after the Universiade through national and international initiatives. The first class at CUHK-SZ entered in 2016, while the first class at Shenzhen MIS-BIT entered in 2017. These collaborations indicate Shenzhen’s commitment to formalizing science and technology innovation in the city. Indeed, these investments have been of a piece with the renewal of Huaqiangbei, where upscale malls have replaced the former factory buildings which housed low-cost storefronts, offices, and workshops on the area’s main strip.
Head of the Shanghai Medical Treatment Expert Group, Zhang Wenhong (张文宏) was the keynote speaker at the high table banquet, which also included a performance by the renowned Cantonese opera singer, Zhuo Peili (桌佩丽). Zhang Wenhong became nationally famous for his role in understanding and controlling COVID-19 in China. Accordingly he has become something of a science rock star, especially in venues like CUHK-SZ, where teachers and students lined up to have their picture taken with him.Continue reading
The English and Chinese online introductions to the Steel Structure Museum (深圳中国钢铁博物馆) emphasizes that the history of steel structures is an international story of human progress. The English intro reads: “We are the only museum in China themed steel structure, which is sponsored by CSCEC Science and Industry as an CSR project. Open to the public since May 18 “International Museum Day” of 2017, we narrate the story of steel structure both of China and rest of the world chronologically and in order of technical process, and explain steel structures’ advantages.” The Chinese introduction is a bit more specific but makes the same point: 深圳中国钢结构博物馆是中国唯一以钢结构为主题的博物馆，由中建科工集团有限公司举办。以“行业首创、中国一流”为建馆目标，以历史和科技并重为陈列原则，以实物、模型、图片、文字、多媒体等为展示手段，集收集、展览、研究、教育、交流于一体，融科普性、学术性、趣味性、参与性于一身，旨在让观众了解世界钢结构的发展历程、探寻中国钢结构的崛起之路以及感受钢结构文明的气韵，是建筑科普的重要基地和科技交流的重要平台 (in Chinese).
The museum tracks the use of steel as a sign of human developmental progress, which begins in England, is aestheticized in Paris, flourishes in the US and culminates in China. Important but missing from this march of progress are mentions of Stalin and socialist industrialization via centralized planning and concomitant movements like the Great Leap Forward, where steel was the key (以钢为纲 image below).
Nevertheless, the theme itself is enlightening, especially in the context of global restructuring in the post Cold War era. So, here’s what the museum has me thinking:Continue reading
I walked from Coastal City to Shenzhen Bay Park via Talent Park. It is a stunning venture, where it is possible to experience the best of what Shenzhen offers–futuristic architecture, sparkling coastline, and expansive skies–without having to deal with the consequences thereof–overbuilding, monopolized waterways, and pollution. Indeed, as in the city’s beautiful parks, this stretch of modern living embodies the goals, aspirations, and ideologies of reform and opening.Continue reading
This is a speculative post about something that has been niggling at the back of my mind this past year. Or at least since I started walking around Shenzhen after COVID restrictions lifted circa April 2020; I think the era of urban villages in Shenzhen has ended.Continue reading
Sometimes, I walk through older sections of the city, and I try to remember what it felt like the first time I walked there. Or, if I can’t track my emotional memories, I try to remember what this place used to look like. Who was here? What were they doing? Did I take pictures or take notes and if not, where has it all gone?Continue reading