xi jinping rocks shenzhen

On his first trip out of Beijing, Xi Jinping visited Shenzhen and none of the streets or areas were cordoned off. And he walked the unguarded walk with Wang Yang, proponent of ongoing neoliberal reforms (transparency and ending corruption). Weibo went wild. As the two toured, Shenzhen residents swarmed taking pictures and uploading them to weibo, taking the trip as a sign that Guangdong may be the first Chinese provence to actually take on corruption.

“Anti-corruption” is, of course, the new content of political “reform”. Hence Xi Jinping’s explicit and repeated references to Deng Xiaoping. The trip itself inscribed the cartography of neoliberal reforms that are glossed as the Shenzhen Model, visiting the Qianhai Cooperation Zone and Tengxun’s corporate headquarters — both symbolize Shenzhen’s role emergence as a leader in new forms of international investment and high technology. In addition, Xi Jinping’s southern tour not only celebrated the 20th anniversary of Deng’s 1992 southern tour, but also included a visit to Luohu’s Yumin Village, the village that became famous during Deng’s 1984 tour. And in case anyone missed the point — Deng Xiaoping reformed Maoism, Xi Jinping will reform corrupt practices — Xi Jinping laid a wreath of flowers at Deng’s statue in Lianhua Park.

It is in this context that “no cordons” between the Party Secretary and the Shenzhen People resonated so strongly. One of my friends commented on the weibo posts saying, “If the biggest (老大) is willing to go out unprotected, the rest of them won’t dare to set up cordons!”

Another replied, “Well Comrade Jiang keeps himself safe.”

“Bah,” was the immediate reply, “He’s an old man, so we’ll give him face. That’s just a question of respect.”

This brief conversation hints at the cultural context of anti-corruption / political reform in China. Both friends were correct. On the face of it, Xi Jinping and new best friend Wang Yang are anti-corruption. Yet, they confront an entrenched power structure that doesn’t retire. All this conjecture matters because many of us are hopeful that Guangdong will be the first province to require corporations and public officials to release financial records to public scrutiny. This is being called “the clean government storm (廉政风暴)”, another reference to the Shekou Model, the Shekou Storm of 1988, when Yuan Geng protected students from investigation by visiting Beijing officials.

the shenzhen-guangdong model is xi jinping’s road to recovery!

.. and it’s official! Xi Jinping’s road to recovery is the neoliberal policies of Shenzhen and Guangdong.Yes, the first signal of whither Xi Jinping is pointing to Shekou, by way of the second of Shenzhen’s top ten concepts.

If CCTV is to believed everyone is enthusiastically studying the spirit of the 18th national people’s congress. Xi Jinping and friends have charted a road to recovery that sounds exactly like Yuan Geng, 1992, except of course in English, where the translations have missed the historical citation.

Xi Jinping, 2012: 空谈误国,实干兴邦 (Empty talk is useless, only hard work can achieve the revival of a nation).

Yuan Geng, 1992: 空谈误国,实干兴邦 (Empty talk endangers the nation, practical work brings prosperity).

Not surprisingly, Xi Jinping’s “it’s the economy” moment parallels Yuan Geng’s. Yuan Geng first decried empty talk in response to Beijing educators who claimed that Shekou youth were gold diggers (Shekou Storm 1988). First time round, empty talk actually supported alternative voices. However, Yuan Geng made empty talk an official Shekou slogan response as part of Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 Southern Tour in an effort to silence critics about the June 4th Incident, returning the focus of reform to economic growth. Second time round, empty talk seemed to mean “suck it up and get back to work”.

So here we are. Again. And inquiring minds want to know: is Xi JInping talking the talk of 1988 or the talk of 1992?

Personally, I’m thinking we’re still caught in the post 6.4 quagmire. Xi Jinping’s less talk, more action comes in the aftermath of the Bo Xilai incident and the demise of the Chongqing Model, which included the call for a return to collectivist economic policies a la Mao Zedong. Speculation du jour: Xi Jinping’s road to recovery is probably the continued silencing of progressive voices for social liberalization in favor of rising GDP, or the “steady at 7 (经济保7)” policy, a reference to China’s decision to continue to grow the GDP at 7% annually.

top ten concepts of shenzhen

On November 28, I participated in a symposium to celebrate the English language edition of Top Ten Concepts of Shenzhen (深圳十大观念 for Chinese i-pad version).

The production, organization and publication of the Top Ten have been very Shenzhen, so to speak. The Publishing House of Shenzhen Press Group (深圳报业集团出版社) created an online website, where people could vote for the slogans and campaigns that they though best represent the city’s history. These slogans and campaigns were then re-presented (re-issued?) as concepts that epitomize Shenzhen’s values and way of thinking. Thus, in his preface, Guangdong Provincial Committee Standing Member and Shenzhen Party Secretary, Wang Rong, “[T]he top 10 concepts are the concrete manifestation of the era’s zeitgeist and a vivid imprint of the reform and opening-up program.”

The ideological slippage from political slogans and campaigns to civic values and zeitgeist interests me because it points to Shenzhen’s simultaneously fraught and co-dependent relationship with Beijing. On the one hand, experimentation in Shekou and early Shenzhen legitimated ongoing policy debates in the Chinese capital. On the other hand, the Shenzhen model, specifically and the Guangdong model more generally continue to be at slight odds with the rest of the country. Specifically, Shenzhen continues to advocate a managerial approach to governance, promoting not simply business, but also entrepreneurship and a vibrant grassroots economy.

Two of the slogans did, in fact, challenge prevailing political currents and concomitant power structure. Yuan Geng provided the two most obvious examples — “Time is money, efficiency is life” (1981) and “Empty talk endangers the nation, practical work brings prosperity” (1992). The first was a clear challenge to the Maoist planned economy. The second not only expressed Shekou’s ongoing support of Reform policies, but also the industrial zone’s continued advocacy of talented young people with alternative ideas. The Top Ten discussion of “Empty talk” introduces the history of the Shekou Storm. At the time, Yuan Geng emphasized that while Beijing officials blathered on about ideology, Shekou youth were building the future. The decision to erect the “Empty talk” billboard in the aftermath of the June 4th Incident was especially telling because Shekou actively hired transferred hukou of intellectuals who had been sidelined for their support of students.

Nevertheless, thirty years later, those same slogans uncannily echo neo-liberal values throughout the world. “Time is money” quickly looses its oppositional potential when we remember that in Shenzhen, workers’ wages have not kept up with the price of housing; many white-collar workers are also unable to purchase homes. Likewise, “Empty talk” no longer seems  an effort to protect those with alternative ideas as it does the instruction to “suck it up”. It is therefore unsurprising that concepts 3-10 express the municipality’s ongoing efforts to promote neo-liberal neo-confucianism. More to the point, these concepts clearly resonate with Wang Yang’s call to deepen and extend neo-liberalism not only in Guangdong, but also throughout the rest of China.

I’m thinking that it is thus best to read the Top Ten as a list of double-edged swords. As political campaigns and slogans, the concepts reflect contemporaneous power games. “Shenzhen embraces the world”, for example, was a blatant attempt to justify outrageous spending on the 2011 Universiade, while “You’re a Shenzhener once you come” is the self-serving motto of the Shenzhen Volunteer Association; what exactly does it mean that everyone is a Shenzhener when less than 1/5 of the population has a Shenzhen hukou? However, when understood as exemplars of civic values and a city’s zeitgeist, the concepts illuminate cracks within the power structure and spaces for alternative practices, both in business and everyday life. Indeed, it would be wonderful if these slogans/values might in turn reshape Shenzhen’s neo-liberal juggernaut, creating spaces for legitimate political opposition and open debate on whither the next thirty years of reform.

The top ten concepts are: Time is money, efficiency is life; Empty talk endangers the nation, practical work brings prosperity; Dare to become the world’s first; Reform and innovation are the root and soul of Shenzhen; Let Shenzhen be respected for its enthusiasm for reading; Innovation encouraged and failure tolerated; Fulfilling the cultural rights of citizens; The fragrance of the rose lingers on the hand that gives; Shenzhen embraces the world; and You’re a Shenzhener once you come here.

China Daily and Shenzhen Daily coverage of the symposium online.

demise of the shenzhen youth herald

In April this year, Cao Changqing (曹长青 who now operates an influential Chinese language news source) posted “Bo Xilai’s Father Destroyed the Shenzhen Youth Herald (薄熙来父亲灭掉《深圳青年报》)” to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the closing of the Shenzhen newspaper, where he began his career in journalism. The post was prompted by a conversations with Yan Jiaqi (严家其), who had been the Head of the Politics Department, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (中国社科院政治所长) during the 1986-87 student movement and was an advisor to both Hu Yaobang and his successor, Zhao Ziyang. Indeed, Yan Jiaqi himself would flee to Paris after his support of student protests in the 1989 democracy movement.

In the early years of reform, the Shenzhen Youth Herald was, along with Shanghai’s World Economic Herald (世界经济导报), one of the two most independent newspapers in China. Consequently, despite being a small newspaper, the Youth Herald had a national subscription base, providing Chinese intellectuals a platform for debating progressive ideas and evaluating ongoing experiments in reform Chinese society. On October 21, 1986, for example, the newspaper printed Qian Chaoying (钱超英)’s contraversial opinion piece, “I Support Commerade Xiaoping’s Decision to Retire (我赞成小平同志退休)”.

In the manner of traditional intellectuals, Shenzhen University professor of literature, Qian Chaoying’s writing style was sincere and humble, but the content was unmistakably radical. Moreover, the piece drew directly on and from Shenzhen’s experience, asking: Why must the People show our sincere and deep feelings for Deng Xiaoping by sacrificing further reform of the political system (为什么表达人民对小平同志纯朴深挚的普遍感情,就非要以延缓政治体制改革的进程为代价不可呢)? On Qian’s reading, Deng’s retirement would allow China to reflect on and establish a more just political system, a system that was more in keeping with the needs of reform, rather than a return to the cult politics, which had characterized the Cultural Revolution glorification of Mao Zedong.

Yan told Cao that Bo Yibo (薄一波, Bo Xilai’s father and one of the Eight Elders of the CCP) was not only furious about the opinion piece, but had also approached it as an attack the power of older and already retired leaders. During a meeting on political reform, Bo Yibo participated as a consultant. Zhao Ziyang was talking about the opinion piece with Peng Chong (彭冲). Upon overhearing the conversation, Bo Yibo became livid and is reported to have screamed at the younger leaders, “You are already fifty, sixty and seventy years old. We won’t die and you won’t rise (你们也五十六、七岁了吧?我们不死,你们也上不来).” Hu Qili (胡启立) was apparently so frightened that he immediately showed his support for the elders, wishing that the the old leaders of the proletarian revolution would live to a healthy old age (我们希望老一代的无产阶级革命家健康长寿). Importantly, at that closed meeting, Bo Yibo called for the Party to investigate who had written and the newspaper that had published the opinion piece. The word used, zhuicha (追查) meant to find out who Qian Chaoying was speaking for. Bo Yibo assumed that neither Qian Chaoying, nor the Youth Herald was acting as an independent voice, but rather was acting on behalf of one of the young reformers, most likely Hu Yaobang.

The opinion piece was published at a critical time in Central politics. Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, Deng Xiaoping’s “right and left hands” were pushing for further political liberalization. Less, than two months after the letter was published, students organized public protests across over a dozen cities in support of political and economic liberalization. Astrophysicist, Fang Lizhi (方励之) led the protests, calling for introducing political reforms that would ultimately end the one-Party system and the continuing use of government as an instrument of Party policy. Two other intellectuals, Wang Ruowang (王若望) and Liu Binyan (刘宾雁) also led the intellectuals. It is said that Deng disliked Fang, Wang, and Liu, directing Hu to dismiss them from the Party, but Hu refused. In the fallout, Hu was forced into retirement because it was said he had been too lenient with student protestors. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was also one of the victims of the 1987 crackdown. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was closed and Cao Changqing banned for life from working in journalism at the same time that Hu Yaobang was forced into retirement. Two years later, the Tian’anmen protests would begin when students gathered to eulogize Hu Yaobang. The now defunct World Economic Herald published an article supporting the students’ call to re-evaluate Hu’s legacy.

Exporting the Shenzhen Model

The Shenzhen Model not only shapes neidi development, but also the form and content of China’s recent push to expand and develop its international presence. Friend Jonathan Bach directed me to the article, African Shenzhen: China’s Special Economic Zones in Africa by Deborah Brautigam and Tang Xiaoyang. The article contextualizes contemporary Chinese investment in Africa, concluding that:

“These zones are using an unprecedented business model in Africa. Although there are exceptions, most economic zones in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, have historically been developed and operated by governments, and the results have often been disappointing (FIAS 2008: 31). In China’s own zones, government agencies were also responsible for their development, with generally good results. However, the new Chinese zones in Africa are not being planned by government bureaucrats and given to Chinese firms to implement. Instead, they are designed and established by Chinese enterprises spontaneously according to their assessment of business feasibility. The Chinese zone developers are expected to bring future-oriented design, high-standard infrastructure and world-class professional management to help industrial investors survive the harsh market environment in Africa and facilitate their growth.

In some parts of Africa, clusters of dynamic industrial development have arisen spontaneously, as private initiatives. If the expectations for the Chinese-run zones are realised (and the jury is still out on this), these cooperation zones could form a synergistic third model, combining the market forces of existing clusters with the systematic organisation of the top-down model. If so, this would help the business sustainability of the zones. The scale and experience of the developers mean that they are less vulnerable, and better connected to networks of capital, ideas and support than Africa’s existing clusters.

These developments may yet come to naught, given the obstacles that have beset past efforts to develop economic zones in Africa. They face significant challenges of inclusion, communication, and integration with local economies. Yet the timing is right for some African countries to catch the new wave of investors coming out of China. If even some of these experiments lead to a genuine transfer of knowledge and opportunity from China to Africa, much as happened with Japan and south-east Asia in the 1970s and with Hong Kong and Mauritius in the 1980s, employment could see significant gains and, in some spots, long-delayed industrial transitions may yet be realised (CHINA’S SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONES IN AFRICA 51-2).”

To get a sense of why export Shenzhen and not Chongqing, check out the urban distribution of China’s top 679 enterprises. Not unsurprisingly, Beijing’s national state-owned enterprises dominated the list and Shanghai came in second. However, Chongqing had a mere 18 companies in the top. In contrast, Shenzhen came in third, with 52 top company headquarters. Moreover, the Shenzhen companies tended to be in the hi-tech, financial, or service sectors, representing the highest growth in new, rather than traditional industries and are precisely the companies investing in Africa.

Shenzhen-based Huawei‘s global expansion continues to accelerate, for example. Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, is the largest China-based networking and telecommunications equipment supplier and the second-largest supplier of mobile telecommunications infrastructure equipment in the world (after Ericsson). Likewise, Shenzhen-based Tencent made Forbes Magazine’s list of Asia’s Fab 50 companies and although the company is not yet in the China 500, it is the country’s largest and most-used Internet service portal. Other top Shenzhen companies include: Ping An Insurance (finance), ZTE Corporation (telecommunications), Vanke (real estate), and OCT Group (real estate).

And yet. These rankings indicate increasing inequality between regions, also explaining the ongoing appeal of Maoism.

The Shenzhen Model, 20 years after Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 Southern Tour

Reading a Shenzhen newspaper requires a sense of the absurd, a sense of the city’s history, and awareness of what’s up in Beijing. The front page of today’s Jing Bao (晶报2012年2月24日), for example, proclaims, “If the Special Zone doesn’t reform, it will soon disappear (特区不改革很快就消失).” The next headline is “In 2025, Shenzhen’s GDP will be the 11th largest in the world (2025年深圳GDP全球第11名)”, asserting that “The Shenzhen Model has Great Significance for the Country (深圳模式对中国意义重大).”

Inquiring minds want to know, well, which is it? Is Shenzhen not reforming fast enough to avoid extinction or is the Shenzhen Model stable enough to become the  world’s 11th largest urban economy over the next 13 years? Continue reading