where have all the young folks gone…

no time passing… The melody is Pete Seeger’s, but the context is Shenzhen. Last night I was talking with friends, older friends of many years who have lived in Shenzhen since the early 1990s. We ended up talking about China’s population crisis and how it has been manifest in Shenzhen as the aging of menial laborers, the ongoing removal of affordable housing stock as urban villages are razed, and the flight of young families to cities like Changsha, which are actively trying to attract young people using methods that range from housing policy to social media campaigns to create a hip and friendly city image.

The current situation in Nantou illustrates how these issues come together on the ground. The sanitation crews for the area comprise older people, many who had joined their children in Shenzhen to take care of grandchildren, but once the grandchildren started attending school full-time found themselves both with time on their hands and in need of supplemental income. Many of these crew members are past the age of retirement and ineligible for retirement benefits in the city, making them a vulnerable workforce. In terms of affordable housing, Vanke has upgraded many of the handshake buildings on the two main streets in Nantou, replacing family housing with transitional rentals for singletons. Indeed, last time I went to Nantou, the rates for upgraded housing stock was 5,500 yuan a month, while older housing was still priced between 2,000 to 3,000 yuan, depending on location and size. Moreover, over two years of zero-Covid enforcement means that many mom and pop shops have closed up with generational implications. On the one hand, older entrepreneurs have lost accumulated capital and income. On the other hand, that wealth can no longer be passed on to children who may have been raised in Shenzhen, but do not have city hukou.

So yes, restructuring with a vengeance.

Continue reading

are there 25 million people in shenzhen?

How many people are there in Shenzhen? No one actually knows and there are many ways of counting–hukou population, temporary population, and administrative population are the three most popular forms. However, according to “Guangdong Mobile Big Data Application Innovation Center,” in November last year an average of 25.67 million people were in Shenzhen. Of course, this population figure is the result of an algorithm, involving Mobile personal users over 18 years old who have appeared in Shenzhen, combined with Shenzhen mobile communication market share, one-person multi-card rate and the number of children aged 18 and under. But still, this figure is circulating on we chat.

do you want to buy a house next to singapore?

Just saw this poster advertising the opportunity to purchase a house on a small Malaysian island next to Singapore. The houses are relatively large and the agent is conveniently located in Shenzhen. The appeal? One can “[R]eturn to Shenzhen ten years ago, and invest in the Special Zone of a Special Zone.”

Here’s the rub. I saw this in an apartment complex in Dalang, at least twenty minutes from the nearest subway station. Everyone wants to by a house, and even places as relatively remote as Dalang are no longer viable options for migrants, even if they have a job, and even if they have savings.

On my way from said subway station to the elevator where this advert was posted, the cabby explained that since Lift (didi) and Uber had come to Shenzhen, it was no longer profitable to drive a cab. He planned on going back home to Jiangxi. When I mentioned that it seemed more and more people were leaving the city, he agreed, saying “there noticeably less people on the street.”

thoughts on the spatial distribution of shenzhen’s population

How many people actually live in Shenzhen? The numbers vary. Current Shenzhen Party Secretary Ma Xingrui says 20 million. However, the administrative population supposedly hovers at 18 million, while the city itself has never admitted to more than 15 million. Rough estimates suggest only 4 million people have Shenzhen hukou, another 8 million have permanent residency, and another 5-8 million “float” unofficially within the city

These statistics obscure how Shenzhen’s urban villages spatially organize these three administrative classes. For example, Shi’ao (石凹) Villagehas a local population of 4 to 500 people and a renter population of 20,000, making the ratio of local to renters residents 1:40. The ratio of local to renter populations in Baishizhou is an astonishing 1:77. Moreover, it is clear that renters–even floaters–aren’t actually leaving the city. Instead, they are finding newer (and often) narrower niches within the village.

Much like US American suburbs which manage inequality through distance, Shenzhen’s urban villages do the hard (and socially productive) work of managing inequality within the city. The majority of floaters and a large percentage of permanent residents live in the villages and tend to work in service and the semi- and informal economies, while hukou residents and wealthier permanent residents occupy “official” housing estates and tend to work in the formal economy.

Continue reading

shenzhen population, 2015

It’s official, at least 20 million people live in Shenzhen. According to Shenzhen Secreatary, Ma Xingrui, the city’s population (as of December 2015) stats were: population with Shenzhen hukou =3.67 million; population with long-term residency = 10.77 million, and; administrative population = 20 million.


gentrification with shenzhen characteristics

So hukou remains an ongoing problem. According to Dec 2012 Sanitation Bureau statistics, Shenzhen has a long term resident population of over 10 million and resident (hukou) population of 3.05 million. In order to bring some balance to the demographic, a 2014 regulation has dropped the education requirement from college graduate to associate’s degree. Apparently, they’ve also simplified the process.

The measures come about as both the rates of population growth AND turnover has slowed. It used to be that every Chinese New Year millions left, while after New Year a different batch of more millions returned. Now more and more temporary residents are making Shenzhen their primary home. These new migrants are different from earlier migrants in that they tend to be better educated, and have come to participate in Shenzhen’s new core industries–finance, logistics, culture, and high-tech, as well as the city’s strategic industries–bio-tech, internet, and alternative energy. So they are settling in and raising families without hukou.

In addition, the City’s second generation is starting to participate in Shenzhen society, and many are not actually legal residents. Along with new migrants, they are giving birth to the City’s third generation. In fact, there are so many children in the SEZ, the ongoing Shenzhen baby boom has become something of a marketing niche, despite the fact that young parents must return to their legal residence in order to receive subsidized neonatal care. In fact, Shenzhen has the highest birth rate in the country. The biggest economic beneficiaries of the boom are owners of homes with seats (学位) in the top schools. And real estate websites happily speculate (all puns intended) on the price of those houses over the next decade.

Inquiring minds want to know–what about the illegal floating population? And this is one of the interesting aspects of Shenzhen’s shifting demographic. As factory jobs have been moved elsewhere, we see a corresponding social restructuring–more white collar technocrats, fewer blue collar workers. At the same time, the City seems willing to formally claim these new migrants, even as requirements continue to exclude manual laborers, sanitation workers, and other low-end migrants from transferring their hukou to Shenzhen. Importantly, the social eugenics of this process dovetail with and reinforce the gentrification that the demolition of centrally located urban villages has brought about (Laying Siege to the Villages).

Dongguan is passing similar laws to manage its disproportionately large floating population, and one assumes its highly visible sex industry.

population number games

There are three resident statuses in Shenzhen: Shenzhen hukou, long term residence permit (常住证), and illegal residents or the floating population (流动人口). In turn, these different statuses are reflected in two kinds of population statistics: the long term population (常住人口) and the administrative population (管理人口).  The long term population is divided into those residents with hukou and those with permits. The administrative population refers to the number of renters who have been registered at a local police station. In practice, the difference between the long term and administrative populations provides insight into how large the floating population is.

Here’s the rub: Cities and districts usually only release population statistics, even though the actual population is on record via individual precincts, which report their statistics to the District. In turn, reporting practices vary widely between districts, making it difficult to ascertain how many people actually live and work in a district, let alone in an urban village. Continue reading

dec 2012: more hukou rumors

According to a knowledgeable friend, Shenzhen’s latest census results indicate that the city’s population has breached 17 million. However, the number of residents with hukou remains between 2 and 3 million. In other words, although the population continues to grow and despite liberalizing hukou regulations, nevertheless, the hukou population has remained relatively static.

What’s going on?

Another at the table said that although the regulations had been liberalized, nevertheless, applications had bottle-necked at different ministries and offices. The common denominator seems to be that its not enough to have fulfilled the requirements, but one must somehow exceed those requirements, offering something that will enhance Shenzhen’s statistical profile.

This rumor echoed similar rumors that I have heard about education. Although Shenzhen schools are required to admit waidi (outside) students in their cachment area, nevertheless, schools often refuse to admit these students unless they are incredibly talented and likely to produce results. Importantly, people emphasize that its not possible simply to buy one’s way into a school because teachers’ salaries and school rankings are at stake — no one wants to waste their time on students who will drag down class and school averages.

The general point seems to be that simply having money isn’t enough to buy one’s way into Shenzhen; one must also add cultural value to get in with the in crowd.

population and hukou update, 2012

The decision to further loosen hukou requirements is once again front page news in Shenzhen (南方都市报). Interestingly, however, the municipal hukou system is only one reform target. Yesterday, the Municipality released its 2012 Reform Targets, which like hukou reform seem to be about rationalizing public administration, and include centralizing the City’s pension, philanthropy, credit, and prison systems. Nevertheless, hukou reform captured the headlines. Why?

Simple answer: Despite the fact that the children of both early migrants and Baoan locals, as well as the children of long-term residents now claim Shenzhen identity, nevertheless, the majority of the population does not have a legal claim to the Municipality, let alone an emotional sense of belonging. Indeed, the City’s statistics noticeably do not mention uncounted members of the floating population.

According to recent statistics, Shenzhen’s official population is now 15.1 million, of whom only 2.3 million have Shenzhen hukou. The Municipality’s other 12.8 million are in various states of limbo, which range from those who have overstayed a temporary residence permit through workers who have enough points to apply for a hukou to graduate students at Shenzhen’s University Town, who will be given hukou along with their diploma.

Nevertheless, even if we don’t know how many inhabitants actually identify themselves as Shenzheners, we do know that the Municipality is vigorously promoting the slogan, “If you come, you’re a Shenzhener”. To give a sense of how the Municipality strains to graft a sense of place onto deterritorialized bodies, I offer a loose translation of a recent bit of musical propaganda, the song, “If you come, you’re a Shenzhener (来了就是深圳人)” sung by Xu Qianya.

If You Come You’re a Shenzhener

(chorus) Wherever you’re from, you’ll hear your hometown language; It’s hard to distinguish between elsewhere and hometown; Wherever you’re from, this city opens its doors to you; If you come, you’re a Shenzhener; The earth has dreams to be harvested; The heart expands; Shennan Road is like a production line; Producing Spring after Spring; Clouds search for green mountains, mountains search for clouds; People seek opportunities, opportunities seek people; Heroes populate this world; You and I have the same heart; repeat chorus

Rap: There’s an immigrant town; Inhabited by youth and their dreams; Our latitute is 22 degrees north; Here a handshake means something; Here smiles last a little longer; Every day is young; The heart expands; Shennan Road is like a production line; Producing Spring after Spring; Clouds search for green mountains, mountains search for clouds; People seek opportunities, opportunities seek people; Heroes populate this world; You and I have the same heart; repeat chorus ad nauseum.


不论你从哪里来 都能听到乡音,异乡和故乡很难分,不论你从哪里来 这座城敞开门,来了就是深圳人,土壤有梦多收获,胸襟开放多风云,深南路像一条流水线,流过青春又青春,云找青山山找云,人找机缘缘找人,天地间苍茫千万里,你我相知一颗心,不论你从哪里来 都能听到乡音,异乡和故乡很难分, 不论你从哪里来 这座城敞开门,来了就是深圳人

RAP:有一座移民之城,住满着青春和梦,这里刮着北纬22度季候风,这里的握手比较有力,这里的微笑比较持久,这里的每天都年轻,土壤有梦多收获,胸襟开放多风云,深南路像一条流水线,流过青春又青春,云找青山山找云,人找机缘缘找人,天地间苍茫千万里,你我相知一颗心,不论你从哪里来 都能听到乡音,异乡和故乡很难分,不论你从哪里来 这座城敞开门,来了就是深圳人 (Repeat)

shenzhen history page

I have just finished a page that organizes 15 posts into 5 chapters which provide an overview of Shenzhen’s history. Chapters include:  a introduction Shenzhen’s “special” status, Urban Planning, Cultural Demographics, and the Shenzhen- Hong Kong border.I conclude with an assortment of conclusions by myself and others on this history.