Yesterday, I walked Huangbeiling, which is located on the eastern section of Shennan Road. Before the construction of the subway system, Huangbeiling felt like the end of the accessible SEZ; there was more beyond, but getting there required a car or plans for a day trip. Today, Huangbeiling is a major transportation transit hub, linking the downtown area to the eastern coast.
Huangbeiling still feels like a golden era urban village, albeit recovering from Covid shutdowns. The layout of the village is against and up the Wutong Mountain Range, with enough nooks and crannies for unexpected encounters: a household temple to Guanyin, a mountain park with feral cats hanging out in tree branches, and good, relatively cheap food.
Sixteen years ago, one of the earliest Fat Bird guerrilla performances was held at the Huangbeiling pet market. Dogs and cats were just becoming fixtures–like cars and branded items–of the middle class Shenzhen lifestyle. Fat Bird “rented” a large dog cage for about five minutes before security guards and village leaders appeared and asked us to leave In the video of the post-performance interview you can also glimpse what this section of Shennan Road used to be like. After the performers were asked to leave, we jumped on a bus and went across the city to Chiwan. The short performance gives a sense of both the transformation of the area, as well as the relative openness of the city at the time compared to the present moment.
Photos from Baishizhou, Dec 31, 2023. Three notes: 1, the Baishizhou mural has been replaced with a Shahe mural, suggesting that the area’s rebranding is proceeding apace; 2, the covid regulation infrastructure was solid and expensive, even though the area was already being demolished, and; 3, there are still holdouts in the village, most closer to Shennan Road, however, the center area near Jiangnan Department store, where 302 used to be is difficult to reach because mostly razed and inside the current construction site.
Yesterday morning between midnight and noon, 4 positives were reported in Shenzhen. One each in Pingshan, Xiangmihu, Nanhu and Dongmen Street Offices. So basically in the east, but citywide rapid response: neighborhoods went into lockdown, emergency corona testing was mandatory in those those street offices, and everyone in the city was notified that all day Sunday, June 19 access to public transport and spaces would require a 24-hour QR code, or green horse. Government sponsored events, including a planned Handshake guided tour of Shatoujiao were cancelled. Blink. The information was delivered to our phones.
I took the above photo while waiting online to get tested. For the first time in several months, we waited over half an hour. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining. Sigh.
One of the results of grid management (see Covid Among Us for details) has been the hardening of the city’s informal boundaries. However, this process has been ongoing for several decades in part via the imposition of a second traffic grid on top of the original traffic grid. In practice, this has meant re-purposing earlier, narrow roads as the internal roads of a cordoned off housing estates 小区 and laying a wider, more extensive network around the newly isolated gated community. In other words, what was initially planned as an open city, was incrementally partitioned and closed off even before grid management came online. In some sense, 2022 zero-Covid protocols merely accelerated a process that was already underway. Once you understand the logic of how the traffic grid was re-inscribed, its possible to see how boundaries were hardened through urban expansion.
One of the most difficult things to figure out is what to make of video clips on WeChat. Whoever took the time to take out their cellphone and film these moments, clearly thought that they reveal some truth about Shenzhen under lockdown. But here’s the rub: these clips often circulate without captions, as if the content was self-explanatory. When they do have captions, these videos are still difficult to understand because its difficult to know who the protagonist and antagonist are. Who should we sympathize with? Who should we condemn? However, unless I actually know the person who produced the video clip, there is no way to confirm who filmed the video and why, when it was filmed, what provoked it and what came next. I watch a clip, thinking, “Now I understand.” But what I’ve understood slips away the moment I click on the next post. Indeed, the lack of third party confirmation haunts all Covid posts on Shenzhen social media, especially because there are few ways to actually visit sites and ask. We have puzzle pieces, but no way of knowing what box they came from or even if they’re part of the same puzzle. The city seems more ephemeral than ever.
So, some videos that feature Covid management teams in hazmat suits. Make of them what you will:
The image reads: The humble wishes of Shenzheners, be able to leave their offices, be able to go home, sleep through sunrise without being woken up by megaphones. It’s true, as omicron has spread throughout Shenzhen, the city has entered what has been called in groups as a “war time situation.” Where it is required to be tested four times over four consecutive days. If a case is discovered the building is closed with people in it (can’t leave their office), the residential area is closed (can’t return home), and larger areas, depending on the routes they have taken over the course of their infection, are also closed. And yes, they have woken people up in the middle of the night and herded them outside for compulsory testing. The shut downs in Futian have made people especially nervous and some report going to buy vegetables, but the stores are empty.
Today, I’m wondering about the relationship between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the abrupt turn to “war time” metaphors in Shenzhen. I’m not yet sure how to think about this juxtaposition, but I can’t be the only one wondering, who does this militaristic rhetoric serve and toward what ends? Is it to take our minds off the upcoming Two Meetings? Is it to get us used to talking about war time necessities? Is it to distract us from Xuzhou? Is it to deepen levels of control and surveillance in Shenzhen? All of the above? I’ll let you know my thoughts when I have some…
A great Shenzhen neighborhood brings together several generations and types of housing. There is usually an urban village or two, danwei housing that was built before 2000 (more or less), and a larger mall complex that brings in the subway. When these clusters of different building types are located within walking distance of each other, you end up with a thriving independent food scene, affordable housing for singletons and low-income families, and upscale spaces that provide air-conditioned comfort for a cup of coffee or a cram school.
Among 90s generation immigrants (who are twenty-something or just turned 30), Meilin has become popular because it not only provides a diversity of housing and shopping options, but also because it is centrally located; anyone who lives here is looking at relatively quick commutes to work. Nearby urban villages are also popular among low-income families, who can rent two-bedroom apartments for 3,000-4,000, which is expensive, but doable with two parents working and an elder who watches children.
The popularity of this kind of mixed housing neighborhoods means that Shenzhen doesn’t have enough elementary school places where most families live. Historically, Shenzhen has lacked school places relative to population, but that was managed through hukou. However, since the city has allowed the children of long-term residents to attend elementary and middle school, high-density schooling has increasingly become an issue in the city, especially in neighborhoods like Meilin, where low-income families live.
So, I realized the other day that I’ve been walking neighborhoods that have been scheduled for urban renewal without actually posting anything about them. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve lost track of what iteration of Shenzhen planning we’re on, or if its just that construction sites blur together after awhile. At any rate, photos from a recent walk around Dongmen (东门) and Hubei Ancient Village (湖贝古村).
Located on the “bamboo curtain” at the Sino-British border, Shenzhen’s spatial liminality facilitated national political and economic restructuring, which ultimately had international effects. In the ordinary order of things, liminal spaces have recognizable thresholds and boundaries; one crosses from one side to the next. Most liminal spaces are located at the edges of mainstream society. In contrast, the geopolitical logic of Shenzhen has been to place liminal spaces at the center of society, making perpetual transformation—of the self, the nation, and the world—a key feature of the model. The transformation of Luohu-Shangbu from a riparian society into the earliest iteration of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) can give a sense of how liminality was deployed to as metaphor and strategy. Today, the Luohu area is known as Dongmen, a bustling cross-border shopping district, and Shangbu is known as Huaqiangbei, the world’s “Silicon Valley of Hardware.”