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).
For the 2019 edition of the Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB), Handshake 302 installed Electronic Lifestyles at the Futian Station Main Venue. To situate the installation with respect to Shenzhen’s cultural geography, I wrote From Bamboo Curtain to the Silicon Valley of Hardware, which was published at as part of e-flux architecture‘s Software as Infrastructure project.
From the essay:
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.”
Curious? Please give it a read.
The following post was first published on Pandemic Discourses, a blog curated by the India China Institute at the New School. The goal of the blog is to bring differently situated perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic into conversation with each other. The purpose of my post was to provide impressions of the first six months of the pandemic and responses in Shenzhen.
It’s been roughly six months since Shenzhen introduced measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Statistics from the Shenzhen Health Commission 卫健委 show that the highest number of cases occurred at the end of January and early February. There was a second wave that coincided with the return of residents after the Chinese New Year’s holiday. Indeed, the city has emphasized the difference between “locally transmitted” and “imported” cases. As of July 19, 2020, the city had a confirmed total of 462 cases, while the most recent case was reported on April 28, 2020. Continue reading
I went out this morning to buy fresh bread (still warm!) at my favorite bakery. The stairwell in our building is not only spotless, but also smells of disinfectant. In the compound, our resident Party Center (党群中心) had an announcement about sanitation safety on loop. One of the security guards took my temperature as I left and as I returned.
Things that I’ve heard from friends in other parts of the city: streets are empty, but in Baishizhou, more storefronts have been cordoned off; the country may be on lockdown, but it is partial. Urban renewal proceeds. Also, students have been sent reading materials and some have already begun online classes.
Something I’ve heard from a friend whose hometown is near Wuhan: everyone must stay indoors. One person per household can leave once every five days to purchase food and necessities.
Although we are beginning to receive word that return (from cities north of Wuhan on the Beijing-Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong) have been cancelled, nevertheless yesterday, the CPC Central Committee of Shenzhen announced that the city was not being locked down. Instead, these posts emphasized the measures that the city was taken to maintain the public’s health. Measures include mandating wearing breathing masks in public spaces and having your temperature taken when entering buildings and crossing borders in and out of the city. Nevertheless, the buses and subway are still running, supermarkets are still open, and as I write I can hear garbage being collected and processed. Continue reading
Yesterday I walked Baishizhou, remembering the bustle of our rushed departure. Bikes and motorbikes, cars and moving vans clogged the hot streets, and we squeezed through and around pedestrians on their way home or to work or to shop or out for a snack. Yesterday, even the once crowded food alley has been mostly abandoned; a few shops are still open at the intersections between the alley and main roads, but the overwhelming feeling is one of departure and a viscous waiting.
So, I wrote Heart of Shenzhen: The Movement to Preserve ‘Ancient’ Hubei Village. It was published in The New Companion to Urban Design, an (embarrassingly expensive) anthology, edited by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris & Tridib Banerjee. The paper tracks the rise of public intellectuals in Shenzhen as well as growing identification with the city’s cultural geographies.