By 2003, the oyster farmers who worked the coastline that would be reclaimed as Ocean City were removed so that more coastline could be reclaimed. At the cusp of that transformation, I walked the coast that was still littered with oyster shells, sanpans, and poles that had been used for fishing nets. An old border tower stood, unused for years until it would be occupied by squatters after the next phase of reclamation.
In “City on the Fill,” I have been tracking the transformation of the Houhai coastline. Houhai means “backwater” and Qianhai means “front water.” These are terms from over 1,700 years ago, referring to the bays behind and in front of the former yamen at Nantou. Both Houhai and Qianhai have been repurposed in Shenzhen 3.0. Houhai has transformed from being a literal backwater at the edges of Shenzhen 1.0 and upscale suburbs in Shenzhen 2.0 to the new location of the city’s upgraded electronics industry. Qianhai, of course, is the site of the Qianhai-Shekou Free Trade Zone, which has defined development in Shenzhen for about a decade and is itself proposed as the new center of 3.0. (Inquiring minds want to know: will it happen?)
You may be wondering, how much more literal a representation of a cultural ecology can we get than that of a prospector walking a grid on reclaimed land? Not many prospected on the rubble beneath Coastal City, circa 2006, but for a few brief years–after the fill had dried but before it had settled–the stretch of bay which would become Coastal City, the Nanshan Cultural Area, including the Shenzhen Bay Arena and Talent Park gave rise to a strange ecology of squatters, tree farmers, hi-tech garbage pickers, and children who set off firecrackers at the city’s edges. The images below, for example, were taken one overcast day in April 2006 at the former site of a squatting community and the future site of the Tencent building. That day, several men had driven onto the land fill in order to fly their planes.
Once you have a house on the beach, what do you do there? You play. And where were the toys once made? In factories built along the old new coastline. Continue reading
So romancing the ocean, or is it oceans of romance? At any rate, once we’ve cordoned off and sold the coastline, it seems that all we’re left with romantic sunsets, looking toward the horizon that we’ll never reach. Poetic. Deliciously melancholy, even. And I do like looking off into the sunset. It’s just that the reduction of the coastline to commodified views distresses me. I keep wondering, what about the other senses? In Shenzhen it is incredibly difficult to smell fishing nets, feel of water rippling over our toes, listen to seabirds diving for crabs, and taste a gritty ocean breeze because we have been reduced to a pair of eyes in bodies that do not move beyond high rise window sills. Continue reading
So one of the ongoing transformation in Shenzhen has been the transvaluation of the coastline from a space of production and transportation to a space of consumption and international logistics. In practical terms, it means that Shenzhen residents have been “landlocked” despite having a 162 mile (260 km) coastline. Inquiring minds want to know: how did that happen? Continue reading
Here’s the thing about innovation and copy-catting; our focus on individuals and copyrights makes it difficult to see that what happened in Shenzhen was a re-invention of capitalism. “Shenzhen Speed” is the name we give to the accelerated pace of accumulation and concomitant disruptions that have defined the past 40 years in Shenzhen (counting from 1979). Now, when we focus on objects like household electronics, oil paintings, and graphic design, it is easy to overlook how this acceleration reorganized capitalism as we knew it. But that’s the point. In Shenzhen, innovation has pretty consistently taken place at the structural level——reorganizing populations, restructuring factories, and remaking landscapes. Continue reading