a poetic primer for understanding these times

All that we do not know haunts us. In some sense, social media has only made us more aware that our knowledge about what is happening next door or in the next city is limited. Nevertheless, we still extrapolate feelings from posts and insinuate critique into memes. This means that we require a basic lexicon to decode texts that were intentionally written to avoid censorship. Currently circulating is a poem about the courage to write directly about what’s been happening. And yes, I’m aware that the poem has circulated anonymously. Translation, below:

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shenzhen covid update for inquiring minds

“What’s up in Shenzhen?” You and other inquiring minds want to know.

Well, for starters, we have a new conspiracy theory about how Shenzhen’s successfully prevented a massive omicron outbreak on the scale of Hong Kong and/or Shanghai.

Your curiosity gets the best of you and you impishly ask, “What’s the tea?”

I lean forward and whisper, “Apparently, the city’s zero-Covid strategy has served to cover-up the fact that Shenzhen was caught unprepared, just like Hong Kong and Shanghai. At the beginning of the outbreak, the city didn’t have enough quarantine centers to house all the positives, symptomatic and not. So instead of treating patients, they sent everyone home to wait it out, without ever releasing true statistics. The basis of this conjecture is the unstated question: how could Hong Kong and Shanghai have so many positives and Shenzhen not?”

And my voice is rising along with my excitement, “I mean, you can hear the rhetorical force of the conspiracy theory, which pivots on what the numbers mean. And let’s be real. Statistical abnormalities should be ringing our bells because so much of who we think we are is tied up in hypotheses about populations, which are in fact statistically imagined entities. So, to my mind, which is a curious mind, the reasoning behind this theory of what is actually happening is mischievous satirical impeccable. Especially, if your point of epistemological departure is that omicron spreads+government can’t be trusted. Which, who doesn’t believe?

Anyway, the post (which counts as rumor mongering within official social media, but that’s another story for another day) reads:

I finally understand, and here’s the story:
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yang qian early plays

By now you’ve figured out that this week, I’m organizing the blog. Kind of. Anyway, today’s post is a treat from years past, when Shenzhen was and was transitioning from being the world’s factory. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Yang Qian wrote plays about how dreams took root and reformed in the soil of the Special Zone. Crossroads, especially, gives insight into the lived contradictions of the 1990s, when Shenzhen was considered a city without culture, even as Neolithic sites were buried in the rush to the future. The plays included in Unclassifiable Dreams were translated and published as part of the 2008-2009 Foodscape project, which was funded by Pro Helvetia. (Just an aside, during the project, Swiss artists complained to artists from China and the US that arts funding in Switzerland was limited. In the language of China du web, we call that 烦而赛 or humble bragging. Sigh.) Enjoy:

Unclassifiable Dreams: Five Plays by Yang Qian.

Also, Divine Garbage a video from 2003, when the second line was still operational, Shekou was still a manufacturing hub and Fat Bird was an unregistered group of friends, who did guerrilla performances throughout the Special Zone (we never performed in Bao’an before its 2004 restructuring):

how do shenzheners map covid elsewhere?

A friend from northern China once said (and I’m paraphrasing a long ago memory of Shenzhen, circa 1995), “If you want to see Chinese culture, go to Beijing, Xi’an or Shanghai. Even Tibet has more culture than Shenzhen.”

Her pointed point was: if you’re doing cultural anthropology (and I was!), go to a Chinese city with actual culture. Even the ethnic minorities have culture. Shenzhen, not so much. In fact, she also explained that Taiwan felt more ‘Chinese’ than Shenzhen did. When asked to elaborate, she explained that in Taipei, she had been able to speak Mandarin. In contrast, in Guangdong it was difficult to find people who willingly spoke Mandarin, let alone fluently.

Of course, nearly thirty years (!!!) later, Shenzhen has come to represent China in ways that Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai do not. Moreover, Shenzhen is often held up as the most open of the first-tier four (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen). Shenzhen isn’t China’s past, my friends assure me, but its future, which is why, Shenzhen’s response to Covid-elsewhere is worth noting. How are Shenzheners positioning themselves and their city vis-a-vis perceived failures of Covid management in Shanghai?

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We Were Smart

So, in 2020, Chen Wenhui and I translated Li Yifan’s documentary, We Were SMART (杀马特我爱你). If you get a chance to watch the film, it provides insight into the 2000s, when a second generation of migrant workers came of age.

The film, with English subtitles, can be viewed on Danshi. If you’re interested in the filmmaker’s story, he gives an YiXi talk on Bili Bili (in Mandarin).

are you involuted?

The caption to the comic reads, “Comrade, wake up, you still have overtime to work.”

There is much talk of neijuan (内卷) or involution in Shenzhen and indeed throughout China. The conversation is so robust, it even made the New Yorker (Yi-Ling LIU, May 14, 2021). Liu explains that China’s “involuted” generation is overworked, burned out, and despairing that life will get any better. Instead, of seeing rewards at the end of their hard work, they’re seeing just more pointless work. Indeed, as the comic suggests, crashing is often the result of neijuan. In popular culture, many young people have expressed their discontent through tangping (躺平), which translates as “laying down” but resonates with what US Americans would call getting out of the rat race. The expression is so popular, Alibaba even came up with a tangping app, which promotes making money through a relaxed, enjoyable lifestyle.

Of course, the tangping app is itself a symptom of involution…

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voices from coronavirus@sz

A poem from a friend:

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And two other posts: Continue reading

who upholds the peace?

You may be aware that many in China are protesting Christmas because the country has its own traditions. In turn, the nativist logic behind the protests has shown up all sorts of contradictions. Exhibit A is an image and commentary from we chat: Continue reading

yuan geng memorial

Yesterday morning, the Shekou Community Welfare Fund received word that Yuan Geng, former CEO of China Merchants Shekou had passed. They immediately set to organizing a memorial, which was held on January 31, 2016 at 8 pm. The official memorial was held earlier in the afternoon at the Shekou China Merchants Museum, which is the official mourning hall for the departed leader. “The difference,” one participant commented, “between the two memorials was obvious. At the official memorial, people were waiting for Shenzhen Party Secretary Ma Xingrui and Mayor Xu Xin to arrive and pay their respects. In contrast, at the Shekou Community memorial, Old Shekou people came to mourn the end of an era.”

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zhang kaiqin discusses “of a piece”

作品/Title:还没定/Of A Piece

材制/Materials: 布料、织物、配饰等 / Clothe, thread, ribbons, zippers, and lace
艺术家/Artist: 握手302 / Handshake 302
志愿者 / Volunteers:黄梓欣 王珺 张淼 / Huang Zixin, Wang Jun, Zhang Miao
摄影及剪辑/Videographer and editer:王一新 / Wang Yixin

创作人员(部分)/ Participants (partial list):
王也 操天然 林正丰 周怡婷 熊冬晴 刘夏星 方嘉瑜 文慧怡 呈 魏一一 王圣凯 李家 刘雨晴 陈晴如
陈晴琪 蒋明君 杨锐 王露杨 杨君如 王雁 杨传铸
黄东英 彭星悦 陈键濠 卫思思 孙晴 曹仪华 郑快
王子安 王美淇 黄仲有 刘佳 刘赫 胡然元 黄榕
韩心怡 朱乐桐 李籽萱 刘惠娜 李娜娜 胡欣怡 毛紫依
胡心婷 张皓南 尚子珺 韩翠翠 林炎 唐柳 游江
吴浩妍 罗淳仪 刘丽澄 刘馨语 张艺馨 朱少清 高丽
何心 李其木格 罗奕清 张梓斐 张斐然 谢文苇
张楚茵 王文 冯涂唯 涂明睿 文慧怡 吕若寒 /
Wang Ye, Cao Tianran, Lin Zhengfeng, Zhou Yiting, Xiong Dongqing, Liu Xiaxing, Fang Jiayu, Wen Hui, Yi Cheng, Wei Yiyi, Wang Shengkai, Li Jia, Liu Yuqing, Chen Qingru, Chen Qingqi, Jiang Mingjun,Yang Rui, Wang Luyang, Yang Junru, Wang Yan, Yang Chuanshou, Huang Dongying, Peng Xingyue, Chen Jianhao, Wei Sisi, Sun Qing, Cao Yihua, Zheng Kuai, Wang Zi’an, Wang Meiqi, Huang Zhongyou, Liu Jia, Liu He, Hu Ranyuan, huang Rong, Han Xinyi, Zhu Letong, Li Zixuan, Liu Huina, Li Nana, Hu Xinyi, Mao Ziyi, Hu Xinting, Zhang Haonan, Shang Zijun, Han Cuicui, Lin Yan, Tang Liu, You Jiang, Wu Haoyan, Luo Tingyi, Liu Lideng, Liu Xinyu, Zhang Yixin, Zhu Shaoqing, Gao Li, He Xin, Liqi Muge, Luo Yiqing, Zhang Zifei, Zhang Feiran, Xie Wenwei, Zhang Chuyin, Wang Wen, Feng Tuwei, Tu Mingrui, Wen Huiyi, Lv Ruohan

Thoughts on “of a piece” from Zhang Kaiqin, a founding member of Handshake 302. Continue reading