rock star science

Yesterday, I attended a high table dinner for Muse College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. CUHK-SZ is located in Longgang, next to the Shenzhen Moscow State University-Beijing Institute of Technology University (Shenzhen MIS-BIT) and the Longgang sports stadium, which was built for the 2011 Universiade. Both universities were established after the Universiade through national and international initiatives. The first class at CUHK-SZ entered in 2016, while the first class at Shenzhen MIS-BIT entered in 2017. These collaborations indicate Shenzhen’s commitment to formalizing science and technology innovation in the city. Indeed, these investments have been of a piece with the renewal of Huaqiangbei, where upscale malls have replaced the former factory buildings which housed low-cost storefronts, offices, and workshops on the area’s main strip.

Head of the Shanghai Medical Treatment Expert Group, Zhang Wenhong (张文宏) was the keynote speaker at the high table banquet, which also included a performance by the renowned Cantonese opera singer, Zhuo Peili (桌佩丽). Zhang Wenhong became nationally famous for his role in understanding and controlling COVID-19 in China. Accordingly he has become something of a science rock star, especially in venues like CUHK-SZ, where teachers and students lined up to have their picture taken with him.

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ghosts of the second line

It’s true: nothing’s every really over. I’ve realized why these past few days quarantine restrictions seem so familiar: it’s as if both the SARS precautions and the second line have been reactivated. From SARS: we can freely leave our estate, but only residents can enter. From days of the second line: we can freely move about the city, but residents need to be registered to return, while non-residents must prove they have jobs to return to. At present it seems like some jobs will begin again on the 17th and others are scheduled for the 24th. Perhaps schools will be up and running in March.

Here’s the rub: Management protocols that have limited the movement of people still linger. The gates of Shenzhen University, for example, became operationalized during the student quarantine, and afterwards the guards continued to control access to the campus. Inspections in the metro became operationalized during the Universidade and continue to structure access in and out of the system. It remains to be seen how many of these extreme measures will be incorporated into our post 2019 n-CoV normal.

人才公园: the new new coastline

Several days ago, I walked from Coastal City (海岸城) to Shenzhen Talent Park (深圳人才公园). Previous walks–now long ago and far away, and besides that was a different city–had me wandering the reclaimed land behind Coastal City. However, the new coastline is as firmly in place as anything on shifting sands. What’s more, its a popular destination for families and this popularity deserves comment. After all, people are walking from the old new coastline (at roughly Houhaibin Road) to its newest coastline, a walk that takes at least fifteen minutes one way. Below are images that give a sense of the layout of the new park. In the maps, the purple line is Houhaibin Road, the approximate old new coastline. Continue reading


These past few days, rain has cleared Shenzhen skies and when the sun comes out, everything sparkles. Yesterday, I followed the rays to the Spring Cocoon, which has been opened for commercial use. The walk from Coastal City to the sports center was once landscaped to assert the SEZ’s green ambitions. However, the corridor is now under construction. In the east, another shopping mall and in the west, lest we have any doubts about the Municipality’s futuristic plans, China State Construction (中国建筑) has begun laying the foundations for the Aerospace Science and Technology Square. Impressions, below; past walk when the Cocoon was under construction, here.

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Jiujie / Nantou / Xin’an Old Town

Years ago, I published becoming hong kong, razing baoan, preserving xin’an, an academic paper on urbanization as the ideology informing the construction of the Shenzhen SEZ. Part of that paper included an analysis of Nanshan District’s decision to create a walking museum at Nantou, the County Seat of Xin’an from the Ming Dynasty until the CCP moved it to Caiwuwei, in Shenzhen Market. The museum didn’t survive into 1998 and Nantou settled back into urban village life – migrant workers renting space in handshake buildings, small scale manufacturing taking place both at home and in low tech factories, and bustling streets of vendors, shops, and open air markets.

Yesterday, I walked Nantou and discovered Universiade traces. The roads that connected the buildings in the walking museum had been paved with grey bricks and the buildings abutting those streets (well all two of them) had been given “traditional” facelifts – a faux grey brick facade and eves. Moreover, the museum buildings have been reopened to the public! So the universiade upgrade of Nantou included Shenzhen’s ongoing push to open small museums in the urban villages.

Here’s the rub: Houses and streets beyond the scope of the museum remain as they were. Also, the gate god, which used to inhabit the old Ming gate to the city has been removed. All that remains of that living tradition are two holes on either side of the gate, where incense has been stuffed in. And yes, that’s an upgraded pedestrian overpass at the entrance to what remains of the walled city. Impressions of revamped and still unvamped Nantou, below.

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… and it ends with Revelations

Yesterday, I heard a rumor and a comment about that rumor, which have me thinking about the importance and fluidity of “reputation” in the absence of any trusted news media and the concomitant rise of weibo as a news source.

The rumor: because the Municipality overspent its universiade budget, this year small businesses will be taxed excessively in order to make up the difference. Apparently, small businesses have been targeted because they are the most vulnerable to government intervention. Private individuals have already been taxed and cannot be taxed again without causing unrest and large, state and/or foreign owned companies all have governmental connections and (in the case of foreign companies) China’s agreements to uphold its tax laws. In contrast, small business owners only have the government connections that they have made through bribes and schmoozing. Moreover, small business owners tend to swim alone, rather than organizing which means that they have neither collective bargaining power, nor use access to public media to air their grievances. Instead, they complain to friends, who in turn, pass the rumor along over tea and snacks with friends.

The comment: It’s difficult to confirm anything in China because important decisions, or rather, the justifications for important decisions aren’t documented and released into the public sphere because anything that can be written down isn’t the total story. My friend then explained that this is why she no longer reads newspapers for news. Instead, she reads newspapers to get a sense of government winds and reads weibo and blogs for news reports. But, when pressed, she also admitted that she doesn’t completely trust weibo or blogs. Instead, she evaluates (based on her experience) the likelihood of a report being true. And she’s aware that different personal experiences will make some people more or less likely to trust a particular report.  Continue reading

binhe road pedestrian overpasses

So. As part of Shenzhen’s spit and polish for the universiade, some pedestrian overpasses got makeovers. In particular, overpasses in the Futian section of Binhe were turned into a sort of public art. In the pictures below, I have included two overpasses from the Luohu section of Binhe not only to give a sense of how differently Districts spent their upgrade funds, but also to contextualize what pedestrian overpasses looked like before the Universiade. Nanshan has many high end overpasses, but they tend to be located on Nanhai Boulevard (the pedestrian overpass at the Neptune Building is worth mentioning). Below, a survey of two Luohu and the seven Futian pedestrian overpasses on Binhe Road.

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rumors of excess: the shenzhen universiade

I’ve been talking to people about how much Shenzhen spent on the Universiade and the rumors are flying.

According to a report from the Expenditures Department, Shenzhen Municipality budgeted 17.39 亿元 (272 million USD according to my online currency converter), or roughly 36.4% of the 2010 expenditure budget. In 2011, there were two adjustments to the budget, bringing the official total spent on the universiade to 29.15 亿元 (457 million USD). So yes, I’m trying to imagine the “difficulties” that the center overcame to insure the smooth opening of the Universiade (克服各种困难,助力大运顺利召开), after which there were no more universiade expenditures. So how much is roughly 457 million USD? One answer is, Shenzhen spent 92% of the first quarter total trade between China and Cambodia (498 million USD) on a collegiate sporting event.

But it’s unclear what this money was actually spent on and whether or not, for example, they include infrastructure upgrades or just money spent on flower arrangements and strategically placed sculptures. Continue reading

of smog, environmental and political

As the Universiade closed, Shenzhen’s clear skies and bright sun caused a friend to jokingly speculate that, “Even Heaven is cooperating with the Municipal Government [to put on a great universiade]”. Nevertheless, a mere 24 hours after the Universiade closing ceremony, the smog was back. And yes, it rained yesterday, so there were cloudy grey skies, but. The smog is back.

Alas, the smog is not only environmental. I remain unclear as to why Longgang’s “Crystal (水晶石)” stadium not only lost the opening ceremony to Nanshan’s “Silkworm Cocoon (春茧),” but also lost the closing ceremony to the Window of the World theme park. Now, I can understand moving the opening ceremony to the Cocoon because the stadium has been explicitly heralded as the perfect match to Beijing’s Nest, allowing Shenzhen leaders to deploy universiade internationalism to assert the Municipality’s position within domestic politics。 However, why move the closing ceremony from a state of the art, technically cutting age sports stadium to an aging theme park? This decision baffles me.

According to closing ceremony directory, Luo Wei, the venue for the closing ceremony was moved six times and the program was changed 45 times. He expressed dismay at the process until Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Secretary, Wang Yang (汪洋) reminded him that the Window of the World theme park boasts beautiful reproductions of famous global tourist spots and that the closing ceremony would be a huge party for all Shenzhen’s international friends to go wild.

And there’s the rub. Shenzhen’s boosterism not withstanding, both the Central Government and Guangdong Province have participated in staging the Universiade and in that shuffle, Longgang District, which remains the poorest and least developed of Shenzhen’s Districts, lost the opportunity to take center stage in an international event. Nevertheless, they’re footing the bill for constructing the Olympic Village. Such are the inequalities of “face projects (面子工程)”. Sigh.

that was then

Wandered over to the Shenzhen Bay sports stadium, where people took pictures of themselves in front of universiade installations and topiary. To give a sense of what is meant by “Shenzhen speed (深圳速度)”, I am posting pictures of that particular bit of earth, below.

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Importantly and often overlooked, hidden in plain sight behind painted walls and temporary green space, the bit of earth just south of the pageantry has gone to seed, awaiting post-universiade construction.