A few months ago, I published an essay that periodizes the development of urban villages in Shenzhen. It provides a more nuanced context of how we arrived at the public shaming of Shatou during the recent Covid outbreak. It also contextualizes Baishizhou as an important landmark in Shenzhen’s cultural geography, speculating on what the demolition of Baishizhou means and might mean for the city. Published in Made in China, Archaeologies of the Belt and Road Initiative.
I’ve provisionally thought through February and March chez Shenzhen, writing the essay, ‘Covid among Us: Viral Mobilities in Shenzhen’s Moral Geography,’ which has been published online at Made in China. I’ve converted a pdf version of the essay for easy download, below:
Short but very sweet story about a friend’s cat, who is pregs with first litter–hee! Originally, my friend had planned to have the kitten neutered, but. By the time the kitten was old enough to safely undergo the procedure, friend’s building was locked down. And so, she had to wait for the lockdown to lift in order to bring her cat to the vet. Meanwhile, kitty went into heat and made a great escape into the urban village, where apparently the semi-feral community was having a good, good time. About a week later, the cat returned, much to my friend’s relief. My friend had secured her balcony (no more escapes) and settled in to wait out the outbreak. A few weeks later, however, kitty began showing. If all goes well, kitty will give birth next week.
Many years ago (and it was a different world), I interviewed HUANG Weiwen about Shenzhen’s urban planning imaginary. The year was 2016, and there was a general hope that urban villages might come of age and transform the city for the better. Anyway, here’s the article.
Shenzhen’s citywide lockdown has come to an end. Kind of. Last night, there were countdowns to midnight, firecrackers set off at village gates, and then people charging out. I’m not sure where they were going at midnight, in a city that was still primarily closed. But there were thousands celebrating in the streets outside their gates. The expression for this rush is ‘冲鸭,’ which literally translates as ‘charging ducks,’ but translates as ‘go for it.’ In fact, it has been a week of poultry metaphors, as a new phrase on the web is 叮咚鸡 (dingdong ji), which is a pun for the expression ‘wait for further notification’ that ended ever. single. covid announcement. I’m not sure where the expression came from (I’ve seen debates that the original is Cantonese, but no confirmations), however, chickens are running rampant through Shenzhen memes.Continue reading
So, I developed thoughts on what the demolition of Baishizhou had me thinking about Shenzhen’s urban villages. The folks at Made in China, published it as The End of an Era? Two Decades of Shenzhen Urban Villages. Or, you can download a pdf of the paper, below.
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.
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.
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