no time passing… The melody is Pete Seeger’s, but the context is Shenzhen. Last night I was talking with friends, older friends of many years who have lived in Shenzhen since the early 1990s. We ended up talking about China’s population crisis and how it has been manifest in Shenzhen as the aging of menial laborers, the ongoing removal of affordable housing stock as urban villages are razed, and the flight of young families to cities like Changsha, which are actively trying to attract young people using methods that range from housing policy to social media campaigns to create a hip and friendly city image.
The current situation in Nantou illustrates how these issues come together on the ground. The sanitation crews for the area comprise older people, many who had joined their children in Shenzhen to take care of grandchildren, but once the grandchildren started attending school full-time found themselves both with time on their hands and in need of supplemental income. Many of these crew members are past the age of retirement and ineligible for retirement benefits in the city, making them a vulnerable workforce. In terms of affordable housing, Vanke has upgraded many of the handshake buildings on the two main streets in Nantou, replacing family housing with transitional rentals for singletons. Indeed, last time I went to Nantou, the rates for upgraded housing stock was 5,500 yuan a month, while older housing was still priced between 2,000 to 3,000 yuan, depending on location and size. Moreover, over two years of zero-Covid enforcement means that many mom and pop shops have closed up with generational implications. On the one hand, older entrepreneurs have lost accumulated capital and income. On the other hand, that wealth can no longer be passed on to children who may have been raised in Shenzhen, but do not have city hukou.
So yes, restructuring with a vengeance.
In Shenzhen, the ongoing transformation of a rural periphery into a mega-city is the latest chapter in global grabs to control local significance. Located just north of Hong Kong, the Shenzhen area has comprised the Sino-British border since July 1, 1898, when the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory came into effect. Once upon a time, the Sino-Bbeen accomplished through a logic of practical means to endlessly churned out desires and there has been something cut and pastiche about the construction of Shenzhen. What, for example, to make of this advertisement for real east developer Vanke’s East Coast development in Yantian District? What kind of space is implied by the figure of Lifestyle Leading the People?
The latest Vanke endeavor is called 万村 or “10,000 Villages,” which is a pun on the first character for Vanke (万科). Basically, Vanke has been busy demolishing and upgrading villages around China. According to Vanke founder and former CEO, “10,000 Villages” is a work of the heart. And yet. Now that 10,000 Villages has come to Shenzhen, there has been an outcry against upgrading urban villages because the effect is to eliminate the cheapest accommodations, forcing those who live there to leave the village and find housing elsewhere. Of course, there aren’t many housing options for someone who can only afford the cheapest housing in a unrennovated urban village.
One of the more interesting developments in this ongoing outrage has been the “Open Letter to Foxconn Staff,” which petitions by Foxconn for raises because employees can no longer afford to live in the upgraded villages. In fact, even monthly raise of 100-300 yuan can have serious consequences for workers’ wellbeing. For many, the increase in rent is a significant portion of the money they have been saving or sending home. In a nutshell, despite Wang Shi’s confidence
game that the 10,000 Villages project is making China a warmer, better housed place, in Shenzhen the facts suggest otherwise.
…or incompetence or sexual deficiency (if male) or too much testosterone (if female). And yet. The city’s ideology continues to promote masculinity and personhood as signs of the moral and deserving self, rather than effects of a class system that remains predicated on rural-urban divisions. Indeed, Shenzhen illustrates that even when rural people have become part of the urban prolitariate they can be ruralized with respect to the city’s more urbane classes. Continue reading
Speculation about what the 自贸区 (self governing trade zone) continues to shape all sorts of conversations. On Monday I participated in a public planning forum for the OCT, where comparisons between China Merchants in Shekou and Overseas Chinese Town in its eponymous neighborhood, the OCT illuminated contours of Shenzhen’s history. Four ideas of note popped up.
First, that China Merchants (in Shekou) and OCT (in the OCT) have been the two state owned enterprises most responsible for creating the Shenzhen image. During the post 1992 era, many of the images of reform (in terms of built environment) were of the OCT and its neighborhoods, tourist industry, and theme parks. Continue reading