baishizhou village: a return of the repressed-what’s in a name mash-up

Most are aware that the area we once knew as “Baishizhou” was located north of Shennan Road, comprising four villages–Shangbaishi, Xiabaishi, Tangtou and Xintang. The neighborhood’s name derived from the “Baishizhou” subway station. In turn, the station was named for the historical Baishizhou, a mudflat or sandbank, which was located south of Shennan Road. Historically, our Baishizhou was a continuation of historic settlement patterns, while Baishizhou Village seems to have emerged more recently. Nevertheless, the demolition of our Baishizhou has led to the emergence of a new Baishizhou and this new Baishizhou has a telling (and frankly distressing) general layout. Below, I give a brief overview of the layout and then a brief history of the place name, Baishizhou. And yes, its more speculative than conclusive. Reader be warned.

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WoWorldly desires

Window of the World opened in 1984, on the auspicious day of 6.18 (June 18). Yesterday, I visited WoW with Constant Dullaart, one of the residents in this years OCT Art Residency. The featured image for this post is a snap of us in front of Niagara Falls.

This is the first time I’ve visited WoW since 1997, and was impressed by two of the new installations — a plane ride trip through the United States (installed 2004) and a toy train ride through mountainous Europe (June this year). The plane ride uses IMAX technology and moving seats to give the impression of flying coast to coast on a double wing plane. At each landmark, white Americans wave to visitors, yelling, “Welcome to the United States”; in watery areas, visitors are lightly spritzed with water. The toy train is less high-tech, but more popular with young children. According to one of the friendly staff members, these rides are part of plans to shift WoW entertainment from viewing miniature landscapes to interactive rides and activities; I’m thinking WoW goes Epcott.

I was struck not only by the yearning for elsewhere manifest in the WoW installations, but also by the continuing nostalgia for a particular kind of elite life. Tourism as an activity of early 20th century elites continues to shape built forms of this yearning. (Or perhaps we experience nostalgia in search of an object?) This neo-liberal appropriation of colonial forms of pleasure was also been reproduced at Shekou’s Seaworld, circa 1984, where the plaza houses western consumption in quaint buildings and the landlocked Shining Pearl.

Seaworld was one of the first efforts to materialize Chinese yearnings for the better (relentlessly global) life. Nevertheless, by the early 1990s, when WoW was built and developers put up European style estates (with appropriate tributes to Versailles excess), Shenzhen grappled to implement neo-liberal economic policies without neo-liberal political changes. The political-economy of both early Shekou and 1990s Shenzhen were reminiscent of early 20th century capitalism, when all sorts of material wealth began to appear, but only a few people were positioned to enjoy it. Or more to the point, perhaps, only a few elites had both the leisure and resources to enjoy it, including romantic alpine train rides and virtual plane rides on double wing planes a la the Wright brothers.

The fantasy life infusing representations of the early 20th century high life — the fashionable world — were a fixture of 1990s Shenzhen architecture. Seaworld and WoW, for example, were conceived and built in the post Tian’anmen era, when “European-style” housing estates were also popular, including OCTs upscale Portofino. In fact, throughout Shenzhen, but especially along Shennan Center Road, the mini-fascades that wrap WoW and Seaworld dreams have been enlarged in themed real estate developments, where many of Shenzhen’s solidly middling middle class still live and to which many migrants aspire.

Yesterday morning while waiting for Constant, I stood at the subway exit that is located beneath the Jiang Zemin inscribed glass pyramid and watched ticket scalpers approach tourists. The tourists spoke accented Mandarin, and had organized themselves into small groups of carefully dressed visitors. They examined the pamphlets, considered their options, and then opened their umbrellas to embark a rainy day of exploration. Those I later saw again within the park seemed to be enjoying themselves; I certainly enjoyed the toy train and virtual plane rides.

In recent years, of course, Shenzhen’s vision of the world has gone SciFi glassy — steeled if you will — against the imaginary onslaught of encounters with alien lives. However, that kind of elite consumption does not resonate with the same visceral pleasure of early 20th century elites enjoying both their traditional privileges and the mass produced delights of a new era. I’m trying to figure out why. Guess du jour: we want elite agency, but we want it as pleasure,in the play of tourism and leisurely meals, for example, rather than as the high stress, overwhelmed and overwhelming agency that seems to characterize elite life on the ninety-first story of a 21st century glass tower.

Postcards from my Alpine excursion, below:

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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.