the shenzhen diaspora in dalifornia

So, those who can afford to leave Shenzhen and escape the crazy, have. Many are hanging out in second homes in Dali, but others are young parents, who are enrolling their children in kindergartens in Dali.

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building possibilities (sz book of changes, ep 5)

In this episode of Shenzhen Book of Changes, we visit architect Huang Zelin, who’s work is deeply connected to Shenzhen – the city he grew up in. His designs for projects in the city and beyond reflect Shenzhen’s dynamism and great possibility for change.

三洲田村:Narrating the Shen Kong border

So, review of Thirty Years of Shenzhen Villages continues from Episode 7 because for some yet-to-be-ascertained reason, episodes 5 and 6 aren’t available on youku net.

In 2005, construction workers unearthed a 10 kilometer section of the ancient tea route (茶马古道). This road once linked eastern Shenzhen to the new territories, more importantly (for the sake of narrating the Shen Kong border), this road connected to Sanzhoutian Village (三洲田村, literally “Peninsula Paddy Village”), where Sun Yat Sen (孙中山) lead the Sanzhoutian First Uprising (三洲田首义). In retrospect, Sanzhoutian became known as the first explosion of the Gengzi Incident (庚子事件), protesting the Boxer Indemnity that the eight colonial powers imposed on the Qing Dynasty.

Sanzhoutian is a rich symbol in Shenzhen history because it provides deep historic links between the SEZ and Hong Kong at multiple levels. Continue reading

梧桐山:poetry in the world

Climbing Wutong Mountain, actions speak, names resonate, and language, well, language fails us.

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conditions of possibility – grassroots discourse at the wutongshan arts festival

The title of this post shouts “academic theorization”, but in fact, the post itself is far less ambitious. I’m simply speculating about what conditions we need to put in place in order to cultivate cross cultural discourse in and about places with vexed histories, like Wutong Mountain, Shenzhen.

Creating models and forums for cross cultural discussions in and about places with vexed histories is difficult. On the one hand, most of us are not familiar with the values and concerns that inform the ethos of another people; indeed, even when we are relatively knowledgable about cross cultural differences, often we do not share our interlocutor’s priorities. On the other hand, cultural groups are not monolithic entities, but rather vexed by class, gender, and regional differences, creating what Bhaktin called “heteroglossia” – a situation in which context (including history and culture and politics and economy and one’s interlocutor) is more important in determining the meaning of an utterance than is the text.

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With the Wutongshan Arts Festival (梧桐山艺术节 – impressions above), organizers Gigi Leung and Michael Patte (founders of the riptide collective) aimed to generate conversations between village residents, local businesses (including Canyou), and artists who have moved there. The situation was clearly heteroglossic with both foreign and Chinese participants, who represented a range of different class backgrounds as well as different relationships to and with Wutong Mountain as well as Shenzhen. We came together to discuss future development in and of Wutong Mountain. Continue reading


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Wutong Arts Festival, Oct 15-16

Join riptide collective this weekend and participate in the Wutong Arts Festival. Michael and Gigi do wonderful work showcasing alternative voices. Details and directions, here.



大望: Culture Highland

Yesterday, I visited the Dawang Culture Highland (大望文化高地). This is the second year that Dawang has been part of the Cultural Industries Fair; like Dafen, Dawang is using art and international art markets to urbanize. Unlike Dafen, however, Dawang is located at the foot of Wutong Mountain and is promoting a more natural and original art experience.

Dawang refers both to a particular village and the cluster of villages that nestle against the foot of Wutong Mountain and so development in the area tends to be village by village, leading to both unexpected convergences and contradictions. Importantly, the spatial layout of the area suggests interesting (if familiar) transitions between rural and urbane Shenzhen as well as the integration of neidi migrants and artists into the city. On the one hand, Maizai, for example, is the village closest to mountain footpaths and has developed a cobblestone pedestrian street for Shenzhen urbanites looking for weekend relaxation and local Hakka cuisine. Other villages specialize in selling lychee honey. There is limited, small scale production and commerce. On the other hand, transportation to the area is inconvenient, which means that land is cheap. Consequently, both artists and squatters have nestled into the edges of Dawang lychee orchards.

This layout highlights the important social function of urban villages in incubating new kinds of Shenzheners: locals as a new kind of renter class, artists as the up and coming middle class, and squatters as the lowest of the city’s urban proletariat. Importantly, the area’s distance from the city center means that its one marketable asset is precisely the feature it wants to destroy – its rural and undeveloped nature (in all senses of the world).

Dawang and its Culture Highland are featured in That’s PRD’s introduction to new artspaces in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Pictures of the lay of the land, below.

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Shenzhen Spirit

Two months ago, Canyou Animation opened a new production center near the Wutong Wenti Park and future site of the Wutong Mountain Scenic Area Museum. Yesterday, Yang Qian and I joined good friend and Canyou executive, Liu Jingwen to tour the premises.

The Canyou story is inspiring. Canyou founder and CEO, Zheng Weining (郑卫宁) was born with a hereditary blood disease that has necessitated ongoing blood transfusions and left him handicapped. Now in his 60s, he has used his condition to make Shenzhen not only more accessible to handicapped people, but also to provide opportunities for living integrated lives. In 1997, he established 残友(Canyou), a foundation that both funds architectural and social projects to help the handicapped, but also provide economic opportunities to create economic independence. The result of that effort was the establishment of Canyou Animation (残友动漫), which specializes in advance 3D animation production, like that used in the movie, Avatar. The emphasis on economic independence and the means to achieve this independence distinguishes Zheng Weining´s vision and efforts. Notably, the organizational structure of Canyou Animation repurposes the Chinese work unit, combining residential and economic functions in one large unit. Zheng Weining is also the founder and CEO of the Zheng Weining Foundation, which works with domestic and international organizations to make China more accessible.

Yesterday´s trip to Wutong reminded me about early Shenzhen both because of the environment (small village in a beautiful mountain setting) and more importantly because of the spirit of reform that once distinguished the Special Zone, when the point of reform was not to flip flop from collectivism to capitalism, but to use aspects of capitalism to achieve socialist goals.

wutong mountain

wutong mountain

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

Went to a wedding yesterday at the Wutong Restaurant (梧桐山酒楼) in Shatoujiao, Yantian District. The wedding itself was fun and I’m grateful for the opportunity it gave me to visit Shaotoujiao, one of the more interesting parts of the city.

Shatoujiao is famous because its the location of Chung Ying Street (中英街), which explicitly actualized the One Country, Two Systems policy with Chinese stores on the southern side of the street and British stores on the northern side. For the historically minded, you can also look at boundary stones from the March 16-18, 1899, when the boundary was marked at the end of the Second Opium War. Chung Ying Street is also one of Shenzhen’s 8 contemporary sights (a direct quotation of Xin’an County’s 8 classic sights). Continue reading