handshake urbanity — xinqiang community
Written by：Abraham Zamcheck
In 2003, Shenzhen initiated a sanitation beautification project called the “clean, smooth, peaceful project (净畅宁工程)”. The aim of the project was to clean up roads and gutters and trash and beautify public areas, which included razing the shanty communities (棚户区) that once flourished deep in the area’s lychee orchards.
How common were the lychee orchard shanties?
Common. Used to be, for example, that when one jumped off a southbound bus on Nanyou Road — well, then it was Nanyou and now it’s Nanhai Rd, but it is still the Shenzhen U stop — there was a narrow walking path that led up into a large lychee shanty orchard. Of course, today that area is the Lixiang Park, which is located directly behind the (new) Nanshan District government building. Rumor has it that the clean, smooth, and peaceful displaced 3 million squatters. The idea was to force these orchard shanty three withouts (三无人员: without a home, a job, or a Shenzhen hukou) to go home. Not many did. Instead, they moved into the urban villages, causing a rental boom, which in turn led to higher handshakes and population densities. Indeed, over the next ten years, officials estimated that at least 1/2 of Shenzhen’s population lived in the villages.
Most recently, the Municipality has targeted villages for upgrading. In practice, this means razing entire handshake neighborhoods because (again, so I’ve been told) there is an all or no one ethos to the negotiations. Inquiring minds (like 陈劲松) are asking, where are all the low-income people going to live? Well, many are moving either into guanwai villages or into shared rentals in danwei housing from the 1980s. However, the question isn’t that simple. Rather, it points to how deeply handshake urbanity is the primary form of Shenzhen society. If we estimate that 1/2 Shenzhen’s population lives in one urban village or another, then urban village renovation may eventually displace over 7 million people, which is roughly the population of Hong Kong.
The progression from rural village and lychee orchard shanties to handshake urbanity is currently unfolding in Xinqiang, one of Shenzhen’s officially poor areas. Indeed, Xinqiang’s present landscape recalls that of early Shenzhen, with its mishmash of rural architecture, fields, narrow roads, and handshakes as rural progress. In years past, Xinqiang Community (新羌社区) would have been an administrative village (行政村 – lowest rural administrative territory) or a neighborhood (居委会 – lowest urban administrative territory). No one has been able to tell me what exactly a “community” might be; the designation is part of an experiment for enriching Shenzhen’s official poor. Pictures, below.