It’s the 61st Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (National Day or 国庆节). Partayyy! That’s what it was in Tiananmen Square. Cotton candy, corn on the cob, massive floral displays, and… multi-colored plastic devil horn headbands. I have yet to discover their significance. But in essence, the mood on the square tonight resembled that of our Fourth of July. It was unfortunately (or fortunately) not the security-ridden atmosphere that I’d previously conjured up in my mind. Perhaps last year when China rounded its sixth decade the mood was a bit more conflicted, but I doubt it. All the controversial censorship, arrests, and injustices that plague the foreign press coverage on China feel like bitter annoyances when you stare into the crisp, glistening characters on two giant flat screens that illuminate messages of technological success, economic progress and a harmonious society. There is no looming sense of dissatisfaction here but one of overwhelming pride. After all, tonight’s square wasn’t empty but bustling with a smiling crowd snapping photos of their kids posing with Chinese flags and peace signs. And in the end, what’s not to be proud of? All the bad aside, because every country has its dark side, China’s unprecedented growth in the last twenty years is not to be taken lightly. Recognizing the pressures experienced in the past from both within its borders and abroad we might make rational sense not only of China’s rapid economic development but also of its political system. Of course there are many problems left to tackle here, but every citizen deserves a day to honor and rejoice in the successes of the country they live in.
It’s about time to breathe some life back into this blog. On Monday, I head to China for the fourth time, to a city called Shenzhen (“zh” pronounced like a “j” or soft “g”), located on the southern coast of China. For those who haven’t yet heard the infamous This American Life episode featuring Mike Daisey, who so eloquently stated: “Shenzhen looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself: LEDs, neon, and 15-story-high video walls covered in ugly Chinese advertising”– a show that, I might add, was retracted after it was discovered that many of Mr. Daisey’s experiences were fabricated– Shenzhen is a Chinese city with just over 30 years of history. Thirty years? You may ask, given China’s 5,000+ year history. Well, the land that comprises present-day Shenzhen has been in China for thousands of years, but prior to China’s “Reform and Opening” policy in the ’80s, when it became a “special economic zone” (a quasi laboratory for Deng Xiaoping’s free market experiment), it existed as a quaint fishing village. In contrast, the modern history of the city is marked by processes of industrialization, modernization, and westernization– stripped of almost all traditional culture. It exists today as an industrial center noteworthy primarily for its proximity to Hong Kong (an hour’s train ride), its proximity to Guangzhou (a wonderfully cultured city with phenomenal tea houses and restaurants) and for housing a number of foreign factories, including Foxconn, which turns out rows and rows of our precious iPads everyday.
The most thrilling characteristics of this city, however, are born between the hearsay. The above paragraph was written according to all of the information and opinions I’ve heard others share about Shenzhen, but in the next year I hope to flesh out the dirty details and take you, loyal blog-followers, on a personal tour of the lives of average Shenzhen-ers. So sit back, relax, and stop in to smell the roses that Mr. Daisey failed to find on his selective visit to one of China’s most fascinating modern cities.