Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
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up on itself: LEDs, neon, and 15-story-high video walls covered in ugly Chinese advertising”– a show that, I might add, was retracted after it was discovered that many of Mr.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.