From Exceptions to Region in Pearl River Delta - Part III

The last case I want to bring to attention is Nansha in Guangzhou which has remained in between all exceptional territories. The earth / soil there has been extracted to be used in the construction industry that have built the cities in Pearl River Delta. The Abandoned by Doreen Heng Liu1 explains how the old citizens have left Nansha after this deep intervention, and how today there are several programmes to transform the place, but it has not been able to recover from its earthly traumas. Nansha represents how a place can become the in-between, the wasteland, and the environmental ruin. However, within the narrative of progress in China, Nansha, as ruin, is never considered as a symptom of malfunctioning, but presented as part of the success story of the absolute future. Nansha, and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region, is where the present is too fast to grasp, the past doesn't exist, and the future is the absolute.

Doreen Heng Liu interviewed about The Abandoned for the new iteration of the Canton Express exhibition at M+ Museum.

A new political scheme in China, the 'Greater Bay Area'2 (2017), re-defines the PRD as an economic region, and aims to link Hong Kong and Macau to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing with the goal of achieving a highly efficient economic network that covers technology-intense production, sea and air transportation, and trade-related services. Keller Easterling3 refers to this networked efficiency as cluster or supply chain cities, while Neil Brenner4 refers to it as megalopolis in a more comprehensive manner. The problem with the planning of a 'region' as an agglomeration of exceptional territories instead of considering what makes it a region in the first place, is that this consideration misses the significance of the geography that the river defines, such as the distinct ecologies, the different groups of citizens and peoples, the flora and fauna, alongside the definitions related to (economic) borders, territories, and sovereignty. A political agenda based on economic growth ignores / forgets the ecology of the region, and the related cultures and behaviours of peoples, in their totality. The territories of exception within the region, defined with their own borders and rules, become an agglomeration of nodes networked with highly efficient infrastructure. The in-betweens of these nodes, such as Nansha, become excluded, left over, ruined, even though the region itself and its ecology are the resource in the first place.

As mentioned in my previous posts, an understanding of citizenship that is about relationships and responsibilities that come with belonging to a place, would allow and/ or empower people to take decisions and actions about the present (and the future) of those places, simply because those are directly related to their livelihoods. For instance, Mary Ann O'Donnell5 uses at least eight different definitions of citizenships that define a relationship and responsibility within the Pearl River Delta region, based on the different scales of localities. She talks about co-villagers, foreigners, illegal residents, locals, ordinary folk, peasant workers, Shenzhen inhabitants, Shenzhenners, and temporary residents. However, what is seen more and more recently that citizenship, as an abstract definition of modernity, is articulated as a new political tool for defining a belonging, under economic progress, and the rising nationalism. Citizenship (of a nation) homogenises the previously personal, inheritance-bonded, self-organised networks and backgrounds using an array of (digital) technologies, economic development tools, (simplified) language, and legal practices that push affiliations between the individuals and collective dwellers of the city. As citizenship is reduced to the national, the region is re-defined based on exceptional territories and economic and urban development.

Is it possible to re-define the Pearl River Delta Region with its geography, instead of a completely economic entity? How can would it be possible to think of the initiatives, which practice in different localities but manage to go beyond the exceptional territories of the national and the global and relate to the region? Could this kind of position revive the agency of citizenship based on the region? How could citizenship be approached outside the abstract meanings attributed to it that relate to power, territory, sovereignty, especially in contexts, like China, where nationalism is on the rise? Could an understanding of belonging to Pearl River as a whole, in the context of its region, provide the possibilities for thinking of it beyond its capacity as a resource? These questions will be the focus of my following blog posts. These questions will be the focus of my following blog posts.

1 — "Canton Express is the new iteration of the Canton Express project that was part of the exhibition Zone of Urgency curated by Hou Hanru for the 2003 Venice Biennale. Hailed as a major international showcase of works from the Pearl River Delta, the project reflected on how rapid globalisation and urbanisation in China during the 1990s had impacted on the region and its local cultural landscape..." M+ Museum, West Kowloon, 2017.

2 — Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, 2017, The Greater Bay Area Initiative, viewed 11 March 2018.

3 — Easterling, K. 2014, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, Verso Books, New York.

4 — Brenner, N. (ed.) 2014, Implosions/ Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization, Jovis Publications, Berlin.

5 — O'Donnell, M. Wong,‎ W. Bach, J. (Eds.) 2017, Learning from Shenzhen: China's Post-Mao Experiment from Special Zone to Model City, University of Chicago Publications, Chicago.

Posted 12 Apr 2018
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