Notes from a Zhuhai Native

Zhuhai outskirts

Photo by Jonathan Shaw

Silu Zhang is a master’s student at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou. She grew up 120 kilometres away in Zhuhai, a boomtown on the border with Macau. Zhuhai was one of the five special economic zones established by Deng Xiaoping in 1980. Since then, its population has grown from around 100,000 to more than 1.5 million.

Zhuhai is a city next to Macau. Under the policy of “one country, two systems,” Macau is capitalist, Zhuhai is socialist. In my education, it was emphasized a lot how different these two societies are and how great this policy is, the policy initiated by Deng Xiaoping the “general designer of Chinese reform and opening up.” Zhuhai is a quiet place, with beach, breeze and blue sky — people call it the City of Romance — while Macau is a flourishing city, with casino, luxury hotels and a high population density; people call it “Little Las Vegas.” Once, I made fun of a friend from Macau by saying she was “someone from the decaying capitalism,” and she looked at me strangely. Later she told me they seldom talked about the difference between the two systems and she never learned about it in school.

I grew up in the 1990s and witnessed Zhuhai changing. It is hard to say how it changed — I think I am so familiar with this place that I get lost. But here are some memories. The beach I used to play on is now being developed into some luxurious apartments; the area of my preschool has been reduced to make way for a wider road. More and more migrants are coming from all over the country and Mandarin is taking the place of Cantonese. The silent street where my father and I used to walk after dinner is now noisy, with loud broadcasts, open bars and shopping malls. Sometimes my father will still say, “When you were a kid, you walked in front of me and I just followed you. There were few people in the street, the light was dim, but I felt safe. I wouldn’t do that now.”

Zhuhai coast view

Photo by David Boté Estrada

I am confused by this city. Friends tell me they are considering going back to Zhuhai to work and live, but I can only keep a distance from it. I guess this city is even confused by itself. There’s a market near my home, a popular one in the early 1990s. People went there to buy meat, vegetables, groceries, clothes and they went to the restaurants there, too. It was a messy place. One night I heard noises from the market, and people began yelling — maybe fighting. Finally it ended with a gunshot, ambulance and police.

Later, the government decided to make some changes. They moved the vendors out and they pushed the market backwards to keep some front land for a parking lot; they were trying to build up something more modern. But this was also the time that supermarkets were getting popular, and some rising middle-class people enjoyed going to the supermarket to buy an entire week’s worth of food. Even though my family lived near the market, we would drive an empty car to the supermarket on weekends; when we came back, the car was full. When we market reopened, it wasn’t as popular as before. Recently, I went back to Zhuhai. The market now looks like it did originally.

Weekend in Zhuhai

Photo by Max-Leonhard von Schaper


Photo by Jonathan Shaw

Zhingshan University, Zhuhai

Photo by Jonathan Shaw

Taxi Queue Zhuhai Port China

Photo by dcmaster

Zhuhai (Chine)

Photo by Christine Chauvin

This entry was written by Silu Zhang , posted on Thursday October 31 2013at 12:10 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Society and Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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