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Mary Ann O’Donnell is an artist-ethnographer who has sought alternative ways of inhabiting Shenzhen, the flagship city of China’s post-Mao economic reforms. Ongoing projects include her blog, Shenzhen Noted, and the Handshake 302 public art project. In 2017, the University of Chicago Press published Learning from Shenzhen: China’s Post-Mao Experiment from Special Zone to Model City, which she co-edited with Winnie Wong and Jonathan Bach.

The End of an Era? Two Decades of Shenzhen Urban Villages

Discussions of ‘urban villages’ tend to refer to this term as if it had had a universal and fixed meaning. In this way, the phrase comes to implicitly refer to the present moment, telescoping our understanding of rural and urban relations to the present. By looking back at the experience of Shenzhen over the past decades, this essay restores urban villages to their historicity and unpacks the unacknowledged moral judgments that often underlie our understanding of these places.

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Border as Sluice: Towards a Cultural Geography of the Shen Kong Borderlands

When global attention alights on the Shenzhen–Hong Kong border, it tends to focus on the geopolitical significance of a boundary that has morphed from the Sino-British border, to the Cold War ‘Bamboo Curtain’, to the demarcation between ‘One Country, Two Systems’. Most recently, Shenzhen has been given a mediating role within the Greater Bay Area […]

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Figuring Post-worker Shenzhen

In 2013, Handshake 302, an independent art space located in a 12.5-square-metre efficiency apartment, was opened in Baishizhou, Shenzhen’s most iconic urban village. The space functions as a gallery or an apartment, depending on the needs of the collaborating artists. Over the past five years, the curators have been able to create site-responsive art that grapples with the city’s uneasy negotiation between the formal and the informal, the urban and the rural, the emergent and the vanishing, as well as the anxieties that the Shenzhen’s success has generated.

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