And Finally

Making history

Shenzhen’s plan to protect its ‘heritage’ landmarks


The Diwang ‘heritage’ building

In Chinese financial jargon plots of real estate sold for record prices are called diwang, or ‘kings of land’.

The first ‘kingmaker’ was a Hong Kong affiliate of Japanese construction firm Kumagai Gumi, which bought a prime site in Shenzhen for Rmb140 million in 1992. It was the most expensive plot of property ever purchased in China and the sale served to reassure investors that the country’s economic reforms had been rebooted by Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Guangdong (for some background on the tour, see WiC136).

By 1996 the site had been developed into a 69-floor building – at the time China’s tallest skyscraper. It’s officially called Shun Hing Square (named after a distributor of Panasonic’s rice cookers, which bought 10 storeys in the tower). But the locals simply refer to it as the “Diwang Building”.

Last week it was back in focus after the Shenzhen government included the 21 year-old concrete structure in its inaugural list of “historic buildings”. The draft list contains 45 sites or elements of architecture. Some are genuinely old: a small pagoda in the Dapeng New Area dates back to the Ming Dynasty. But the bulk of the buildings don’t have the same vintage pedigree: the Shenzhen International Trade Centre is included, as is the Immigration Control Tower at Luohu (bordering Hong Kong).

Such inclusions on the ‘special preservation list’ have been mocked by netizens. “Please tell me how to define ‘historic’. These are only concrete and steel with glass windows,” one weibo user scoffed.

“The list should highlight Shenzhen’s cultural heritage but now it appears to be telling the world our lack of it,” another local complained.

Of course, Shenzhen isn’t much more than 40 years-old, so genuine history is thin on the ground. But the state media has argued that some of the inclusions are a core part of Shenzhen’s heritage – and an important part of the collective memory of its older residents.

The Diwang Building, the Shenzhen Urban Daily notes, was built at an explosive rate of four floors every nine days and was completed in just 40 months. “The 384-metre building was actually the symbol of Shenzhen’s highly efficient urban development,” the newspaper says. “It bolstered the legend of ‘Shenzhen speed’.”

Formerly known as Bao’an county, Shenzhen was a fishing village before Deng’s economic reforms transformed it into China’s most famous special economic zone. Some analysts are forecasting its GDP will reach $350 billion next year, exceeding that of Hong Kong’s for the first time. But at least its southern neighbour boasts a marginally more credible list of heritage buildings.

St John’s Cathedral, for instance, was completed in 1849 and designated a ‘monument of Hong Kong’ in 1996.

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