Ruins speak, albeit incoherently. I walk through the decrepit alleyways of a Hakka compound and hear fragmented whispers from two hundred years ago—we came from central China, Hakka people value education, our ancestors once served the Emperor. I also see remnants of more recent inhabitation—Mao stencils, Spiderman posters, cooking pots and vegetable baskets. I smell moldy walls and rotting wood, cautiously reach out and touch a forgotten teapot. Dust.

But that is not it, not it at all.

Once photographed, any ruin speaks otherwise, murmuring something uncannily Greek, or rather, classical, which has always been a way of seeing and not a time or place:

After a hundred years
Nobody knows the place,--
Agony, that enacted there,
Motionless as peace.
~Emily Dickenson

These photos were taken in Pingshan, Longgang District, Shenzhen City, PR China. Some of the sites will be preserved, others will be razed to make way for residential developments and shopping malls. These images of a lingering past not only lament the passing of an era, but also explain the urgency with which Pingshan has pursued modernization. A friend
looks at these pictures and sighs. “Everywhere in China has hundreds, maybe thousands of years of history,” he says. “That’s the problem. If we save our past, how can we live in the present?”

Located just north of Hong Kong, Shenzhen is better known as the harbinger of China’s post-Mao reforms. Over the past twenty-five years, a city of 10 million urbanites has replaced a rural county of 300,000 farmers and fishermen; skyscrapers now fill the horizon; and foreign investors rush across the border to build soap factories next to traditional villages, which, I should add, locals have understandably abandoned in favor of modern amenities—running water, electricity, air-conditioning, gas stoves, refrigerators, bigger rooms, and, of course, fragrant soaps. ______________________________________________________________________

An anthropologist by training, I have lived and worked in Shenzhen since 1995. My work explores how the local past is variously forgotten, destroyed, and redeployed as people strive to define themselves as Chinese and international, traditional and modern. This research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at international conferences. My photography has been published in Writing Macau (online), World Union Review (print), and Nanshan Arts
(print anthology).