Walking inside a symbol

Writer:  Sally Wang  | Editor: Stephanie Yang  | From:  | Updated: 2019-07-03

The latest “Urban Flesh and Bones” tour took us to the center of Futian and the city — Lianhua Hill Park and Futian CBD.

Mary Ann O’Donnell and her multinational “Urban Flesh and Bones” tour members at Lianhua Hill Park.

With kites dancing high in the sky, and the afterglow of the sun still hanging over the city and making it brilliant, a bunch of multinationals, headed by Mary Ann O’Donnell, an American anthropologist in Shenzhen, explored the symbolic mountain park, art gallery, museum and various neighboring skyscrapers at the city’s heart.

Don't take anything for granted, even a park

The moment we stepped into the shade in Lianhua Hill Park’s hilly area, feeling the cool breeze and hearing the intensity of birds singing, we began to take in the benefits of the wonderland at the city center. Families and friends gathered in the park to enjoy the weekend, some flying their kites in the kite plaza. “Professional kite flyers are not here at weekends. They would sit next to each other in chairs like old fishermen in early mornings or around sunset,” said O’Donnell.

While residents in the city are used to spending their leisure time in Lianhua Hill Park, a park of scenic beauty and rich varieties of plants combined with political and social significance for Shenzheners, few people check out the history of the park.

“It used to be a litchi orchard that belonged to Gangxia Village,” long-time Shenzhener O’Donnell told us.

Mary Ann O’Donnell and her multinational “Urban Flesh and Bones” tour members at Lianhua Hill Park.

The litchi trees are now intermingled with other foliage in the park, which boasts around 1,500 tropical and subtropical plants.

Nothing can be taken for granted, even a park that seems to have existed forever and to be available anytime.

As Shenzhen boomed in the 1980s and 1990s, numerous migrants filed into the city, creating a housing shortage. The city aimed to resolve this problem by building temporary resettlement housing in multiple places, Lianhua Hill being one of them, according to the “Urban Flesh and Bones” pamphlet.

During its decade-long existence between 1992 and 2001, the Lianhua Hill temporary resettlement housing area comprised 149 buildings, and was home to 12,000 people who came from all over the country to Shenzhen for work and formed the first generation of Shenzheners. Many still cherished their precious memories of youth in their hometowns while residing in the picturesque landscape.

The preparation for the setup of Lianhua Hill Park started in 1992, and the park was officially opened to the public in 1997, the same year that Hong Kong was returned to China.

Statue of Deng Xiaoping on the top of Lianhua Hill. Liu Xudong

The six-meter-high bronze statue of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was erected on top of the hill in 2000, striding towards the direction of Hong Kong. The statue is a symbol of opening, of going towards the ocean and the outside world, which really shows the city’s commitment to aligning its destiny with reform and opening, said O’Donnell.

The 30th Anniversary Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Commemorative Park was set up within Lianhua Hill Park in 2010 to mark the anniversary, further adding to symbolic significance of the park.

American anthropologist Mary Ann O’Donnell (C) speaks to her “Urban Flesh and Bones” tour members at the commemorative park marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone at Lianhua Hill Park June 15.

Three bas-relief sculptures inside the commemorative park — “The Story of Spring,” “Striding to the New Era” and “Striding to Renewal,” — narrate vividly the story of the city while recording disparate events such as the development of the Shekou Industrial Zone and the modernization of Hakka market towns in Longgang District, while also helping residents in the city form a shared experience of Shenzhen and enhance the city’s cohesiveness, according to O’Donnell.

“If you’ve been in Shenzhen, and have not come to Lianhua Hill and seen Deng Xiaoping, you have not actually visited the official Shenzhen, said O’Donnell.

Symbolic central axis

As we rambled down Shenzhen’s central-most road, which is called Shenzhen’s central axis and connects the city with neighboring Hong Kong, (possibly still under the gaze of the striding statue of Deng Xiaoping), O’Donnell prompted us to inspect the design of the skyline as well as the design of the cultural and economic institutions in the CBD area.

The entire area is dedicated to the imagination of what the landscape can be and should be, and all these buildings are not just functional, but making a statement, said O’Donnell.

A view of Civic Center from the top of Lianhua Hill. Liu Xudong

The most noticeable building is, of course, Civic Center. The shape of Civic Center identifies with the spreading wings of a roc (or peng), a legendary giant bird in Zhuangzi's legend, that is said to have flapped its wings on the water of the southern sea for 3,000 li (1,500 km) and then ascends 90,000 li high, signifying the young city’s vigor and ambition.

While Shenzhen has been successful in terms of economic construction, the city has always been determined to get rid of the notorious nickname “cultural desert.” The Shenzhen Library, Shenzhen Concert Hall, Shenzhen Museum, Book City and Children’s Palace are all concentrated in the CBD area, forming the Chinese character 田 or “field.” Symbolizing the city’s spiritual goals of literacy, musicality, poetry and comportment, these cultural fields are dedicated to educating Shenzhen residents and cultivating their cultural values, said O’Donnell.

Shenzhen Civic Square. Liu Xudong

Spending money in a civilized way can surely not be realized without making money efficiently. The skylines in the CBD area also embody clearly the abstract or higher-end levels of the economy — banking, insurance, and stock, the pillars of high-end culture.

“The economy in the city center is conceived of as abstract relations, glass skyscrapers and corporate headquarters. Designed by OMA, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange symbolizes the impulse to make physically present the non-materiality of Shenzhen’s growing economy,” reads the “Urban Flesh and Bones” pamphlet.