You have to love Shenzhen for trying. Given that the city is not exactly world famous for anything at all, except perhaps playing home to Foxconn (and that qualifies more as notoriety than fame now), they don’t give up easily on trying to get on the map of notable places to be.
The latest attempt is an application to UNESCO to become a “City of Literature” – you can understand this with its long, rich, 30 year history of making cheap electronics – Shenzhen is in fact China’s new Bohemia. Or maybe not.
The trouble with Chinese literature is that in the main, it’s pretty bad – there may be 1.3 billion folks here thirsting for a good book – but there’s no money in writing and that tends to lead to a surplus of stuff to be read, but an absence of quality. China’s best selling sci-fi author sells millions of titles, but he has to work a 9 – 5 job to pay his bills, because his cut from a paperback sale is 3/5 of diddly-squat.
So if the top guy in his field can’t make any cash, you can be reasonably assured that no-one else can either. China’s historic literature is richer than its current offering but Shenzhen can’t latch on to that – it didn’t exist in times gone by, and even given the Chinese ability to appropriate just about anything it’s unlikely that the guys at UNESCO are going to believe that there are thousands of years of penmanship emanating from a tiny fishing village.
This obsession with chasing awards is reflected in the bid’s support team; with Mao Shi-Ping’s justification for the application resting on; “Shenzhen’s supported lots of writers who’ve won national awards.”
The trouble is that anyone can win a national award in a developing nation, there are literally billions of the bloody things. Almost every blogger I know has won one of the chain-letter style awards going round – they’re nice, they’re sincerely meant and sincerely conveyed by the givers, but I’m guessing none of us is going to get a plaque from UNESCO for them either.
I love the fact that Shenzhen is already a “City of Design” and wonder if the UNESCO people even bothered to come and have a look before handing out this piece of plastic. It’s also in the running for “World Book Capital City” (you’re having a giraffe surely?) and “City of Piano” (whatever that is – I’ve been here for 3 years and seen one piano).
In fairness to Shenzhen the bar to entry for this award seems to be set pretty low, I understand how Dublin, Reykjavik and Edinburgh won – but Melbourne seems to be pushing it and surely America has a more literary destination than Iowa City?