For those of you who don’t know anything about the city of Shenzhen, here’s a brief and super simplified introduction:
In the year 1979, the leader of China at the time, 邓小平 / Deng Xiaoping, decided that China should be opened to the world (and by that I mean open to capitalist investment). But he didn’t want to open all of China at once, so he decided to select a sort of “testing ground” where these principles could be experimented with before allowing businesses to enter the rest of the country. He called these testing grounds “Special Economic Zones” (SEZ) and chose Shenzhen to be the first. Since then China has opened several other SEZs where the government allows more flexible free market principles and less governmental restrictions in order to make doing business in China attractive to foreign investors.
Has it worked? Yes, and insanely well. In 1980 Shenzhen was basically just this rural area which happened to be right next to Hong Kong—but now it is a city representing China’s present dreams and ambitious hopes for the future.
I wasn’t sure that I would like Shenzhen at first. The city is massively daunting. I am used to living in Boston, where I can walk halfway about the city in about thirty minutes, and if I don’t feel like walking I can hop on the subway for just a few stops and be fine. But in Shenzhen, a few subway stops might take twenty minutes, so forget walking. In some ways each area of the city is quite isolated from the next. But as I’ve been learning recently this is also what makes it cool. I’m not just living in one city—I’m living in twenty or thirty cities, all lined up side by side.
I like that each subway stop in Shenzhen is a new adventure. You never know what kind of restaurants you’ll find, or what crazy architecture you’ll see, or what beautiful parks will appear in the middle of the madness. I like the air of excitement that everyone carries, like everyone here is dreaming about the future and working hard to get there. And I enjoy the city’s newness, the way basically nothing is any older than 1980. This newness is so temporary, too—buildings are being demolished and built up again all the time. There’s something cool in that transience. Daunting, again, but cool.
Here are some pictures of the cool stuff I’ve seen here so far.