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From Fishing Village to Boom Town – Shenzhen Posted by on Oct 17, 2014 in Culture, Uncategorized

Back in the ’70s, there was a cluster of farming and fishing villages in southern China known as Baoan County (宝安区 – bǎo’ān qū). At that time, Deng Xiaoping was launching his new policy of Reform and Opening Up (改革开放 – gǎi gé kāi fàng), as he stated, “To be rich is glorious.” Thanks to its strategic location near Hong Kong, Baoan County was designated as China’s first Special Economic Zone (经济特区 – jīng jì tè qū). The plan was to experiment with economic reforms in a controlled way that would not affect the established system elsewhere in China. At that time, there were about 300,000 people living there, most of them farmers and fishermen. Fast forward to the present day, and you now have the mega-city of Shenzhen (深圳 – shēn zhèn) with a population of between 10-15 million, depending on the source.

Shenzhen from above.

Shenzhen from above.


Thanks to billions upon billions of investment dollars (both foreign and domestic), Shenzhen is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the entire world, and it shows no signs of slowing down. You won’t find many fishermen there these days, but you will find people from all over China and the world who have moved there to take advantage of the booming economy. On one end of the spectrum, you have millions upon millions of migrant workers who find jobs in construction or manufacturing. On the other end, you have plenty of people with a high level of education who work in some of China’s biggest tech companies. Everyone wants to get a piece of the pie in Shenzhen, which is now ranked #4 out of 659 Chinese cities in terms of its economic output, behind only Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Shenzhen skyscrapers.

Always building here in SZ.

Much of the Shenzhen economy is based on manufacturing, which means you can find plenty of cheap goods there. Tons of massive markets are to be found all over the city, and exploring some of them is an interesting way to kill some time or hide from the frequent rain.

Shenzne electronic market.

Massive electronic markets are abundant here.

Due to its short history, there aren’t many famous tourist attractions in Shenzhen as compared with other Chinese cities. As such, a bunch of theme and amusement parks have been built up there to bring in the tourism RMB. As China is great at copying, it should come as no surprise that two of the most popular parks are the Window of the World (世界之窗 – shì jiè zhī chuāng) and Splendid China. At the former, you can check out a mini-Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon, and more. The latter features two sides – one is the China Folk Culture Village with replicas of ethnic minority villages from around the country, and the other is the Miniature Park, which features mini models of famous sights such as the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors.

Mini Forbidden City.

The mini Forbidden City inside Splendid China.

Every evening, you can also enjoy the spectacular “Dancing With the Dragon and Phoenix” performance. Check out a highlight video below:

When it comes to food and beverage, there’s no shortage of great places to enjoy a meal or a drink in Shenzhen. As people from all over China call this bustling city home, you can find just about any kind of Chinese food imaginable. It being Guangdong province, there’s plenty of delicious Cantonese food around. Some places may surprise you, though, like a legit Xinjiang restaurant under a tent in a random parking lot of an apartment complex. If you’re looking for Western food, just head to the Shekou (蛇口 – shé kǒu) area. Home to many expats, you can find French, Korean, Italian, American, and everything in between. You’ll even find a former cruise ship, the Minghua, which is now parked here and serves as a luxury hotel with a bar and restaurant.

Shekou in Shenzhen.

Stroll around Shekou for lots of good restaurants and bars.

Shenzhen Minghua

The Minghua, a former cruise ship turned hotel.

Although it can’t rival the nightlife of Beijing or Shanghai, there are also plenty of places to wet your whistle in the evening. Whether you’re looking for a fancy cocktail or a locally made craft beer, you can find it in Shenzhen. Of course, you could always pull up a stool and pound lukewarm Kingways and chain smoke with local dudes as well. Shenzhen may not be a top tourist destination in China, but there’s plenty to see and do there to warrant a trip. Plus, with its continued development and economic growth, it’s an appealing destination for those wanting to work or start a business in the country. Check back to the blog in the coming weeks for a short video tour of Shenzhen and an introduction to Guangdong province as a whole.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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