The miracle of Shenzhen

The miracle of Shenzhen

Juan Du: The Shenzhen Experiment – The Story of China’s Instant City (Harvard University Press 2020)

Many thanks to Pallas Athéné Könyvkiadó for sending me the book!

In late 2017, I had the opportunity to visit Shenzhen and when I saw this book about the city, I immediately wanted to read it.

Juan Du is an architect and professor of architecture. She is currently dean of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto. She previously taught at the University of Hong Kong and had a private architectural practice. She published her book The Shenzhen Experiment in 2020.

The whole world has heard of Shenzhen. In 2020, the population of the 2,000 km2 sized city exceeded 20 million people. The creation of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone was one of the first initiatives of China’s reforms and opening to the world. The reforms were tested in these special economic zones, then applied throughout the country. Urban development has proven to be so successful that it has become a real myth, surrounded by fear abroad, as China’s astonishing economic development is attributed to the power of the state, but in China it represents the opportunity to rise out of poverty for millions.

While we were there, we also heard how the fishing village turned into a metropolis in thirty years. However, in the book, the author explains that this notion is not quite accurate in several aspects. With the establishment of special economic zones, Teng Xiaoping’s goal was to reduce poverty. Many millions of Chinese migrants arrived at Shenzhen with almost empty pockets to start a new life there. The area has been inhabited since 100 BCE and was of strategic importance even before due to its good location. Before the founding of the city, hundreds of thousands of people lived here in smaller villages, many of which remained after the construction of the metropolis. There are still 318 so-called urban villages in Shenzhen, which are home to half of the city’s population.

In the book, we can read a lot of interesting facts about the history, geographical features and economy of the city. We can also read about the 441.8 m high Kingkey Financial Tower, which has 100 floors. You can see the building in one of my own photos. What struck me the most when I was there was that life never stops: people work day and night in all parts of the city. What I particularly liked was that the lighting of the buildings are switched off after 10 pm and only the public lighting of the streets are operated throughout the night, as well as that you can buy purified water instead of mineral water. I definitely recommend this book about this wonderful city to anyone interested in economic, social and cultural issues.