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Shenzhen (Chinese: 深圳) is a Chinese city and special economic zone on the east bank of the Pearl River estuary on the central coast of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. With a population of 17.56 million in 2020, Shenzhen is the third most populous city by urban population in China after Shanghai and Beijing. Shenzhen is a global center in technology, research, manufacturing, business and economics, finance, tourism and transportation.


  • Shenzhen is shouldering the weight of innovation to achieve Chinese tech breakthroughs in strategic industries while propelling the entire country up the value chain to hedge against economic headwinds, punctuated by four “D’s” – debt, deflation, de-risking and demographics.
  • As China’s pre-eminent tech hub, Shenzhen is home to industry giants such as Huawei Technologies, BYD and DJI. Yet, dozens of companies headquartered here are now on Washington’s “Entity List” that comprises companies and individuals from a range of countries, and which represents perceived threats to US national security.
  • The southern city where China’s economic transformation began more than four decades ago, and which has seen its hi-tech industry become the bellwether for growth, is vowing to double down on efforts to shore up the sector as the nation strives to move up the industrial chain and counteract US-led tech restrictions.
  • In terms of city status and influence, Shenzhen leads the development of Chinese cities and spearheads the progress of the whole world. First, Shenzhen has directly pushed the establishment of a national system of market economy and opening up on all fronts by expanding and replicating the original reforms that were then piloted in other regions across China. The city’s successful experience and development philosophies have inspired China and the entire world to change their mentality regarding development. Second, a substantial part of wealth created by Shenzhen goes to the government in the form of taxation, and to migrant workers in the form of wages, supporting national economic growth, development of the hinterland and the prosperity of millions of households.
  • Against the backdrop of China’s reform and opening up, Shenzhen managed to unshackle the chain of planned economy guided by market economy principles and took bold measures in reforming the systems of pricing, payment, land and housing, infrastructure construction and labour employment by establishing a special economic zone.
  • With neither resources nor production factors, Shenzhen made leapfrogging development from a remote country town to a global technological centre and from an agricultural town to a manufacturing powerhouse over a period of 40 years. From the development stage featuring rapid quantitative growth driven by production factors to the throes of transformation when the economy slowed down and the growth engine shifted gears, and then the stage when innovation-driven, high-quality development was pursued, Shenzhen showcased the whole process of how a city joins the global value chain and moves from the bottom to the highest rank, making itself a role-model in promoting competitiveness for global peer cities.
  • From a population of 30,000 in the early 1970s, the city has grown to over 10 million, with gleaming high-rises, a modern transport system, and world-class retail. The local government gives grants for filing patents and for starting maker spaces. Gentrification and rising rents have made it the most expensive city in China, as the factories that fueled its boom move steadily outward into the rest of the Pearl River Delta.
  • Shenzhen is changing in other ways, too. Instead of just hardware (like hoverboards), it’s making sophisticated products that combine hardware with software (just-in-time bookable electric scooters, app-controlled drones) and, increasingly, artificial intelligence (translation devices, toy robots, semi-autonomous vehicles). Moving beyond its reputation for developing cheap rip-offs of other people’s ideas, it’s become more of a hub that connects innovation, manufacturing, and knowledge all over the world.
  • Shenzhen has always been a pioneering city for the People’s Republic of China. In May 1980, then-paramount leader of the PRC, Deng Xiaoping elevated it into a “special economic zone”, a first in market capitalism in a country where GDP per capita hovered around $175, and which was only a few years removed from Maoist economics. Shenzhen would become known as the emerging point of the “opening and reform” period of Chinese history that would slowly build towards China becoming the second largest economy in the world.
  • The city has since grown into a tech hub, synonymous of smart hardware and technological innovation within the People’s Republic of China, as a hub where foreigners and domestic companies come together to quickly innovate and build on hardware.
  • Being a key hub in the global electronic information technology industry, Shenzhen in recent years has taken the construction of a smart city as an important driving force to promote industrial transformation and upgrading, improving city management and giving full play to new technology.
  • Over the past 40 years, Shenzhen has been transformed from a small fishing village into an international city full of charm, vitality, innovation and creativity. However, there are still gaps in the levels of innovation, science and technology education and public service between Shenzhen and innovative cities with global influence.
  • The neoliberalism and globalization have pushed the city that had been a poor and backwater border town to the forefront of institutional reform and industrial innovation as a test field for Chinese reform and opening up. It has achieved a 60-fold increase in population size, a 15-fold increase in built-up areas, and 14,090-fold economic growth during the past 40 years, even realized comprehensive urbanization as early as 2004. Shenzhen has not only become China's core growth pole through taking the lead in institutional reform and innovation in land, market and society, but also ranks among the world's first-tier cities in terms of competitiveness and innovation capabilities.
  • The success of Shenzhen's urbanization process is a typical sample of China's rapid urbanization, which has its unique attraction in the process of urban development in China and even in the world, so the fascinating question is: Why is Shenzhen that can achieve urbanization so quickly?
  • Major Chinese leaders such as Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Xi Jinping have both visited Shenzhen many times, pointing out a new direction for Shenzhen's development at key times. Deng Xiaoping mainly designated the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone as one of the earliest special economic zones in China. This story was vividly described as “an old man drew a circle on the South China Sea” and was widely sung, which also implied that Shenzhen experienced the process of elevating from a neglected marginal region to an important growth pole by adopting a national strategic layout.
  • It took only 40 years for Shenzhen to realize relatively successful urbanization, including rapid and astonishing achievements in population growth, economic development and urban expansion. “Shenzhen Speed” has become a proper term, which also suggests the Shenzhen miracle represents the success of China's rapid urbanization. Shenzhen's development model has its own uniqueness. The wave of neoliberalism and globalization has given Shenzhen a stage for development, and its location advantage allowed it to quickly integrate into the global production network, to accumulate wealth and transfer resources for early development. Although Shenzhen's success is unique to its time and place, it is not impossible to replicate. Since its development, Shenzhen has been taking high-quality talents, active private economy and entrepreneurial culture, as well as scientific and technological innovation represented by the information industry, as the core engines of its own development, and has continuously enhanced its advantages through policy implementation. For China and other cities in the Global South, it is one of the most effective ways to attract talents and innovative activities through institutional innovation.

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