SHENZHEN (near Hong Kong) is the world’s largest manufacturing center and China's richest and most booming Special Economic Zone. Separated from Hong Kong by a fence and a waterway, it has boasted growth rates of over 25 percent since 1980 and is home of the highest number of dollar millionaires per capita in China The average income is more than 50 percent higher than that of Beijing and Shanghai and double that of the next richest cities. Middle class make up10 percent of the population.

Shenzhen also has a high crime rate and more police than anywhere in China save Beijing. "It is also a pit," wrote Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, "lacking not just Hong Kong's charm but it coherence. The capitalism there is to unbridled and unanchored in laws, the buildings erected only five years ago are already falling down." A frequent visitor told National Geographic that compared to Hong Kong, "There is a big drop-off in the quality of food, construction, architecture. It's the good, the bad and the ugly."

Many Hong Kongers see it as a cheap imitation of Hong Kong with streets that are not as clean and building that are not nearly as impressive. Many Chinese see it as China's most modern metropolis. It is cleaner and greener than most Chinese cities---it boasts streets lined with palms and bunyan trees and open space that occupies 44 percent of the city---and its modern buildings are exceeded only by those in Shanghai.

More than half of Shenzhen’s population is under 30 and mostly female. Young women are attracted by the job opportunities. So many young females from the countryside come to Shenzhen that the city has been nicknamed a "paradise of girls." The girls are not often seen on the streets however because they spend so much time working. Many men from Hong Kong are attracted by the city’s prostitutes, known as "street angels," and young, relatively easy-to-support mistresses.

Shenzhen is surrounded by a 67-mile-long, barbed-wire-topped, chain-link fence. Chinese who come to the city must pass through customs and show identification cards. The fence was intended to keep economic activity within the Special Economic Zone but has had the opposite affects. Many factories, producing shoes, clothes, toys, furniture and other stuff, opened on the other side where they could attract cheap labor and ignore safety regulations. Over time these factories have been surrounded by satellite communities.

Tourist Office: Shenzhen Tourism Bureau, 4/F 2nd Office of Municipal Government, 8 Mid Shangbulu, 518028 Shenzhen, Guangdong China, tel. (0)-755-224-0972, fax: (0)- 755-224-3803 Web Sites: Shenzhen government Wikitravel Travel China Guide Shenzhen Tour (in Chinese) Maps: China Map Guide China Map Guide Hotel Web Sites: Sinohotel Travel China Guide . There are lots listings when you google “Hotels in Shenzhen. Budget Accommodation: See the Lonely Planet books. Travellerspoint Subway Map: Urban Rail. Net Getting There: Shenzhen is right across the border from Hong Kong. It is accessible by train from Hong Kong (1 hour) and Guangdong (1 or 2 hours). Lonely Planet(click Getting There) Lonely Planet; Travel China Guide (click transportation) ; Travel China Guide

History of Shenzhen

Shenzhen grew from a small fishing and farming village to a city of 10 million in less than 30 years. When Deng came to power after Mao's death in 1976, Shenzhen was a sleepy border town comprised mostly of rice paddies and duck farms. Under Deng it became a "reform laboratory" living up to its nickname "Window to the Outside World."

Between 1980 and 2000 Shenzhen grew from 350,000 to 4 million. China's first major stock exchange opened in Shenzhen in 1990 (one in Shanghai opened a year later). During the 1990s, the growth rate was 30 percent. Dupont, Pepsi, I.B.M., Compaq and other foreign companies opened factories there.

Between the early 1980s and the mid 1990s the per capita annual income of the city rose from $100 to $2,000. In 1995, Shenzhen shipped nearly $18 billion in exports, nearly 15 percent of China's shipments abroad. In the 2000s Shenzhen grew into a metropolis. Between 2001 and 2006, 124 buildings 30 stories or more were completed, under construction or proposed.


Shenzhen Today

Shenzhen is home to 12 million people (2007)---1.87 million were permanent residents and 10.58 million were migrants---and filled with people, factories, offices, apartments, a soaring tower with 68 floors and a giant Wal-mart "Super Center."

There are also a lot of piano players in Shenzhen, an expression of how middle class the city has become. By one count there are 13,677 teachers and150,766 pupils. The renowned pianist Yundi Li studied at the Shenzhen Arts School.

Shenzhen has been described as an increasingly desperate place that is too polluted, too dependent on foreign capital and characterized by a constant turnover of migrant labor. The smog is sometimes so bad it stings the eyes. New jobs recruits are harder find as new opportunities develop elsewhere.

In recent years there has been a pronounced increase in petty crime, prostitution, truck hijacking and even kidnaping, a crime for most part didn't exist in China until recently. Pickpockets work at the main train stations. Gun fights, and gang warfare have become increasingly common. There red-light district is regarded among Chinese as haven for murderers and thieves. Wealthy Hong Kong businessmen have been the targets of kidnapings and robberies. Some Chinese tycoons travel in German cars with bulletproof glass.

The number crime jumped 57 percent in 2003 to over 100,000 reported cases. In the red light district of Bao---on there 18,000 robberies in 2004. By comparison there were only 2,182 robberies reported the same year in all of Shanghai, a city of 18 million. In January 2006, authorities launched a crackdown on massage parlors and discos as part of a clean up campaign. More than 3,000 people took the streets to protest the action and thousands of armed police were deployed to maintain order.

Chinese officials want to increase the size of the Shenzhen special economic zone, a measure local officials say is necessary for Shenzhen to remain competitive and make room for high-technology facilities.

Live turtle section of Wal Mart

Shenzhen Sights

There isn’t much to see in Shenzhen in terms of traditional tourist sights. There are nine Wal-marts, a new museum and a new Japanese-built concert hall. The most impressive buildings are the blue-green glass Stock Exchange, the 69-story, twin-spired Land King Tower, and it impressive seven-story entrance and joining apartment complexes. Other tall Shenzhen buildings include the Shenning Square and Central Plaza.

In the downtown area of Shenzhen is a 70-acre green expanse called Litchi Park. At the southern end of the park is a huge billboard of Deng Xiaoping, where many Chinese tourist have their picture taken. Safari Park Shenzhen has one attraction where visitors pay 25 yuan to throw live ducks to crocodiles. Also worth a look are Xiangmihu Holiday Village and Shenzhen Xianhu Botanical Gardens. Universal Studios is checking the possibility of building a theme park in the Shenzhen area. A Las Vegas developer has plans for a large casino and resort there.

China the Magnificent is one of the largest and richest miniature scenery park in the world, displaying miniature versions of 100 of China's most famous cultural and natural attractions. Arranged in geographical location the sights include the Great Wall of China, the terra-cotta warriors of Xian, the Forbidden City and the Three Rivers Gorges of the Yangtze River. Everything at this park is 1/10 to 1/15 scale.

Window of the World(near Shenzhen) is an even more impressive miniature world, with 118 of the world's most famous sites. The park cost $60 million to build, takes about 80 minutes to visit and has a hefty admission price of $20. It contains miniature versions of Mount Fuji, the Grand Canyon, Angkor Wat, a typical Southeast Asian waterside village, St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Greek temples, Egyptian hieroglphs, and Iraq's Ishtar Gate. The Eiffel Tower is 108 feet high.

Also here is the glass pyramid of the Louvre, the Colosseum of Rome, the Pyramids, brightly painted Nbedel house from South Africa, a large sculptured elephant and an 80-meter-wide and 10-meter-high replica of Niagara Falls. Small discs have been laid into the pavement measuring the distances from Shenzhen to other big cities and capitals. Web Sites: Wikipedia ; Blog with photos

Flying Dragon Snakefarm (in Panyu, near Shenzhen) serves snakeskin with peppers, snake semen liqueur ("good for a person with a weak body"), baked cobra and five-step snake ("take five steps and die"). It also puts on a snake stage show, sells snake-based traditional medicines, and has a cobra petting zoo, a bath with hundreds of snakes and a snakatorium that offers "extended snake-diet therapy.” The owner of the immensely popular snake farm is Chin Lung Fei, the self-proclaimed "King of Snakes.” He told National Geographic that his motto is to "treat snakes as friends."

Shenzhen Golf Courses

About a third of the golf courses in China are in Guangdong Province, particularly around Shenzhen, where they cater to Hong Kong businessmen and an increasing number of nouveau riche mainland entrepreneurs.

Golf courses around Shenzhen have names like Shenzhen Tycoon and Noble Merchant. A membership in Taiwan-financed Tomson Golf Course in Shanghai---which reportedly has bunkers filled with powdered marble---cost $94,000. Visitors can play for $200 and have their clubs carted around by women caddies. Some golf course offer night golf for people who don’t want to damage their skin in the sun.

The trend of building golf courses and luxury home developments around them is eating up valuable agricultural land and driving farmers off their land. In some cases land is seized using underhanded methods by local officials, who often force farmers of their land and give them relatively little compensation. The Washington Post described farmers who was thrown off their land to make way for a golf course and received chunks of land one fifth the size of what they previously owned and construction jobs at the golf course development. When they complained to the government after not being paid for two months work they were jailed.

At the top of the golf course heap in China is the Mission Hills Golf Club, China's only international-standard golf resort and the largest golf complex in the world. It boasts ten courses. The nearest competitor, Pinehurst in North Carolina, has eight.

Opened in 1992 near Shenzhen, Mission Hills covers 2,300 acres and boasts a 500-room hotel, and a country club with 51 tennis courts, fairway-side mansions, a clubhouse with an 800-square meter palace with a cascading waterfall, and Asia’s largest golf shop. Membership fees are between $21,000 and $70,000. About half the members are from Hong Kong. The other half from the mainland.

Mission Hill was developed by David Chu, a Hong Kong industrialist who made his fortune in paper products, and cost $385 million to build. The golf courses were designed by Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Annika Sorenstam. Tiger Woods once hosted a tournament at the club.

New Balance Factory


PEARL RIVER DELTA (northwest of Hong Kong) embraces the industrial towns of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Huizhou, Dongguan, Foshan, Jiangmen, Zhongshan and Zhuia. There about 20 million permanent residents in the major cities here plus a "floating population" of five million migrant laborers. If Hong Kong and Macau are included the Pearl River Area were an independent country it would be East Asia’s forth largest economy and its second largest exporter. The Pearl Delta area exports as much as Mexico or South Korea.

Factories here do most of the manufacturing once performed in Hong Kong. Pearl River Industrial Area draws an astonishing $2 billion of foreign investment a month and accounts for one third of China’s exports. Investors and companies are attracted by cheap labor, good managers and easy access to the outside world. Labor-intensive, export-oriented industries include makers of toys, shoes, Christmas decorations, small gifts and textiles. More advanced factories assemble computer keyboards, televisions, watches motorcycles, and dishwashers. IBM, Samsung, Honda and Wal-Mart are among the companies tat have a major stake here,

To boost growth even further, there is a discussion of building one of the world’s largest bridges across the Pearl River estuary. Depending on the design and location, the bridge could stretch up to 40 kilometers in length and cost anywhere from $2 billion to $4 billion to build. The bridge would shorten traveling times and help develop the area.

There are plans for big container port at Guangzhou and a tunnel linking Shenzhen and Zhuhui. A new superhighway linking the Pearl River industrial area and northern Guanxi is currently being built the Guilin area. A few limestone crags have had to leveled to make way for the highway. As the Pearl River itself: in Guangzhou (Canton) it is such a thick dark soup it looks like could walk across it.

Special Economic Zones

Special Economic Zones

Special Economic Zones in Guangdong Province, the Hong Kong area and the Pearl River Delta include Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai. Shenzhen and the area around it is sometimes referred to as the “world’s factory.” As of 2006, there were more than 200,000 factories here.

The factories in and around Shenzhen, Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta annually churn out $36 billion worth of goods, nearly a third of all the goods that are exported abroad. The also produce 40 percent of the playthings sold in the U.S., Barbies, Ninja Turtles and Mickey Mouse.


Dongguan (near Guangzhou) is one the world’s busiest manufacturing centers. Regarded as Shenzhen’s sister city, it is home to more than 25,000 factories, producing a wide variety of textiles and clothes and other goods and 30 percent of the world’s computer disk drives. Dongguan has gone from a town to a city of 7.5 million in a little over a decade. For a while it boasted 23 percent a year growth, fueled by it manufacturing sector.

Dongguan has achieved it status primarily with help of business people from Taiwan. A typical success story is Four Star Shoes, a shoe assembly line launched in 1991 with 200 employees when much of the area was covered by rice fields. Over the years it expanded and now has three shoe manufacturing plants that employ 3,000 people and churn out 1.5 million pairs of high-end and specialty boots shoes a year. So many Taiwanese moved in the neighbors there school were built exclusively for them.

In recent years Dongguan has lost some of its attraction as tighter regulations, labor shortages, energy shortages, distribution bottlenecks and higher costs have squeezed profits Many of the Taiwanese have taken their businesses to Vietnam. A research city for 300,000 engineers and researchers, called Songshan Lake Pioneer Park, is being built as part the effort to go more high tech and develop more high-value products.

Southern cities like Shenzhen and Dongguan have a reputation for being particularly seedy. Nick Frisch of wrote, “Dongguan's reputation precedes it. Last year in a Shenzhen gym, my buddy’s albino muscle-bound fifty-something workout pal lumbered over. "Yo man, I was in Dongguan last week, it was fucking crazy, they bring out fucking fifty girls and you can fuck whichever ones you want. Fuck, man. Fuck." "I don't normally hang out with that guy," insisted the friend. "But Dongguan is definitely a den of evil. Once, one of my company's field offices there was besieged by Triads. Nothing but factories, gangsters, fat officials, and whores. Fucking Dongguan." He forgot hideous, speculative real-estate developments.

Web Sites: Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide Here dg Maps: Yahoo Hotel Web Sites: Sinohotel Travel China Guide ; China Hotels Reservations Getting There: Dongguan is accessible by train from Hong Kong and Guangzhou. (click transportation) Travel China Guide

Shame parade of prostitutes in Shenzhen


Zhuhai is model city that look like a resort. Flowers bloom around the picturesque harbor. The mayor told National Geographic, "We don't allow uncontrolled growth." Zhuhai is known for sex, seafood and golf and is filled with karaokes, nightclubs and prostitutes. Many Japanese and South Korean sex tourists come here. A center of activity is Lover’s Road, which has several large hotels including the Guangdong Regency Hotel.

In September 2003, Japan got a lot of bad press when reports emerged that 380 Japanese businessmen with a construction company were running around with 400 Chinese prostitutes in hotel in Zhuhai. One of the prostitutes told the Washington Post she was with three of four Japanese men. “They had a big party. On my floor, at least, they had girls in every room.”

The Japanese businessmen arranged to meet prostitutes through a staff member in the hotel’s Japanese marketing department, paying $145 to each woman, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. The incident drew more publicity than it otherwise might of because it occurred on the anniversary of the beginning of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931. The hotel was closed temporarily. Several hotel workers were arrested and forced to take “emergency study sessions.” And the Japanese government said it was going to investigate.

Tourist Office: Zhuhai Tourism Bureau, 519015 Zhuhai China, tel. (0)-756-336-6901, fax: (0)- 756-336-6902 E-mail:,"> Web Sites: Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide ; government site and Maps: Maps of China Hotels: Sinohotel Getting There: Zhuhai is accessible by expressway from Macau and by ferry from Hong Kong and Shenzhen.Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide

Xiangzhou (just over the border from Macau) is a good place to shop for antiques. Foshan in southern China is a grimy city known for its porcelain and now is a source of much of the world’s tiles and bathroom fixtures.

Image Sources: Province maps from the Nolls China Web site. Photographs of places from 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4); 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6); 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

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