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China > General information > Shenzhen travel guide


Thirty years ago Shenzhen was a village surrounded by paddy fields and hills, but now it is China’s fastest-growing city, with a population of five million, and vying with Guangzhou for economic supremacy in Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta. Brash, edgy, materialistic and modern, Shenzhen initially seems to have little to offer the casual visitor.

But it is worth a quick stop on your way to
Guangzhou, if only to see the face of the new, not-so-Communist China. Shenzhen is only a little over a half-hour by train from
downtown Hong Kong and this proximity has made it a popular day-trip for residents and visitors alike.


They flock to the city for its cheap shopping and maybe to take in one of the city’s theme parks. Shenzhen is a gateway city to China and many tourists pass quickly through on their way to Guangzhou or Guilin, possibly taking advantage of the lower airfares found here compared with Hong Kong.


As a business traveler, you may also find yourself here in the “factory of the world” and will find plenty of options to fill any down-time you might have, from fine dining to shopping and golf. So, while Shenzhen is hardly a must-see, a brief stop makes for a fascinating insight into one of the driving forces behind China’s emergence onto the world economic platform and will forever dispel any preconceptions you might have had about the PRC’s Communist legacy. 


Shenzhen at night

Shenzhen is a vast, sprawling conurbation made up of several sections, but the area of most relevance to short-term visitors is Luo Hu (Lo Wu in Cantonese), north of the Hong Kong border.

In Luo Hu you’ll find the bus and train stations, some good hotels, restaurants and shopping. From the border, Jianshe Lu runs north, parallel with the train tracks to Shennan Lu.

Northeast of the train station, Dongmen Lu is another popular dining and shopping district of Luo Hu. A few miles west of Luo Hu, Nanshan district contains the Overseas Chinese Town (OCT), where you’ll find many of the city’s theme parks, along with restaurants, hotels, galleries and some nightlife.

Shenzhen at night



From Farm to Financial Hub. Aside from a few ruined settlements here and there, Shenzhen’s history is fairly simple – it was just another rural backwater until 30 years ago. Where farmers once ploughed fields, today city slickers seal deals amidst an expanding forest of skyscrapers. So how did the phenomenon that is Shenzhen come to be? It all comes down to Deng Xiaoping’s economic liberalization in the 1980s.

Deng had always been in favor of a free market economy to promote growth and, after Mao Zedong died in 1976, Deng began putting his plans for economic reform into practice.  The Pearl River Delta had some of the longest-standing international trading links and its position in the south of
Guangdong, far from the watchful eye of Beijing, made an excellent testing ground.


Shenzhen was designated as China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1979, and its location just along the river (and over the border) from Hong Kong gave the fledgling city a natural advantage as a manufacturing hub.

Since its inauguration as an SEZ, growth has remained at an astounding 30% and by the 1990s Shenzhen was responsible for making nearly half the world’s watches and toys. Many of these products were shipped from Shekou, Shenzhen’s principal dock which was reported to be the world’s fourth-largest container port in 1999.


While the growth rate has remained stable, business itself has gone through substantial changes; Shenzhen developed as a cheap production center in lieu of Hong Kong and its early days were characterized by migrant workers, sweatshops and seemingly endless construction. However, as the city became more developed and hence more expensive, production moved outwards again and Shenzhen reinvented itself as a financial center, home to South China’s bourse, and has continued to prosper in its redefined role. 


The Downside of Development 

Shenzhen’s get-rich-quick reputation still endures, however, and this has had some drawbacks – every hustler this side of Beijing has tried to establish himself in this financial frontier town and the city has a decidedly materialistic, edgy feel to it. Crime is higher here than in any other part of China and the hunger for money is almost tangible on the streets.

While the environment hasn’t suffered as much as in some of
China’s heavy industry zones, it was neglected in the early years of Shenzhen’s development. This is now being remedied to some extent with a wave of new measures – from seawater flushing toilets to energy-saving building projects. 


The Future 

This miracle city is now firmly entrenched in people’s minds as an example of everything that is good about China’s modern economic policy. Shenzhen is youthful in every way (the average age of residents is just 30) and, like all kids, little by little, the city is coming of age.

With this maturity has come stability and 
a sense of identity that was lacking in the early years. It is still difficult to predict where Shenzhen will be 50, 20 or even 10 years down the line, although one thing seems certain – its days as a rice-farming backwater are well and truly over! 

Getting to Shenzhen, Getting around Shenzhen

Shenzhen attractions

Shenzhen pictures      

maps of Shenzhen and Guangzhou 

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Travel guide to China, Shenzhen travel guide, Shenzhen tourism, Shenzhen history and future