Shenzhen – the Chinese Silicon Valley

While living in Guangzhou, as a part of my job I had to visit Shenzhen for the 11th China (Shenzhen) International Automotive Aftermarket Industry and Tuning Trade Fair 2015. The Chinese do know how to create long names, don’t they?

Shenzhen Fair Complex, China, 2015
The camera had difficulty capturing the whole name.

My colleagues and I are travelling to Shenzhen by bus as it stands at around 145 km south-east of Guangzhou. The trip takes around 3 hours, but you could easily lose track of time and orientation as there is hardly a place between the two cities where there aren’t any buildings. That is why Shenzhen City has been made part of the world’s largest agglomeration – Guangzhou – which boasts a staggering population of nearly 50 million people.

Thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s opening of China to the world in 1978, the area became the first of China’s first Special Economic Zones (which now covers the whole city), due to its close location to Hong Kong, the then flourishing British colony. Thus, from a meagre fishing village at the time, Shenzhen is now one of the Pearl River megacities and has the highest population density across China with more than 5,000 inhabitants per km2.

Modern Shenzhen – a Bustling Metropolis that Captivates Its Visitors

Nowadays, Shenzhen (深圳), which literally means “deep drains”, because there used to be many creeks, streams, and rivers with deep drains within paddy fields, is a booming metropolis and is home to more than 10 million people.

Standing just opposite the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, it is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and is the third busiest container port in the world (second in China after that of Shanghai). Due to the high amassment of Chinese tech companies, like Huawei, ZTE, as well foreign IT companies – Foxconn, Apple – it is known as the “Silicon Valley” of China. It is highly probable that the computer, laptop, tablet or any other mobile electronic device you are now using to read this article has been manufactured in Shenzhen.

Its one-of-a-kind status and location make it a great place for local and foreign start-ups – Petcube, OnePlus, Makeblock – and hardware start-up accelerators – HAX Accelerator. Close to the Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport are the two industrial zones – Shenzhen Software Park is incorporated with Shenzhen Hi-Tech Industry Park. This was the result of an effort of the local municipal government to support the development of the software industry.

We arrive in Shenzhen around 19:00 and audaciously d(r)ive into a sea of cars. Although Shenzhen is a pride owner of 5 subway lines (7 are under construction), traffic jams are a frequent occurrence. Soon my colleagues, who communicate with the Chinese drive since my Mandarin vocabulary is only enough to order steamed rice and congratulate a lady on her beautiful looks, realise that he does not know where the hotel is. With regular stopping and, mostly, the kind help of passers-by, we finally arrive at the desired place which overlooks one of the main boulevards of the city.

View from the hotel, Shenzhen, China
View from the hotel.

There, we immediately engage in conversations with the participant-buyers in the Fair, who are also staying at the same hotel, and give them instructions on how the next two days are going to be organised. Everyone seems excited to attend the exhibition, so we head to bed to recharge our batteries.

The next day welcomes us with a sunny smile and warm temperatures. Since the Shenzhen Fair Complex, where the Fair is going to take place, is quite close, we have arranged the bus to pick everybody up at 09:30 because the event starts at 10:00. This turns out be a bad idea because the traffic is hectic and we arrive with a considerable delay.

Shenzhen's Fair Complex, China
The square in front of the Fair Complex with Shenzhen’s skyline in the background.
Shenzhen's Fair Complex, China
The square in front of the Fair Complex with Shenzhen’s skyline in the background.

The square in front of the Exhibition Halls is teeming with people (mainly Chinese, but also many foreigners) which makes our getting inside even more challenging. We then separate, with the promise to meet at 17:00 at the same place, and start exploring the 12 gigantic halls.

I have never set foot in such an enormous exhibition complex – it is larger than many airports I have been to. After the busy day of walking around the Fair, my colleagues and I instruct the customers for the next day and it is time for some leisure.

Shenzhen’s Imposing Skyline – a Blend of Steel Gargantuans and Concrete Titans

Owing to the fact that I was there on a business trip just for 3 days, the only time I could explore the city and absorb its energy was at night. My colleagues are busy preparing something in Chinese for which I can’t be too helpful, so I go around on my own.

Having someone local with you is almost always better, but promenading alone also has its advantages. For instance, I may determine my own city-strolling pace, take as many photos of the magnificent skyline as I wish, or curiously observe dancing ladies at 10 pm on a small square.

Shenzhen downtown, China
Dancing ladies in downtown Shenzhen.

In the last decade of the 20th century, the city was described as building “One high-rise a day and one boulevard every three days.” Currently, Shenzhen has 89 buildings that are more than 200 m (656 ft) tall. Here are some of my best shots of what I was able to see for two short night walks.


From a Meagre Fishing Village to the Largest Manufacturing Base in the World

China’s astonishing growth began more than 3 decades ago when Shenzhen was established as the first “Special Economic Zone” attributable to its proximity to Hong Kong. The staggering transformation of a farming village into a 10-million city, thanks to “a bust of entrepreneurial zeal”, has led it to turn into one of the biggest Pearl River Delta megacities and probably the largest industrial base in the world. But that does come at a cost of, at least occasional, smog.

Let me end this article about the “Silicon Valley” of China with a quote, which very well encaptures the spirit of this bustling city: “If Shenzhen sneezes, the electronic world will get a cold.”

Have you been to the Silicon Valley of China? What was your impression?


60 comments on “Shenzhen – the Chinese Silicon Valley

  1. Madi @ Restless Worker

    Great post – have always wanted to visit China.

  2. Nic

    It’s crazy how a place like this has become an absolute juggernaut of its field. Very different to many of the images I have of China in my head but this is the new China I guess. Very interesting, in many ways it reminds me of a modern day Manchester.

    • Svet

      Before I went to visit China, I had read myriads articles, reports and books, and have seen thousands of photos. When I finally arrived there, I was yet again astonished by the staggering skyscrapers, gargantuan boulevards and pace of growth. In what ways does it remind you of Manchester? 🙂

  3. Chelsea Bird

    Great article and you have some great pictures there!! 🙂 Would love to go to China one day!

  4. Sue @NoFixedAbodeForSue

    China is a fascinating place to visit. I was lucky enough to visit Shanghai and Beijing a few years back and was quite surprised at what I saw, I guess my expectations were not in line with how modern day China has developed so much. Now Im living in India, I do see some similarities, especially with the long names and insanely busy streets. Great post!

  5. BonBon

    Wow… my latest post about Brussels have touched you and guess what?!! This post made me reminisce my shopping days in ShenZhen 20yrs ago:)

    • Svet

      Hehehe, doesn’t Shenzhen seem very different from 20 years ago? There was no metro and like 10 million less people, probably? :))

  6. Marge Gavan

    It is only now that I learned the meaning behind the word Shenzhen so thanks for the information. I always hear about this place from friends who have been there.

  7. Richard Collett

    The huge scale of Chinese cities is always incomprehensible to me ! It’s absolutely fascinating as a country!

    • Svet

      Yesterday I was browsing through my photos from China and I thought that I am absolutely missing my time there, though I had some bad moments.

  8. Himanshu

    Shenzhen is one of the fasted growing modern city which will drive future of global tech. Good to know abt this place. I specially admire china for developing such cities from scratch in no time.

    • Svet

      Indeed it is! I am also amazed by the Chinese efforts to turn villages into a megalopolises in a matter of several years!

  9. Ynah CA

    Great snippet of Shenzhen! So much has changed, guess I need to go back 😉

  10. Jessica Ayun

    I have problem in remembering a chinese word, how much more that long? Lols. I just hope those sceneries will help me remind terms once I visited Shenzhen. 🙂

  11. Alexandrea

    I love being sent places for work, especially when you get a bit of extra time to explore!

  12. Melody Pittman

    Good grief that is one crowded place! Glad you are enjoying and a special thanks for the pic of the white Lamborghini. 😉

  13. Mark Williams

    I am pretty happy with the city name, who in the world would ever go to a place called “deep drains”! And you are so right about having a local with you makes life easier but hey there is nothing like stumbling around on your own to find those little gems.

    • Svet

      Hehe, I am sure there are many other important cities or sights that have weird names which we are not aware of, (un)fortunately 🙂

      Having a local could save you a lot of time and money, but I agree that stumbling upon random gems is also priceless!

  14. Milosz Zak

    Today we learned that the Chinese government doesn’t have an effective way of measuring growth, and that it is better to gage growth by looking at sector-specific expansion, like housing/car sales, bank deposits, etc. According to this method, growth is around 4.1% – widely different from reported figures.

  15. Julius from Traveltipy

    I never heard about Chinese Silicon Valley and I usually don’t like such modern glass places to be honest! What I prefer is old architecture!

  16. anitahendrieka

    Awesome post! I havn’t visited China but always have been fascinated with it.

  17. Oyster

    Nice pictures! I like going off my own, there’s so much more freedom of choice haha! I’m always feeling bad about making my companions stop so that I can take pictures :-/

    • Svet

      Hehehe, I know, right? Freedom of choice is one of the big freedoms which we need to have especially when travelling. 🙂

  18. Marta – Learningescapes

    I was in Shenzen years ago, but only for a quick stop while travelling from Hong King to Guilin. I remember the massive roads, the crowds and the skyscrapers and I have to be honest: I’m not a fan! I found it interesting, in terms of how an economy growing as fast as Chinese looks like, but all the concrete and the smog left me disheartened about any hope of an environmentally sustainable future. I don’t want to be unfair and I do understand that if I had a local to explain things to me, or more time, I would have probably felt differently, but it left me ill at ease. I know China is doing a lot now to be greener so I do hope i can go back one day and be left with a different feeling.

    • Svet

      Marta, you have a right to be feeling that way. I am not a fan of smog either, but have we thought that a major part of the impact that China is exerting upon the environment is not its fault. How many foreign businesses are settled in China? Millions probably… So, we should not always frown upon the Chinese, who have their setbacks, but are also hard-working and assiduous people, in general. And, the government is indeed doing a lot to become greener. Did you know that the greenest building (318 m) is in Guangzhou, China? 🙂

      • Marta – Learningescapes

        I did not know that! But I do agree that it’s not right to frown upon the Chinese and the issue of sustainable growth, in economic and environmental terms, is complex. And absolutely: we cannot differentiate between ‘us’ and ‘them’ as there is no such a thing: the world is one! As much as I didn’t enjoy Shenzen, i did find it very interesting and it makes me appreciate even more the measures they are taking now. I am sure they will make a big difference, to the world in general but to the locals as well: they deserve beautiful green cities AND prosperity, they shouldn’t have to choose 🙂

        • Svet

          Yes, I was going to update my article about Guangzhou in order to put some skyline pictures (especially of the Pearl River Tower – the greenest) and I will probably do it tomorrow. I cannot agree more with you about that we live in the same world and it is high time more people started thinking in this way. I did not enjoy living in China solely probably because of the heavy smog (sometimes), but it is a very amusing place to live regardless. I believe they will make a huge difference! We should try to help them too.:)

  19. Claudia

    You say “there is hardly a place between the two cities where there aren’t any buildings.” I have experienced the same in Indonesia as well as other countries, and it put me off a lot. I felt like I never got out of Jakarta, as everywhere I looked there were buildings, people and traffic.

    • Svet

      Yes, it is true. Jakarta is the fourth biggest agglomeration and it is perfectly normal to feel that way. It is close to 28 million people. 🙂

  20. carolcolborn

    Hahaha. So don’t let Shenzhen sneeze! And I thought Metro Manila where I grew up was big at 18 million or Mexico City which we just visited at about 20. 50 M people. Wow. I wonder how it is to live there!

    • Svet

      It could be quite interesting to live there, but one has to bear the smog at times 🙂 Both metros of Manila and Mexico are in the top 10 also, so it is not too different 🙂

  21. Alexandrea

    Shenzhen sounds like a buzy town.

  22. Christa

    Sounds like you had a great trip! I was surprised that considering how many building there were that there wasn’t that much smog. Looks way better than other major cities in China!

    • Svet

      It is indeed better in some way. They manufacture mostly electronics. Probably that is not so burdensome to the air as is car or chemical production, for instance.

  23. Elaine J. Masters

    How lucky you are to have a job that takes you to such interesting places. I love that you went out walking on your own to test yourself and experience more of the city. It’s mind-boggling how quickly the Chinese are building such massive cities.

    • Svet

      Yeah, I love that part of the job! And walking on your own could be quite amusing. When I take photos, I prefer it as I can take all the time I need. The Chinese pace of city evolution is flabbergasting, but it also comes with a high cost.

  24. NYC JetSetter

    I didnt know any of this but I haven’t been to China yet! Hopeully soon.. when it warms up 😛

  25. Vicki Garside

    It’s amazing how a place can become such a hub of activity and a leader in its field. Shame you couldn’t explore during the day but you got some great night shots! Oh, and I hope Shenzhen doesn’t sneeze – my electronics can be temperamental enough without getting a cold!

    • Svet

      Yes, China keeps amazing me, and I believe will continue to do in the future. Take, for instance, the “One Belt, One Road” project.. Yep, I had to work, but the nightshots were amazing because I kind of “stole” my boss’s camera for 1-2 days :))

      Haha, I know, let’s keep our fingers crossed for Shenzhen’s health!

  26. Probe around the Globe

    I have business contacts in Shenzen. funny to see some pictures and read the story

  27. mappingmegan

    Really interesting Svet – I actually hadn’t heard of Shenzhen before, so I’ve learned something new. Amazing to see how a village can turn into one of the biggest centers in the world like this! And I’m glad you got some time to go out and explore, even if it was only at night, It’s tricky on business trips to get some sightseeing in, especially after a long day, but ultimately need to take advantage of the opportunity while we’re there!

    • Svet

      Yep, Chinese cities have a tendency to turn into mind-boggling metropolises in a matter of a couple of decades. I am very happy I showed you, and seems almost everybody else, this powerhouse. That was my intention initially. Yes, I couldn’t miss the chance to go out and explore it, because I did not know when I am going to visit it again. There is so much more to see there.

  28. Marteen Lane

    Shenzhen looks like quite a place! It looks amazing at night, there’s something about a city at night when it’s all lit up ☺ The ladies dancing in the square reminds me of my time in NYC when the group I was with were dancing in Time Square and trying to teach an Indian couple Irish dancing.

  29. Holly

    Not sure why, but this has never been very high on my list as a place to visit. Sounds like I need to rethink.

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