Shenzhen, China's Tech Hub and Cultural Melting PotBOOMING FROM SMALL VILLAGE TO METROPOLIS, THE CHINESE CITY HAS BECOME ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST IMPORTANT ELECTRONICS HUBS, AS ALUMNA CINZIA PALUMBO EXPLAINS
Before 1980 and establishment of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ), Shenzhen was a fishing village whose poor living conditions forced many of its inhabitants to try their luck in neighboring Hong Kong. Forty years later, the city has become a megalopolis of 12 million people and one the major high-tech hubs of the world, with a level of GDP that is about to surpass Hong Kong’s. In fact, it is in Shenzhen that 90% of digital devices sold on the global market are produced, and this is the city where Chinese technology giants such as Huawei, Tencent and DJI are headquartered. All this has earned Shenzhen the moniker of China's Silicon Valley.
Fishermen are now a distant memory and the current population is composed of individuals coming from every corner of China and every country in the world. The city’s elders have come to accept the fact that their descendants have become more familiar with computers than with fishing nets and wooden boats. With a population less than 30 years old on average, Shenzhen’s new dwellers speak English more frequently than Chinese, and their work contributes to the advance of the world’s technological frontier.
Silent witness to the city’s extraordinary transformation and its history of migration is the Baishizhou district, with its narrow streets, markets, and restaurants that represent the cuisines of all the provinces of China. Thanks to this cultural melting pot, Shenzhen has also become a city for the creative class, with a thriving art scene, thanks to places like the OTC Loft Creative Culture Park, a cluster of trendy exhibition spaces and venues offering live entertainment. The park is also home to the Contemporary Art Terminal, an art museum of 3,000 square meters. Decidedly more imposing is the brand-new Design Society, the cultural center that stretches over 70,000 square meters in the Shekou neighborhood located near the city’s border with Macao. Born from the collaboration between the China Merchants Holding and London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, it hosts permanent collections, as well as major exhibits enriched by pieces borrowed from collections of the UK museum.
Next to this area lies the charming district of Nantou, Shenzhen’s oldest settlement, which still preserves the fortified walls dating back to the Ming era. It is a place where time seems to have come to a standstill, compared to the hectic proliferation of skyscrapers and futuristic buildings dominating the city’s skyline. Nantou hosts Bi-City, the Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture held in Shenzen every two years.
by Cinzia Palumbo
Translated by Alex Foti