Test bed for Deng Xiaoping's "Opening Up and Reform" policies and engine of an economic miracle that would better the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese, the story of Shenzhen is one of city as experiment. Here, in China's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), Chinese communism was shone through a capitalist prism. The resulting light show brought China indelible change, incredible opportunity and questions it had never faced before.
Shenzhen, unlike Hong Kong, Shanghai, Ningbo and others, was not compelled to open under the threat of unequal treaties foreign guns. Shenzhen's opening up allowed China to rekindle a love for trade and entrepreneurship that has spanned dynasties, but the transformation from Mao's total egalitarianism to Deng's "to get rich is glorious" was one fraught with contradictions and riddled with tales of unbelievable success as well as failure.
However, unlike so many other stories China tells about itself where mistakes are glossed over, official lines uncriticized and scandals unexamined, Shenzhen speaks with surprising candor. August 26 was the 30th anniversary of Shenzhen's opening up as China's first SEZ, and the story of those 30 years and the mixed results seen today can be experienced in a couple of novel ways.
In Shenzhen itself, the Guan Shanyue Art Museum is holding an art exhibition with 90 shortlisted works showcasing Shenzhen's rapid development. Much of the emphasis is on the "growing pains" experienced by the city as it was transformed from a marshy backwater to the economic powerhouse that 10 million now call home.
At Shanghai Expo 2010, the Shenzhen Pavilion, situated in the lonely hinterland of the drably-named Urban Best Practice Area, offers what Adam Minter can only describe as a "subversive pavilion" experience—novel in China, let alone the Expo. For a deeply moving look at the costs as well as the benefits of breakneck development (and at a pavilion that isn't all PR gloss and skin-deep optimism) the Shenzhen Pavilion, with its excellently produced human-interest film, is a must-see.
Guan Shanyue Art Museum
Address: 6026 Hongli Lu , Futian (红荔路6026号)
Tel: (0755) 8306 3086
Metro: Shenzhen Metro Line 4, Shao Nian Gong Station (Children’s Palace Station 少年宫站), Exit B
Hours: Tue-Thu 9am-5pm; Mon close; Fri free
Shanghai Expo Urban Best Practices Area
For directions to the Expo see our Shanghai Expo transportation forum
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