An award-winning Hong Kong–based architect with decades of experience designing buildings and planning cities in the People’s Republic of China takes us to the Pearl River delta and into the heart of China’s iconic Special Economic Zone, Shenzhen.
Shenzhen is ground zero for the economic transformation China has seen in recent decades. In 1979, driven by China’s widespread poverty, Deng Xiaoping supported a bold proposal to experiment with economic policies in a rural borderland next to Hong Kong. The site was designated as the City of Shenzhen and soon after became China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Four decades later, Shenzhen is a megacity of twenty million, an internationally recognized digital technology hub, and the world’s most successful economic zone. Some see it as a modern miracle city that seemingly came from nowhere, attributing its success solely to centralized planning and Shenzhen’s proximity to Hong Kong. The Chinese government has built hundreds of new towns using the Shenzhen model, yet none has come close to replicating the city’s level of economic success.
But is it true that Shenzhen has no meaningful history? That the city was planned on a tabula rasa? That the region’s rural past has had no significant impact on the urban present? Juan Du unravels the myth of Shenzhen and shows us how this world-famous “instant city” has a surprising history—filled with oyster fishermen, villages that remain encased within city blocks, a secret informal housing system—and how it has been catapulted to success as much by the ingenuity of its original farmers as by Beijing’s policy makers. The Shenzhen Experiment is an important story for all rapidly urbanizing and industrializing nations around the world seeking to replicate China’s economic success in the twenty-first century.
A major contribution to understanding a fascinating city.
Tell[s] the story from the ground up of Shenzhen, the southern city just across the border from Hong Kong that symbolizes like no other China’s economic success…Du aims to break through the clichés that have dominated so many accounts of Shenzhen…By rooting her story in the ‘countless individuals’ who defined the city, she argues that Shenzhen is much more than a top-down exercise in building a modern metropolis.
Shenzhen, the fastest growing city on earth, has been globally acknowledged as the test tube for modern China. In The Shenzhen Experiment, Juan Du deftly uncovers the secrets of the city famous for its unprecedented economic development and social mobility.
In stark contrast to conventional, flattened accounts of this vast Chinese city, Juan Du has given us an architect's magical encounter with a place that we cannot quite see with our eyes, but can experience in fragments. I love this account of Shenzhen.
As urban planner Juan Du shows in this deep dive of a history, the ‘instant city’ narrative is a myth. Sweeping aside slick origin stories, Du reveals a reality in which Shenzhen’s prosperity is driven by oyster fishers, vibrant night markets and the aspirations of millions, not just by the policymakers of Beijing.
Endeavors to move beyond the caricature of Shenzhen as a historyless tabula rasa…The area which would become ‘Shenzhen’ was a well-populated and culturally rich landscape, and its history is here outlined in detail…Provides a nuanced and detailed historical grounding, drawing on a diverse range of sources and primary research. Blending the personal and the historical, it is an outstanding primer on the fascinating fortunes of a city which will only grow in national and global significance over the course of the next decade.
This is a remarkable book on a remarkable subject…Will delight both a general audience curious about China’s rise, and China Hands looking for greater depth and insights into how Shenzhen fits into (and illuminates) a bigger story of modern political, economic, and social development.
Explores the blurry history of the city, beginning with its farmers and oyster fishermen…An important story for architects and planners everywhere facing the excitement as well as perils of rapid urbanization and industrialization.
Du offers straight, rich, descriptive planning history, whose mastery of Chinese sources and multilayered development makes it an invaluable resource for general use by students and scholars…An authoritative study…Anchored at human scale by the stories of oysters or nail houses, yet adroitly explaining policy debates and innovations on a national scale, this book deserves a wide readership and engagement.
A rich history of China’s famous ‘instant city,’ which may not be so instant after all. Juan Du takes us on an informative and unexpected journey through a major metropolis.
This remarkable exploration of modern China reveals the humanity hidden in the shadows of international finance and globalized architecture. It is the extraordinary story of ordinary lives surviving and thriving in one of China’s most dynamic cities.
Equally instructive and highly readable…Du aims to dispel a powerful, multilayered myth at the heart of most ‘rise of China’ narratives on the recent past…Du effectively demonstrates that Shenzhen’s stunning development is not simply the result of state-led SEZ policies but has been facilitated by specific local conditions and a multitude of different actors over a long period.
An actual history, as opposed to the usual blah-blah-blah you find in so many China books. The author has a background in architecture and urban planning, and stresses the import of the Pearl River Delta before Deng’s reforms (Shenzhen wasn’t just a run-down fishing village), decentralization in Chinese reforms, and fits and starts in the city’s post-reform history. Anyone who reads books on China should consider this one.
- 2020, Winner of the IHR Transdisciplinary Humanities Book Award
- 2020, Winner of the Transdisciplinary Humanities Book Award
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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