Shenzhen History

The following posts provide an overview of Shenzhen’s history. Posts are further subdivided into sections on Shenzhen’s “special” status, Urban Planning, Cultural Demographics, and the Shenzhen- Hong Kong border.I conclude with an assortment of conclusions by myself and others on this history. For those who want the 90 second flash version of this history, check out Greedy Snake, Zhang Xueshi and Wang Lechi’s piece for the Boom! Shenzhen Biennale installation. For the more poetic, I tell this history as a cycle of five poems, The Sea of Desire.

What’s Special about Shenzhen?

As yet Shenzhen has no Capital H History… introduces the idea that the meaning of Shenzhen’s history is still up for grabs.

The Shekou Tempest – Translation introduces the early, utopian appeal of Shenzhen. Roughly a year and a half before the demonstrations in Tian’anmen, the Shekou Tempest demonstrated that the government was serious in its intention to reform and open all of society, including politics as usual.

Shenzhen Spirit is a short example of utopian practice in Shenzhen.

Urban Planning

Utopian Shenzhen, 1978-1982 summarizes thoughts on the importance of the SEZ to the implementation of Reform and Opening policies from the perspective the establishment of the Second line and the division of Shenzhen into what is now referred to as guannei (the former SEZ) and guanwai (the former suburbs).

What Exactly is an Urban Village Anyway? provides a working definition of how the term “urban village” or 城中村 now functions in Shenzhen’s administrative apparatus with respect to the earlier term “new village” or 新村.

Statutory Planning and Opportunistic Urbanization discusses urbanization in Shenzhen before the adoption of the first citywide (including both guannei and guanwai areas) Master Plan in 1996.

New Districts Defined! defines the administrative category 新区 in contradistinction to District or Borough (区).

Cui Bono? State Power, Urban Village Rights, and the Vanishing of Affordable Housing looks at the decision to raze Dachong New Village.

Cultural Demography

Shenzhen Population Statistics, 1979-2011 contains, well, population statistics that give a sense of the scope of the city’s population boom, while What is a Boomtown? contextualizes those statistics with respect to Shenzhen’s sister cities, Brisbane and Houston.

Who Should have Rights to the City? introduces the question of hukou and hukou reform in Shenzhen.

Cleaning up Shenzhen: Were there more than 80,000 Dangerous People in the City? explores the question of migration to Shenzhen from the perspective of a recent police sweep of undocumented workers and residents.

Shenzhen – Hong Kong Border

Woody Watson’s Forty Years on the Other Side of the Border contextualizes Shenzhen’s recent history in terms of its Maoist function as the Cold War Bamboo Curtain.

Integrating the Pearl River Delta introduces the scale of cross-border checkpoint infrastructure.

Early Forms of Shenkong evaluates the changing political-economic functions of Shenzhen and Hong Kong with respect to the Qianhai Cooperation Zone and Lok Ma Chau Loop projects.


The Zhongkao Cometh is a translation of an essay question from a crib sheet for the 2011 SZ High School Entrance Exam. The crib sheet answer provides a succinct introduction to official takes on the historical importance of Shenzhen.

特 – A Manifesto Against Special Privileges is a translation of a Chongqing inspired critique of neoliberal practices in Shenzhen. This analysis is particularly interesting now because (1) it still makes good sense but (2) 乌有之乡 the Maoist website that published the essay has since been shut down in the aftermath of the Bo Xilai scandal.

Why does the West misread Shenzhen? comments on how Western journalists have misperceived Shenzhen’s status within the PRC, especially in the post Tian’anmen era.

Borders and Corridors: One Interpretation of the 2010-2020 Shenzhen Comprehensive Plan asks if the Municipality is laying the ground work to politically integrate Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

One thought on “Shenzhen History

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