In 1979, Shenzhen – then a group farming and fishing communities along the Hong Kong border with a total population of a few hundred thousand – was designated the first of China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The plan was to create a sealed off enclave to experiment with market reforms and performance incentives without posing a threat or risk to the established political and economic system elsewhere in China. Shenzhen won the honor because of its proximity to the abundant capital resources and management expertise across the border. Since then, it has been a real boom town and today is a bustling city of well over ten million.
A 2010 study conducted by Forbes magazine ranks Shenzhen’s population density as the 5th highest in the world. Shenzhen also boasts the highest per capita GDP in China, pulling in an impressive USD 13581 in 2009, but this is hotly disputed due to the method whereby the population figure is derived. But many observers also point out that, given the preponderance of privately held companies in Shenzhen and the widespread avoidance of tax, it is highly likely that the GDP figure is also severely understated. A walk around Shenzhen’s leafy western suburbs will quickly allay any doubts as to the wealth in the city.
Although little visited by international tourists, Shenzhen is a popular destination for Chinese domestic tourists. They were originally attracted by its famous theme parks but as the city has developed and become richer they are increasingly drawn by Shenzhen’s famous architecture, shopping, bars, restaurants and active art scene. Shenzhen’s beaches have become famous throughout China. In 2006, the Dapeng Peninsula, the location of Shenzhen’s best beaches, was nominated by the China National Geographic Magazine as one of the most beautiful coastlines in China. Visitors are also starting to recognize some fascinating historical sites, particularly those related to the Hakka culture and Hong Kong’s annexation after the Opium Wars, which are scattered throughout the suburban area.
From a climate perspective, the best time to visit Shenzhen is October to December when the weather is pleasantly cool. Shenzhen has a sub-tropical climate with incredibly high humidity combined with soaring temperatures in the summer. For many, this is a season to avoid. The long intense summer also coincides with the typhoon season from June to October. Spring is cooler but is often afflicted by fog and heavy thunderstorms.
The question of the population of Shenzhen is a hotly discussed one. Official Chinese population figures have been traditionally affected by the fact that the basis for reporting is those who have official registration or “hukou” in the city. Shenzhen has many immigrant workers whose “hukou” are for their home town or village, so “official” numbers are wildly low. An advance on this front came a couple of years ago when, for practical purposes, “hukou” was replaced by a residents’ registration certificate. This certificate, which is cheap and easy to administer, and which allows for travel to Hong Kong without returning to one’s place of origin for passport application, has made population counting easier. Based on figures released by the Shenzhen Statistics Bureau in April 2010, as of end 2009, Shenzhen has an official resident population of 8.91 million, out of which 2.41 million have legal household (“hukou”) status. Unofficial estimates put the real figure nearer to 14 million, inclusive of a large transient community that remains in Shenzhen for less than 6 months.