From afar, Shenzhen appears to be a success story of globalization; it is only when domestic environmental and labor conditions are scrutinized more closely that one uncovers the suite of social ills that accompany Shenzhen’s growth and profits. It may be argued that, in fact, odious social conditions not only accompany, but also enable economic globalization.For this reason, the case study of Shenzhen holds lessons that extend far beyond the borders of China, throughout a world that is becoming both increasingly urbanized and globalized.
A social anthropological study of a remarkable city in China shows us how urbanization, progress and economic success can, in many ways, result in the swallowing of a bitter pill and creation of a dark reality.
Abstract This article examines the outstanding boom that the city of Shenzhen, China experienced as a result of the sweeping economic reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Beginning in the Xia and Shang Dynasties (2700-1600 BCE and 1600-1029 BCE, respectively), the area of modern-day Shenzhen was populated by the seafaring Nanuye tribe, a southern subset of the more widely dispersed Biayue tribe.
This indigenous population relied heavily on fishing for subsistence, and there is very little evidence of planned land cultivation.[vi] The Nanuye people lived along the coast of Shenzhen in this way for several centuries.[vii] Then, in 221 BCE, Qinshihuang became the first emperor of China by joining several disparate territories into a unified state, thus establishing the Qin Dynasty.[viii] In 214 BCE, he merged the prefectures of Guilin, Xiangjun, and Nanhai in what are today the Guangxi and Guangdong Provinces.
Xin’an County also played an important role in Chinese military at that time: the Dapeng Fortress, constructed in the east of Shenzhen Township, was both a defensive structure and the jumping-off point for Chinese fleets headed to Southeast Asia.
It was during the Ming Dynasty that local inhabitants first began referring to Shenzhen by its current name; the term means “deep drains” and is a reference to the system of drains built into Shenzhen’s rice paddy fields.[xiv] In 1842, Xin’an County was permanently divided, as the emperor of the Qing Dynasty ceded control of Hong Kong Island to the British crown.
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Foundations of Shenzhen: the Neolithic through 1979 Shenzhen, like China itself, has been subject to seemingly endless waves of political and administrative upheaval throughout its extremely long history.