In This Review

The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City
The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City
By Juan Du
384 pp, Harvard University Press, 2020

Shenzhen was a fishing village that turned into a megalopolis through the alchemy of China’s reforms of the last 40 years. But Du, an architect and urban planner, complicates the simple narrative of the city’s ascent. The city sprawls over an area more than twice as large as that of the five boroughs of New York City. It has swallowed up land originally occupied by more than 2,000 long-established rural villages, which had flourished for centuries through farming, fishing, oyster cultivation, and, more recently, simple food processing and small-scale manufacturing. Some 300 “urban villages” survive inside the modern city, their roughly built tenements filled with cheap apartments that house migrants from all over the country. The most expensive gated community backs onto the biggest slum, which the city has targeted for redevelopment, a plan that in turn has spawned a resistance movement of preservationists. Throughout China, breakneck urbanization has required the seizure of land from communities in rural areas. Du hopes that the Shenzhen experiment can teach the rest of China to adopt development policies that are both more socially sensitive and concerned with protecting historical sites.