30 years ago this city of 15 million inhabitants almost did not exist. Shenzhen was a small fishing town in Guangdong province, just north of Hong Kong.
Today it is not only one of the fastest growing in the world, it is also a gigantic boiling technological center.
The numbers are staggering.
This city is home to 6,000 manufacturers of electronic devices, many of them as strong as they are unknown outside of China.
But in addition, it is home to two of the five largest phone companies in the world: Huawei and ZTE.
Most of China’s phones are produced in this city. And China produces more than half of the 2.5 billion cell phones sold worldwide each year.
Shenzhen is also one of the largest ports in the world for container traffic.
How did this transformation happen?
In 1979 Shenzhen was declared a «Special Economic Zone», the first in China within a new policy of reform and opening.
The move sparked rapid multi-million dollar investment, both from Chinese and foreign capital.
Since then the city has enjoyed an extraordinarily dynamic economy.
«Everywhere is being built,» described BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.
The investment attracted thousands of migrants and spurred the construction of factories and homes.
By the mid-1990s, Shenzhen had three million inhabitants.
Now, it has 10 million permanent residents, rising to 15 during the peak summer and fall seasons, when production plants rush production to meet the demand for electronic Christmas gifts.
Culture of «fix it yourself»
Rory Cellan-Jones visited one of the commercial areas of the city where cell phone factory workers go shopping.
According to the journalist, one of the most interesting places is a huge indoor market full of small stalls selling all kinds of electronic components imaginable.
«It seems a lot of people here fix their own electronics,» says Cellan-Jones.
So someone skilled enough could easily come up with the parts needed to build their own computer, and at a very low cost.
According to Joichi Ito, blogger and founder of the MIT Media Lab, in the city there are entire markets dedicated to «recycling» a particular electronic device: an entire market for telephones, another for laptops, another for televisions, and so on.
«You can even buy phones built entirely from discarded parts,» he says.
A whole technological «ecosystem»
Shenzhen was where the recent Chinese economic revolution began, and it may well be the setting for the next chapter: when companies based there begin to compete at the highest level in innovation, and not just in low-cost manufacturing.
«Maybe 10 or 20 years ago you could say that Chinese companies were supporters, but now, as in ZTE, we have many technologies that lead different areas,» Shi Lirong, president of cell phone giant ZTE, told the BBC.
Innovation is one of the great challenges facing China.
But there is already a whole community around the technological world, of bloggers, hackers, designers and entrepreneurs, who find in this place a paradise: a world of possibilities and opportunities that goes beyond mere production.
«While intellectual property rights are generally ignored, the secrets and arts of the trade seem to be selectively shared among members of a complex network of family, friends and trusted people,» describes Joichi Ito after his visit to Shenzhen.
«That feels like it’s open source, even though it isn’t.»
«What we experienced was an entire ecosystem,» he described.
According to the blogger, just as it is impossible to replicate a Silicon Valley elsewhere, it is equally impossible to create another Shenzhen.
Both places attract more and more people, resources and knowledge. For Joichi Ito there would be more advantages in a cooperation than in a rivalry.
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