Travel to Shenzhen


The name Shenzhen means “deep drainage ditches”. The “zhen” in Shenzhen refers to the ditches that take the water away from paddy fields.

“Zhen” is not a place name that occurs with any frequency in deep antiquity, but today it is relatively common. It occurs in a limited area of Southern China. The area and the historical occurrence of place names incorporating the word “zhen” are compatible with a name brought by refugees fleeing south from the Khitan, Jurchen and Mongol invasions which occurred in North China after the fall of the Tang Dynasty at around 1000 AD. It was at this time that the Hakka and Chaozhou became important presences in the South China area.

When we say “relatively” common we mean “relatively”. Wang Shi, the head of China’s biggest property developer Vanke, recalls that he didn’t recognise the “zhen” character when he first saw it at Guangzhou Railway station in the early 1980s. He thought it was probably pronounced “chuan”.

When the Shenzhen SEZ was being established, there was some debate as to what the new city should be called. The county was called Bao’an and there was some support for calling the city Bao’an. Shenzhen won because it had better feng shui implications. In feng shui terms, the water flowing through the “zhen” implied wealth flowing in. And so it

became Shenzhen.


“Laile jiu shi Shenzhenren” . You’re here so you’re a Shenzhener, the City Government’s billboards tell us. But how many Shenzheners are there? This is a surprisingly vexed question.

By any world standard, Shenzhen is an enormous city. In August 2007, the Shenzhen Planned Parenthood and Population Bureau announced officially that the population of the city was 14 million.

Population registration and urban/rural classification practices make it difficult to compare this figure with Shanghai’s official 17.8 million and Beijing’s official 15.3 million. Unlike those two cities, Shenzhen has no “rural” population and it is possible that alone it is the biggest city in China. In combination with either of its neighbouring cities, Dongguan, population 8 million, or Hong Kong, population 7 million, it is certainly the biggest city in China.

As you walk around the streets of Shenzhen and take the metro, you will be struck by the fact that almost everyone is young. The average age is under 30.

There are very few older people, less than 2 percent of the population. If you listen in on conversations, you will often hear newcomers asking for directions. There is a constant stream of people arriving from other places in China.

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