Shenzhen: China's Brash, Young City on the Move

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By Liam Casey

SHENZHEN, China -- Shenzhen celebrated its 30th birthday in 2010. I have been here for 15 years -- for more than half its life as a city -- and have been lucky enough to have a front-row seat to one of the most astonishing economic miracles of the last century.

Shenzhen is not the first stop on most people's list of places to visit before they die. But for anyone interested in China, global business, and the future, it should be. Shanghai is the financial capital of China, Beijing is the political capital, and Shenzhen is the commercial engine. The city is young and brash, pulsing with LED light and fueled by its own youthful energy and ambition. This energy is infectious and has spawned a generation of entrepreneurs who are the city's, and China's, best hope for the future.

In Hong Kong, Shenzhen has a reputation for being dirty, sleazy, and dangerous. Like any city of more than 10 million people, it does have a fair share of schemers. But reputation is only what others think, and character is who we really are. Shenzhen's true character is an uncut diamond of culture, innovation, design, and high-tech genius, underpinned by hard work and determination. In this, Shenzhen represents a microcosm for Chinese society and the character of an entire nation.

What's even more remarkable are the people. Nobody is from Shenzhen; everyone has come to Shenzhen with a dream. Recently when I spoke to a class at Shenzhen University, I asked how many were from Shenzhen, and everyone raised their hand. Then I asked how many were born here and nobody responded. I said, "Great -- we are all the same. We've all come here on our own, with a dream and a positive, can-do attitude."

In the past 15 years, things have changed a lot. Shenzhen used to be the place to make cheap products. Then it became a cheap place to make products. Now it's the only place to make products that we work on. We are moving from "Made in Shenzhen" to "Made by Shenzhen" to "Designed by Shenzhen". Copyright and poor quality is now the exception rather than the rule. The new China lies in design, quality, clean-tech, innovation and in setting new world standards for global business. I'll write more about this theme in the coming week.

Liam Casey is the founder and CEO of PCH International, a global supply chain solutions company headquartered in Ireland with operations in Shenzhen, China.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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