From fishing areas just four decades ago, Shenzhen has become one of the icons of China’s economic growth.

To truly appreciate Shenzhen, it can be instructive to stand alongside the statue of its founder, China’s former “paramount leader” Deng Xiaoping, atop Lianhua Hill. Striding forward, he looks out over the city and what is now the Central Business District (CBD), an impressive sight considering what has been achieved in less than 40 years.

Located in southern China, in Guangdong, it’s now a booming economy in its own right; confident, growing and one of China‘s showpiece cities, it’s full of gleaming skyscrapers, wide avenues and up-market estates, all set in sub-tropical climes.

High-tech hub

Not least in the rise of its profile has been the growth of its high-tech companies. They include firms such as smartphone maker Huawei, now the world’s number three after Samsung and Apple; and Tencent, a major software provider behind messaging app WeChat, and a host of online games. This year has also seen the “icing on the cake” with the opening of the 115-storey Ping An International Finance Centre, currently the world‘s fourth tallest building, a silver needle piercing the sky above the CBD.

Shenzhen was created from former fishing villages as part of Deng’s “opening-up” from 1979 to become one of the first five Special Economic Zones. The reforms opened the country to foreign investment, and Shenzhen is currently the third busiest container port in the world. As a migrant city, it attracts workers from all over the country, who fill the vast factories on which its wealth has grown. It‘s burgeoning middle-class can be seen by visiting any of its shopping malls, such as Coco Park and Central Walk in the CBD, also home to many of the city‘s 5-star hotels.

For beaches, many people head east to Dameisha and Xiaomeisha, which fill up in the summer months (you now need to book a ticket for Dameisha), while the OCT East resort stands in the hills like some kind of bizarre Asian outpost of Switzerland – it even includes a miniature railway with an Interlaken station.

More traditional theme parks, such as Happy Valley and Window of the World (both in Nanshan), are well established and aimed squarely at families.

For an insight into the sheer scale of the city’s huge electronics industry, walk down Huaqiangbei, in Futian, and take in the fascinating stores packed with parts and assembled products. Futian’s Ping An International Finance Centre and Luohu‘s Diwang Dasha have observation decks for those seeking a view “As a migrant city, it attracts workers from all over the country” of the Hong Kong hinterland or just the enormity of Shenzhen, a city home to around 11 million people.

While golf may have long been regarded by Chinese leaders as a sport of the elites, fans are well-served in Shenzhen: there is Shenzhen Golf Club on Shennan Road, Futian, and the world-famous Mission Hills can be found 30km north of the CBD. Shenzhen has countless places to enjoy lavish Chinese banquets, but for some European fare try Caroline Les 5 Chefs at Coco Park (B01, Underground Floor, North Area, Shopping Park, Zhongxin Er Lu, Futian District).

Conservative business culture

The city still has a conservative business culture, according to Steven Shya, a credit manager at China Resources Bank in Shenzhen‘s CBD. “Open tattoos and coloured hairstyles are complete no-nos, and should be avoided from the start,” he says. “Avoid talking about politics or policies with your hosts, but do accept their hospitality.” American TJ Weber, who has a promotional digital products business in Shenzhen, says preparation is key to business meetings, so have enough translated documents and business cards to go round. Business meetings can take half a day, plus a factory tour, and lunch or dinner. Your hosts may arrange to pick you up and book your hotel, but be clear what you want to achieve as an outcome. Expect many attendees at meetings, from company CEO to an operations manager. “Don’t just scatter your business cards on the table. Hand them over with both hands and a polite nod,” Weber says.

If you‘re giving a presentation, remember to speak slowly as most of your listeners will not be fluent in English – or bring your own translator.

When signing a contract, Weber says make sure all the key details are included as they are the starting point of your business relationship. “If you encounter problems, it’s important not to get angry, lose your temper, pick out individuals for blame or point your finger in a meeting, as people will lose face. Take them to one side or take it up separately with your point of contact. Above all, get to know your hosts through small talk, accepting invitations to social gatherings such as karaoke or outside tours or visits.”


Shenzhen‘s new airport is impressive, but with only one European connection so far, Frankfurt, you‘re most likely to arrive in Hong Kong and transfer quite easily by taxi or cross-border bus.

Shenzhen‘s public transport is extensive and inexpensive. The Metro underground network is now one of the largest in Asia, with 198 stations and still growing. Two lines, the green Line 1, runs east to west from the Luohu checkpoint through the CBD to the airport, and red Line 4, south to north from the Futian checkpoint, again through the CBD, to Shenzhen North Station and beyond. For it and the buses, buy a Shenzhen Tong, a pay-as-you-go card, available in units of 50 RMB.

Taxis are metered and can be hailed anywhere but come in two colours. Green for the outer districts and red for the inner. So, for example, if you want a taxi from the airport to the CBD, make sure you choose a green one. For ride-hailing Apps, forget Uber and logon instead to Didi (Chuxing) which now has an English interface you can download with your UK mobile number.

Money, costs and tipping

The highest value note is 100 RMB (about 11GBP), which can be a bit frustrating. But outside of high-end restaurants and hotels, things are cheap and credit/debit cards are widely accepted in all but the cheapest places. Chinese don‘t tip, even in taxis, and it will be added as a clear service charge in high-end restaurants. You don‘t need to add anything else.


Written by Keith Crane, originally from the UK, has been living and writing about China for more than a decade.