USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

SHENZHEN: Chasing the Chinese Dream

As a fellow Hong Kong citizen, we view Shenzhen as the “Hong Kong want to be” and never realized that Shenzhen have already surpass Hong Kong economically. My prejudice slightly changed after arriving in Shenzhen after three years hoping that this will change my stereotypical thinking. But unfortunately Shenzhen SEZ (Special Economic Zone) was a disappointment after the four days excursion.

The moment we cross the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, I felt the emotional detachment towards the city. I agree that the rapid growth of Shenzhen is fascinating; I know that economically they are surpassing many other cities but I cannot seem to find their heritage and identity. Twenty years ago Shenzhen was covered with farmlands with mostly local farmers.  Twenty years later it is renamed the “Special Economic Zone” and became an immigration hub within the China province. The authentic Shenzhen locals will soon extinct and demolish by the materialism that drives this experimental city. Some might argue that Shenzhen’s heritage and history is their rapid growth, and they can be remembered as one of most successful Special Economic Zones. In comparison, Hong Kong began as a fisherman’s wharf and through Opium War and World War II it is shaped to be the way it is today. Hong Kong was once a British colony and was heavily influenced by the western world. After the 1997’s handover to China, it was renamed Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) under the Basic Law. The emotional attachment towards Hong Kong will never change because of its heritage and history as a city.

In Simmel’s article “The Metropolis and mental Life” he stated, “Money is concerned only with what is common to all: it ask for exchange value, it reduces all quality and individuality to the question: How much?” Shenzhen not only focuses on the speed of economic growth but transforming Chinese’s materialistic values. Social status became their priority and individualism ruled their minds. Louis Vitton and Gucci handbags became their way of expressing their wealth and class; purchasing Hong Kong real estate became their hobbies. Shenzhen have simply brainwashed most Chinese that money can buy happiness. Simmel later noted, “Cities are first of all, seats of the highest economic division of labor.” In contrast to the American dream during gold rush where Chinese people are seeking for better lives in California.  Shenzhen is the “Chinese dream” where many local Chinese immigrate to Shenzhen for better lives, and to seek opportunities to become wealthy. In their minds, Shenzhen is an experimental city that promises success and wealth and have already surpass Hong Kong to become the highest GDP in China.

Heritage cannot be reproduced, history cannot be rewritten. Shenzhen can only be remembered as Deng Xiao Ping’s experimental master piece, a city that transformed from farmlands to a special economic zone in two decades. Shenzhen will never be emotional attached because most history is wiped out by the growth and development. Shenzhen will only be remembered as the Chinese Dream that once the Chinese seek for wealth and better living.


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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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