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The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China's Instant City

Juan Du



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Harvard University Press
01 January 2020
City & town planning - architectural aspects; History; Asian history; Public administration
An award-winning Hong Kong-based architect with decades of experience designing buildings and planning cities in the People's Republic of China takes us to the Pearl River delta and into the heart of China's iconic Special Economic Zone, Shenzhen.

Shenzhen is ground zero for the economic transformation China has seen in recent decades. In 1979, driven by China's widespread poverty, Deng Xiaoping supported a bold proposal to experiment with economic policies in a rural borderland next to Hong Kong. The site was designated as the City of Shenzhen and soon after became China's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Four decades later, Shenzhen is a megacity of twenty million, an internationally recognized digital technology hub, and the world's most successful economic zone. Some see it as a modern miracle city that seemingly came from nowhere, attributing its success solely to centralized planning and Shenzhen's proximity to Hong Kong. The Chinese government has built hundreds of new towns using the Shenzhen model, yet none has come close to replicating the city's level of economic success.

But is it true that Shenzhen has no meaningful history? That the city was planned on a tabula rasa? That the region's rural past has had no significant impact on the urban present? Juan Du unravels the myth of Shenzhen and shows us how this world-famous instant city has a surprising history-filled with oyster fishermen, villages that remain encased within city blocks, a secret informal housing system-and how it has been catapulted to success as much by the ingenuity of its original farmers as by Beijing's policy makers. The Shenzhen Experiment is an important story for all rapidly urbanizing and industrializing nations around the world seeking to replicate China's economic success in the twenty-first century.
By:   Juan Du
Imprint:   Harvard University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm, 
ISBN:   9780674975286
ISBN 10:   0674975286
Pages:   320
Publication Date:   01 January 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Juan Du, an award-winning architect and urban planner with extensive experience in China, Europe, and the United States, has been featured in international publications as one of Asia's top designers. She is Associate Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong and was formerly on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She leads IDU_Architecture, a research and design office based in Hong Kong. Du is also the founding academic director of the Shenzhen Center for Design and is actively involved in the ongoing development and planning of the city.

Reviews for The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China's Instant City

A rich history of China's famous 'instant city, ' which may not be so instant after all. Juan Du takes us on an informative and unexpected journey through a major metropolis.--Yung Ho Chang, Principal of Atelier FCJZ, Beijing Explores the blurry history of the city, beginning with its farmers and oyster fishermen...An important story for architects and planners everywhere facing the excitement as well as perils of rapid urbanization and industrialization.--Architect's Newspaper (12/23/2019) As urban planner Juan Du shows in this deep dive of a history, the 'instant city' narrative is a myth. Sweeping aside slick origin stories, Du reveals a reality in which Shenzhen's prosperity is driven by oyster fishers, vibrant night markets and the aspirations of millions, not just by the policymakers of Beijing.-- (01/08/2020) Endeavors to move beyond the caricature of Shenzhen as a historyless tabula rasa...The area which would become 'Shenzhen' was a well-populated and culturally rich landscape, and its history is here outlined in detail...Provides a nuanced and detailed historical grounding, drawing on a diverse range of sources and primary research. Blending the personal and the historical, it is an outstanding primer on the fascinating fortunes of a city which will only grow in national and global significance over the course of the next decade.-- (01/08/2020) This remarkable exploration of modern China reveals the humanity hidden in the shadows of international finance and globalized architecture. It is the extraordinary story of ordinary lives surviving and thriving in one of China's most dynamic cities.--Austin Williams, author of China's Urban Revolution and New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future In stark contrast to conventional, flattened accounts of this vast Chinese city, Juan Du has given us an architect's magical encounter with a place that we cannot quite see with our eyes, but can experience in fragments. I love this account of Shenzhen.--Saskia Sassen, author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy Shenzhen, the fastest growing city on earth, has been globally acknowledged as the test tube for modern China. In The Shenzhen Experiment, Juan Du deftly uncovers the secrets of the city famous for its unprecedented economic development and social mobility.--Ole Bouman, Founding Director of Design Society, Shenzhen

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