Shenzhen is located in southeastern China near the mouth of the Pearl River, adjacent to Hong Kong and less than 70 miles downstream from Guangzhou. Uniquely among the megacities of the world, Shenzhen has grown from a small fishing village into a major world city in less than 40 years. Its population is about 10 million. Along with Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and places in between, the Pearl River region is home to about 40 million people, making this region the largest conurbation in the world.
The area around present-day Shenzhen has been occupied for at least 7,000 years. At least 2,000 years ago, the area became a center for salt production and trade. The region also held strategic importance, given its location as a water gateway to Guangzhou and as a commercial center. However, Shenzhen itself did not develop as a city until it was designated as a Special Economic Zone by the government of China in 1979.
The history of Shenzhen is tied closely to that of Hong Kong, which is located in the territory between Shenzhen itself and the South China Sea. Hong Kong was occupied by British forces in 1841 and became part of the British Empire. In 1898, the government of the United Kingdom signed a 99-year lease with the Chinese government to retain control over Hong Kong. During its period of British rule, Hong Kong became the major center of trade between China and the British Empire. It later became an important industrial center, and as a result achieved a level of prosperity much greater than that of China itself.
When the British lease expired in 1997, control of Hong Kong reverted to China. The selection of Shenzhen as a Special Economic Zone was motivated by Shenzhen's proximity to Hong Kong, perhaps in anticipation of the eventual reabsorption of Hong Kong into China. Under Chinese policy, Shenzhen and other Special Economic Zones were given the opportunity to develop market-oriented economic activities, integrate industry and trade with scientific research and high technology, and adopt innovative administrative and management structures and policies.
Once it was designated by the Chinese government as a Special Economic Zone, Shenzhen developed and grew very rapidly. Hills in the area were razed in order to provide building space, and construction of houses, shopping centers, and public buildings proceeded quickly. In 1982, according to the census of China there were about 350,000 people in Shenzhen. The population grew to 1.2 million in 1990 and reached 7 million by 2000. Thus Shenzhen is by far the fastest-growing megacity in the world. Growth is extending from the core area of Shenzhen near the Hong Kong border to outlying, formerly rural areas.
Population growth in Shenzhen is the result of very large numbers of migrants moving into the city from other areas of China. Many of Shenzhen's residents are migrant workers who live in dormitories and work in factories in Shenzhen during the week, returning to their homes elsewhere on weekends. In addition to manufacturing, and again as a result of proximity to Hong Kong, Shenzhen has also developed as a center for high-tech industry and scientific research. The per capita gross domestic product of Shenzhen is the highest in China except for that of Hong Kong.
The speed of growth in Shenzhen has contributed to its environmental problems. As elsewhere in China, Shenzhen suffers from serious problems with air pollution. Deteriorating air quality in Shenzhen is the result of industrial emissions, high levels of automobile traffic, and the impact of Shenzhen's numerous building construction projects. Among the world's megacities, Shenzhen is especially vulnerable to typhoons and is also subject to strong earthquakes. All of these factors are being taken into account as Shenzhen prepares for the future.
See Also: Census, China, Guangzhou, United Kingdom