The city of Shenzhen is located on the East side of the Pearl River/ the Pearl River Estuary, just north of Kowloon Peninsula, the part of Hong Kong that is contiguous with mainland China. The city's relationship to Hong Kong, for all practical purposes, is that of a suburb, albeit, a very new and modern suburb. In fact, the city of Shenzhen has today become an integral part of Hong Kong, serving many supportive functions for Hong Kong for which there is simply not space in Hong Kong itself, given that Hong Kong is also home to millions of residents who feel a special attachment to the city and who therefore would not be inclined to make way for yet more skyscrapers and office blocks to, for example, house the many foreign trade representations that wish to set up shop in Hong Kong.
Fortunately for Hong Kong, nearby Shenzhen was something of a blank page waiting to be written on - and written on, it has indeed been since the late 1970s, when foreign direct investment began to forever transform this sleepy fishing village into a modern metropolis...
A Brief History
Shenzhen's late prehistory dates back to 6-7 thousand years ago, when a Neolithic dune culture (ca. 4500 BCE) inhabited the coastal region of southern China, most notably, in the area of Guangdong-Fujian-Zhejiag Provinces (and on the island of Taiwan, across the Taiwan straits from Fujian Province). In the Shenzhen-Dongguan area, numerous such finds have been excavated around the old city of Xiantou (called the Xitou site) and the Hutoupu site, just southeast of Dongguan, the artifacts of which excavations are on display in Shenzhen Museum, which houses three permanent exhibitions: Ancient Shenzhen; the Folk Culture of Shenzhen; and the Modern History of Shenzhen (to learn more about Shenzhen Museum - not to be confused with the recently planned (2007) Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by the Austrian architect firm, Coop Himmelb(l)au® - click on this external link... and, following the video-intro (it loads quite slowly), click on "English" at the bottom of the page).
These were a rather modern, relatively speaking, Stone Age people, whose dwellings indicate a highly developed culture. They lived in the coastal area presumably in order to be close to the bountiful food source that the Pearl River Estuary represented, while the practice of residing on dunes would protect them and their habitations from flooding during periods when much of the Pearl River Delta might be inundated (their settlements were located not on the shores of the estuary, but farther inland, though still within the river delta).
As an indication of the relatively advanced level of "technological" development of these dune dwellers, they made use of "cellars", dug into the sand dunes, that could keep foodstuffs cool, thus providing a food storage facility that could ameliorate the shifting luck of the daily riverine "catch" (fishes, crustaceans, molluscs (clams, oysters, scallops), etc.), though they were also part-time farmers.
By the time of the Xia (BCE 2000-1500) and Shang (BCE 1700-1027) Dynasties, there were distinct ethnic tribes that lived here belonging to the Baiyue ("Hundred Yue") people. They were very adept at pottery-making, as is witnessed by the discovery of several of their kilns, unearthed in the area. They too lived mainly on fishing combined with a smattering of agriculture in the mix. The Baiyue folk apparently arrived in China as part of a mass migration, possibly from the south. Whether they displaced the dune dwellers who had lived here before them, or whether the latter were absorbed into the Baiyue is not known.
The rest of the history of present-day Shenzhen follows roughly that of the province itself (including the influx of Han Chinese immigrants fleeing unrest in the north, beginning with the Jin (CE 264-420) Dynasty, and with a marked increase in immigration to the area during the Southern Song (CE 1127-1279) Dynasty), up until 1573, roughly, when the territory corresponding to present-day Shenzhen was established as a county by the name of Xin'an as part of the enlargement of the then Dongguan Commandery, which stretched from Nantou in the north (just northwest of present-day Guangzhou, Nantou being the seat of the then Xin'an County) to present-day Hong Kong in the south.
The fate of Xin'an County was altered by the Treaty of Nanking (1842), which ceded Hong Kong (initially the entire Kowloon Peninsula, then later the New Territories as well (the surrounding islands such as Lantau Island and Hong Kong Island itself)) to Great Britain, the whole of which was returned to China in 1997.
In 1913, and with Hong Kong no longer belonging to Xin'an County, the Republic of China renamed the county to Ban'an County in order that its name not conflict with a county of the same name in Henan Province. As a curiosum, Shenzhen is the only city in otherwise Cantonese Guangdong where Mandarin is the primary spoken language. (To learn more about the general history of Guangdong Province, click here.)
The sleepy fishing village that was Shenzhen up until the end of the 1970s began to experience exponential growth thereafter, following the opening of China and the changed regulation that was implemented at that time, permitting foreign direct investment. Since then, Shenzhen's growth has literally skyrocketed (think: skyscrapers). Shenzhen is one of the fastest-growing cities in China, attracting much talent from all over the country as well as from abroad, since Shenzhen has become renowned as a place of opportunity. The city is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (SZSE), one of China's four bourses. In spite of its rapid growth, the city's expansion has managed to incorporate "the best of both worlds", i.e., the natural world (parks, gardens, a zoo, an 18-hole golf course, etc.) combined with the glass-steel-&-concrete world of skyscrapers.
Besides its role as a high-tech powerhouse and as a budding financial center, Shenzhen is committed to preserving the beauty and the ambience of its South China Sea location, so as to strengthen the city's role as a popular tourist destination as well. Popular attractions in and around the city include the Evergreen Resort, the Yinhu Resort, Honey Lake Holiday Village, the Chinese Folk Culture Villages, Fairy Lake Botanical Gardens, Xiaomeisha Beach Park, the Wild Animal Zoo and Guanlan Lake Golf Resort.
With its mild climate and its cosmopolitan feel, Shenzhen is something of a pearl for its permanent residents as well as for its many visitors who feel as much at home in this smartly attractive seaport city as back in San Diego or in Baltimore in the US, or in La Rochelle, France, for that matter.