Shenzhen, the nastiest place in China, or is it?

I’ve heard many bad things about Shenzhen. I never wanted to come here in the first place because of what I’ve heard. Now that I’m living in Shenzhen, it does bother me if people repeat those stereotypes unreflectedly and without having lived here for a certain period of time. I think you do have the right to criticise this city if you’ve been living here for a while. But please do not blindly repeat what others have told you without seeing for yourself. Give Shenzhen a chance.

Now what are some of the stereotypes I’ve heard?

  1. There’s a lot of prostitution in SZ
  2. There are many pickpockets
  3. People only care about money
  4. The city has no history, thus it has no soul

1. Yes. You’re probably right. There is a lot of prostitution in Shenzhen (or in Dongguan for that matter, a city bordering Shenzhen and not Shenzhen itself). But that doesn’t mean every Shenzhener likes to seek prostitutes. It doesn’t mean every single guy (as in every single / guy, not every / single guy) you come across in Shenzhen has been to a prostitute. Not at all.

2. I can only speak of my personal experience which is that I never got anything stolen in Shenzhen (knock on wood). I’ve heard that Shenzhen might be more dangerous on its outlying districts, but it seems to be pretty safe in its central districts. Compared to other cities of that size, I really don’t think things get stolen easily. Maybe I was just lucky. But maybe there aren’t as many pickpockets after all (I think the latter is true).

3. Yes. Many people do care about money. Can you honestly say you don’t care about money at all? I don’t think so. I would only believe this if you were living on the street and told me you really do not care about money. Everyone does care about money to a certain degree. Only people who enjoy the luxury of living in a country with a great social security scheme (such as for example Austria), who can count on their government to look after them once they are old or if they are sick can be so free as not to care about money. Maybe you don’t care about LV bags and posh cars, but I’m pretty sure that you do care about money.  So maybe people here do care about money, but does that mean that they only want to get rich? Not necessarily. Maybe they have a family to take care of. Maybe they need to make sure their parents who don’t get a pension are taken care of. Maybe someone in their family is sick. Maybe their wife just got a baby. Maybe they need to pay tuition fees for their kids. Maybe they just don’t want to have money worries all of the time and want to make a decent living.

4. Yes, Shenzhen is a new, posh mega city. There are almost no historic sites. Or at least they are getting less and less. In the area I live, there’s a tiny old temple right next to the street where people burn incense and honour their ancestors. There are quite a few old Cantonese-style buildings that suggest to be much older than this new city. These places aren’t plentiful, but they do exist. Also, you might not be able to find a lot of history in this city, but that doesn’t mean Shenzhen has no soul. You can do Dim Sum here, a Cantonese-style cultural activity as I would call it. There are quite a few art events going on. Shenzhen does have great designers. Ever been to Shenzhen’s green lung, a big jungle in quite a central area of Shenzhen? If I could choose between New York’s Central Park and this place, I would choose the latter. I’m talking about OCT, Overseas Chinese Town (华侨城, huáqiáochéng). The district is beautiful. It does feel like a real jungle. Ever had a coffee in the jungle? Well, this is the place to go, because there are also quite a few really nice Cafès to while away your time (they are located in Shenzhen’s “Creative Culture Park”, 创意文化园, chuàngyì wénhuà yuán. Don’t forget to take a mosquito repellant with you). Also, if you’re looking for a nearby park in Shenzhen, there’s a huge chance you’ll find one right around the corner no matter where in the city you are. Just saying.

What are some other things I like about Shenzhen?

5. Shenzhen is a very young city. The majority of people living here are around 30 years of age. Shenzhen is not only a young city, it’s also a city that gives young people a chance. If you’re good at something, it doesn’t matter where in China you’ve been born. It doesn’t matter if you have guanxi (relationships) with important people or not (or at least it doesn’t matter as much as it would if you were living in your hometown in China).

6. You don’t have to be a local in order to make it in Shenzhen. Since most of the people living in Shenzhen are immigrants from other parts of this country, where you’re from is not as important as in other cities in China. I have heard that people who are not from Beijing or Shanghai have a much harder time making a living in those respective cities.

There are many more reasons why I think that Shenzhen isn’t as bad as its reputation after all. It has the best health insurance scheme you can find in the People’s Republic of China. Cab drivers won’t cheat you for your money. One driver once even wanted to charge us less because it was only a very short distance (we still gave him the full fare). The public transportation system works quite alright. The air quality is much better than in Beijing (okay, now that one’s not too hard) and it’s usually also better than in Shanghai. And so on.

Now, feel free to disagree with me and feel free to dislike Shenzhen. I’m just really tired of hearing what a bad city Shenzhen is – especially from people who make these presumptions based on stereotypes they’ve heard from other people or based on presumptions they make after their three-day-visit to Shenzhen.

What do you think about Shenzhen? Do you agree with me or do you think that Shenzhen really is such a bad city to live in? I’d love to hear your take on it.

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21 thoughts on “Shenzhen, the nastiest place in China, or is it?

  1. I’ve never been to Shenzhen but I would honestly like to go. I am sure I will have a lovely visit. I think people need to understand that China is a developING country. Moreover, the list you mentioned is not unique to any city. I don’t know.

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    • I guess it really comes down to what you’re expecting of a city. If you expect it to be all shiny and beautiful, maybe you’ll be disappointed. But if you don’t have any expectations, you might be surprised at what you’ll find. It also really depends on where in the city you stay. There are interesting areas like OCT, but you need to know how to find those places.

      You’re right, the list can apply to many places. But these are the things I’ve heard most when people told me what they associate Shenzhen with after I told them where I’m living.

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  2. Great post. I actually never really heard a whole lot of bad things about Shenzhen…in fact I always thought of it as a pretty decent city. I first heard of it through a local I dated in Central China, and he praised the city and the area. He wanted to take me there to visit because he was proud of how modern it was…but we never ended up making it there. I still haven’t been there yet, closest I’ve been is Guangzhou/HK. I will say Guangdong Province has a terrible reputation in general among some Chinese — people would tell me the province had more crime, etc.. I really don’t know if that is true, though!

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    • It is quite modern indeed, but I think where Shenzhen really points is overall life quality.

      It’s really interesting to see how different those three neighbouring cities are – Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hongkong.

      I think the crime is located in more rural areas or cities farther inland – I’ve heard that organized crime is more rampant in certain areas. Still, people say that not only of Guangdong, but also of many other places in China.

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  3. It’s not fair to say “every single/guy” hasn’t frequented prostitutes, because plenty of married or otherwise attached guys do, too. It’s a big issue in Taiwan – Taiwanese businessmen going to Shenzhen, Wuhan, Tianjin, Kunshan, Dongguan, Guangzhou etc. and cheating on their wives with prostitutes, girlfriends, even “second wives”. But that problem is not limited to Shenzhen. I’m not a fan, but I’ve seen far worse (Shenyang).

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  4. SZ is quite popular place for prostitutions but most of the ‘clients’ are from HK – it’s really close, it’s cheaper than prostitution in HK, but it’s also more risky because in HK prostitutes will just get kicked out. If you want to see a little bit of them watch movie due west our sex journey, it was actually based on political article about HK-China relationship, if you watch movie carefully it won’t be about boobs and sex – but it’s quite nasty I must say.
    and that ‘care about money’… it’s not only there – whole country is that, I could even say 90% of the world is. of course ‘face’ matters and more luxury stuff you have gives you a better face but I agree, why people complain about that – without money you cannot eat, pay bills, afford to rise a child.

    I cannot say much about SZ because I’ve never been there, but my husband’s family has a flat there too and my mother in law likes it much more than Shanghai. I hope I can see it in near future 🙂 I would be really happy if you could write about your favourite places, restaurants there etc. 🙂

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  5. I agree that you can’t really judge Shenzhen until you’ve lived there for some length of time. I will admit when I first moved there I didn’t like it much at all.

    My impression is that Shenzhen is still a city of hope for many migrant workers. They are able to make more money than up north and want to save up their money in order to provide a better future for their children.

    I love the fantastic mix of people and places in Louhu, and part of Futian district. I will say some parts of Louhu district I tend to avoid at night because that’s were gang members and petty theives hang around. Other than that I’ve never felt threatened, and as long as you don’t bother people, they tend not to bother you.

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  6. interesting post about Shenzhen! i have been there once and I must say besides shopping and food I didn’t find anything else interesting to see there. I want to go again though.
    To NO. 3: a lot of people move to Shenzhen because it’s the city with the highest salary in whole China. Therefore, it’s very attractive for people from poorer areas.

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    • You’re right, it doesn’t offer much for the traveler, that’s why I wouldn’t judge it based on traveling but rather on living there. It’s definitely not a tourist destination, but if you know where to go there are still some nice places to while away your time.

      You’re right, and many people move here because of the chances of making it here.

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  7. Shenzhen doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to the historical sights and scenes, but the modern theme parks like Window of the World and Happy Valley are pretty well-known. OCT (headquartered in Shenzhen) has been building theme parks (happy valley and etc) all over the country, but happy valley remains a must-go place for kids living in the cities around Shenzhen and places where they have limited choices..

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    • Thanks for mentioning these places here! These are places popular with tourists, but except for these places there are also other nice places to go to. If you like the outdoors, I can recommend Mangrove Forrest right next to the sea where you can see Hongkong from afar. It’s a nice location for going for a walk or riding a bike. There are also many great parks, for example the former Expo garden in OCT (园博园) near Qiaocheng East station (侨城东站) or Lotus Hill Park (莲花山公园) near Civic Center station (市民中心站) where you have a nice view of Shenzhen once you’ve climbed the small hill and can watch people perform music (not sure how to describe the location though) and grandparents and parents plastering trees with announcements looking for a match for their grandkids and kids near one of the exits (unfortunately I can’t remember which one it was).

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  8. I think you’ve the matter of prostitution in nearly every border region where a higher income country (okay, Honkong is not really a country, but a special area of administration) and a lower income country are next to each other. That’s why you find much more prostitution in Mexican border city Tijuana and not in the US-part San Diego. Or that’s why you’ll find more prostitution at the eastern border of Austria and not that much at the western border to Germany. The women working in prostitution “are cheaper” and it’s more likely that there’s a market for this kind of work if there are people at the other side of the border who have money but want pay less…

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    • This is definitely true. And that’s also the reason why I said that not each and every male Shenzhener visits prositutes – because often these “services” aim at people who aren’t even from Shenzhen (or Dongguan – Dongguan is actually more notorious for prostitution than Shenzhen is, but often people mix them up because these cities are so close to each other). Not saying that there are no Shenzheners who visit prostitutes, just saying that those probably aren’t even the main clients.

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