Pictured above: Shenzhen, my town.
Note: see slide show at below. Adjust your screen size to see it as you please.
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Live from the streets of China, Jeff
Downloadable SoundCloud podcast (also at the bottom of this page), YouTube video, as well as being syndicated on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, RUvid and Ivoox (links below),
The inspiration for this article/podcast was the announcement that Shenzhen’s economy eclipsed Hong Kong’s in 2018 (http://www.chinabankingnews.com/2019/03/03/shenzhens-economy-eclipses-hong-kongs/). This was in exchange rate terms. If Purchasing Power Parities (PPP) were used, which really compares apples to apples, I’m sure it happened several years ago. In PPP, China surpassed the US in 2014, something I already reported on (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2018/06/11/psst-dont-tell-anyone-but-china-has-the-worlds-biggest-economy-china-rising-radio-sinoland-180612/). Then again, since I’m in Guangdong Province, maybe I should say, Compare durians to durians!
Every time I leave Shenzhen to go to Hong Kong, I always turn around towards the former, wave and say, Goodbye 21st century! and then face the latter saying, Hello 20th century! This difference is that stark.
I wrote a lot about the history of Hong Kong in The China Trilogy (see below) and reflected on how it compared to China, 1990-1997, when we lived and worked here the first time, then for the second time starting 2010 until now. I also visited Shenzhen back then. Wow! What a difference.
For us, 1990s Hong Kong was a crass Western paradise of materialism and consumption, compared to Mainland China. China’s consumer goods markets were still developing and rather meager at the time. Going to Hong Kong meant shopping. Back then, Beijing only had two 1970s-era subway lines and the roads were still seriously lacking. There were no super highways back then. Hong Kong’s subway and roads seemed ultra-modern by comparison.
Now, Hong Kong looks and feels tired and worn out compared to China and Shenzhen. Development and public services are lacking. When we went back to Hong Kong the first time in 2016, after moving to Shenzhen from Beijing, I was gob smacked. It was like entering a time capsule that had not been opened in 20 years. It was shocking, really, even depressing how little it had changed. Improved didn’t even enter into my vocabulary. Instead, infrastructure is degrading and not keeping up with the people’s needs. The only notable improvement that really benefits the people is the new Hong Kong Airport, which is very nice.
Since it is ruthlessly capitalist, profit for its elite owners comes first, citizens are secondary. The Hong Kong municipal museum costs money to get into, whereas in China, metropolitan and provincial museums have been free everywhere I have traveled. Once inside Hong Kong’s, many, if not most of the displays are sponsored by corporations and rich elites. So instead of a cohesive historical vision, it’s a mishmash of each donor’s pet projects. Brutal British colonialism, occupation and Hong Kong being made the illegal drug capital of the world, 1839-1949 are all breathlessly glossed over.
Shenzhen runs circles around Hong Kong in terms of public services, infrastructure, quality of life, amenities and eye appeal. Yes, there is Lantau Island in Hong Kong, which is a wonderful nature park, and some of Hong Kong Island is dedicated to green areas, but Kowloon in the mainland part is a concrete jungle. North of that, the New Territories (NT) were never developed properly, since with its capitalist make-money-NOW-or-forget-it culture of greed, the ten families that own Hong Kong lock stock and barrel, left it to languish. Unless you live near one of the stations, you need a car to live in NT or be prepared to walk a long way to only two metro lines, one heading to Shenzhen.
Given the fact that it has around 12-15 million inhabitants (unofficially up to 20 million, but I doubt it), Shenzhen has very few traffic jams, because it is so well designed by China’s savvy urban planners. Flower gardens grace thousands of tree lined streets and even bedeck pedestrian overpasses and cloverleaf exchanges. The city is 925km2 and 45% of the central metropolitan area is covered in plants and trees. We are overrun with public parks, green and pristine, all – that I know of – free to enter. Just across the street from our apartment is Tanglang Mountain Park, ten square kilometers of wilderness, with a broad paved road going to its 450-meter top, as well as nice paths and staircases coursing through its dense forests.
By 2017, Shenzhen had 942 public parks, totaling 22,000 hectares (220km2), with 1,000 planned by next year. In fact, in 2020, Shenzhen will have bragging rights as a One-Thousand-Park city. Let that concept sink a while. The numbers must be much higher now, but I found 2014 stats with 2,400km of park walking paths and 475km of scenic forest trails in 889 public parks, along with 475km of tree belts around town.
Shenzhen has 16,000 electric buses (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2017/09/28/empire-is-1-in-everything-including-public-bus-systems-right-china-rising-radio-sinoland-170928/), around 1,000 bus lines, 60,000-80,000 taxis, a fabulous street and road system, six huge railroad stations, eight extensive metro lines, with several more being built simultaneously, and a ferry/cruise liner port designed to look like a manta ray jumping into the ocean (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2017/10/25/how-can-western-capitalism-beat-this-thats-the-rub-it-cant-china-rising-radio-sinoland-171022/).
To see for yourself, below is a slide show of my visit to circular Diwang Tower Museum. It stands 384 meters tall. One interesting display there was a wax figure setting of Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher, showing their negotiations together to return Hong Kong to the People’s Republic. Deng definitely got the better deal. In any case, everything you see did not exist before 1978. Nothing except farmland, a small traditional fishing port and a few thousand people. No capitalist economy could ever dream of developing a city like Shenzhen from the ground up, planned and projected by the government. Only a communist-socialist country like China can.[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”1″ gal_title=”Shenzhen Museum atop 384m Diwang Tower”]
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
JEFF J. BROWN, Editor, China Rising, and Senior Editor & China Correspondent, Dispatch from Beijing, The Greanville Post
Jeff J. Brown is a geopolitical analyst, journalist, lecturer and the author of The China Trilogy. It consists of 44 Days Backpacking in China – The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass (2013); Punto Press released China Rising – Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations (2016); and for Badak Merah, Jeff authored China Is Communist, Dammit! – Dawn of the Red Dynasty (2017). As well, he published a textbook, Doctor WriteRead’s Treasure Trove to Great English (2015). Jeff is a Senior Editor & China Correspondent for The Greanville Post, where he keeps a column, Dispatch from Beijing and is a Global Opinion Leader at 21st Century. He also writes a column for The Saker, called the Moscow-Beijing Express. Jeff writes, interviews and podcasts on his own program, China Rising Radio Sinoland, which is also available on YouTube, Stitcher Radio, iTunes, Ivoox and RUvid. Guests have included Ramsey Clark, James Bradley, Moti Nissani, Godfree Roberts, Hiroyuki Hamada, The Saker and many others. [/su_spoiler]
Jeff can be reached at China Rising, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook, Twitter, Wechat (Jeff_Brown-44_Days) and Whatsapp: +86-13823544196.
Wechat group: search the phone number +8618618144837 or my ID, Jeff_Brown-44_Days, friend request and ask Jeff to join the China Rising Radio Sinoland Wechat group. He will add you as a member, so you can join in the ongoing discussion.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
9 thoughts on “60 Seconds over Sinoland: Shenzhen’s economy beats Hong Kong’s. Don’t even ask me about quality of life!”
Of course, press companies such as The Economist praise the Asian tigers (of which Hong Kong is part) as “exemplars of the free market or pro-business growth.” Dubious black markets, prostitution out of necessity, the high costs of living, overwork (even for children in school, to the point where well-heeled parents consider North-American or European schools preferable), lack of investment in infrastructure except for Singapore, cold social relations, inverse taxation where the hoi polloi subsidise the rich, oligopolies, suppressed wages, lack of vibrant artistic scenes, conformity that makes the United Arab Emirates look countercultural by comparison, banks and (in Singapore and Macao) casinoes allowed to run wild, and pop idols being stripped of their incomes while being exploited sweatshop-style so that South-Korean record labels can feast on all the profits unlike the case of pampered celebrities elsewhere, are mere little details in the parentheses of puff pieces for those business-friendly states in addition to others like them around the world. But I’m not qualified to intervene, so it’s up to the fine folks in those places to wisely guide their societies towards improvement.
Can you believe that the UN’s Human Development Index still considers China and Thailand despite the worlds of difference in stability or development? What a farce. I can also say that my impressions of your home country in the 2010s mirror those of Hong Kong, except with additional Christian fundamentalism, rising bigot groups and squalidly acted out hedonism in the big cities. It amuses me how your compatriots brag happily about urban areas like New Orleans or the Big Apple, yet non-Americans invariably say “they aren’t that great”. I admit to liking New England a little, though.
As Marx wrote, capitalism always devolves into society and the economy cannibalizing themselves. We are seeing that all over Eurangloland + Israel.
And yes, the United States is geographically one of the most beautiful countries in the world, including New England.
“Now, Hong Kong looks and feels tired and worn out compared to China and Shenzhen. … It was like entering a time capsule that had not been opened in 20 years. It was shocking, really, even depressing how little it had changed. Improved didn’t even enter into my vocabulary. Instead, infrastructure is degrading and not keeping up with the people’s needs.” I agree with some of what you are saying. Hong Kong has long been ‘developed’ for some time and is not going to change as fast as Shenzhen. Vested interests mean that change is not profitable. I agree that Shenzhen is looking to the future but Hong Kong seems more interested in looking back to its days of glory. Hong Kong’s lack of electric buses and taxis is an embarrassment. Some of my wife’s family coming for the first time could not believe how old the taxis are. However, I share my time between Shenzhen and Hong Kong and I do not agree with what you say about the New Territories at all. It has extremely convenient public transport, which serves the people who live in the new tewns. In the NT, buses and minibuses run everywhere. Kowloon is a concrete jungle, but so are parts of Shenzhen. Do you even know that the majority of Hong Kong’s land is still made of country parks? They are covered in well-organised trails. As for ‘ten square kilometers of wilderness’– that’s rather small compared to the green spaces in the New Territories (just look at a map). I do not have a car in Hong but I do in Shenzhen because the transport is relatively slow.
Thanks, Jonathan, for your perspective. Your experiences in Hong Kong and Shenzhen are different than mine, so it’s nice to hear another point of view.