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Shenzhen city profile | city data
  • Within 35 years, Shenzhen has grown from a town of 30,000 to a megacity of 11 million
  • Participation is a cultural priority for Shenzhen. The City’s Cultural Innovation 2020 Agenda emphasises the importance of cultural engagement, particularly of young people.
  • Shenzhen’s creative industries have boomed following a policy decision in 2005, with the ‘culture+technology’ model becoming central to its economy

City data: Key facts

  • Geographical area: 1,997sq. km
  • Total population: 11,908,400
  • GDP (PPP) million: $632,100

Since the 1980s, Shenzhen has grown from a fishing town of 30,000 people into a world city and a centre for manufacturing, specialising in electronics and telecommunications. It is part of the Greater Pearl River Delta, which stretches from Hong Kong to Shenzhen to Guangzhou. In 1979 it became one of China’s first Special Economic Zones and began attracting increasing numbers of people in search of employment, leading to overpopulation. Despite the high population, Shenzhen is a garden city. It was the first Chinese city to be awarded the Nations in Bloom title in 2000. In 2003, the municipal government announced the strategy of transforming Shenzhen into a ‘culture-based’ city, promoting design and the arts. By 2005, when most Chinese cities were still developing their manufacturing base, Shenzhen had developed a strategy to transition its economy. Between 2012–2016, the cultural and creative industries have grown by an average 14% annually: in 2016 they represented 10% of Shenzhen’s GDP.

Today Shenzhen is classed as a megacity, with a population of over 10 million. Of its residents, over 95% are Han Chinese, with the city’s dramatic growth fueled almost entirely by internal migration. Shenzhen has a large creative workforce drawn from across China, and aims to become a city of innovation, focusing on digital, IT and ‘smart cities’. After its growth and development over the past three decades, Shenzhen now faces the challenge of transitioning into a mature city and developing its identity, particularly in relation to its powerful neighbour, Hong Kong. The cultural and creative industries are key to this. Shenzhen has a wide range of cultural facilities: by the end of 2017, Shenzhen had 638 public libraries, 43 museums, 46 theatres and over 400 art galleries. More informal participation in culture is also growing. One important cultural hub is OCT LOFT Creative Culture Park. Starting in 2003, a large stateowned enterprise, Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) Group, led the revitalisation of a former industrial district which has been converted into offices for creative businesses, bookshops, cafes, bars, artist studios and design shops. The LOFT hosts festivals and exhibitions and is also the home of the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, a major gallery for Chinese contemporary art. Shenzhen hosts the China (Shenzhen) International Cultural Industries Fair (ICIF), run by the Chinese Ministries of Culture and of Commerce. In 2018 it attracted over 2,300 exhibitors, 21,300 overseas buyers and 7.33 million visitors.

Many of Shenzhen’s key challenges relate to its high rate of migration. It is the largest migrant city in China; while the city attracts high-skilled talent (Shenzhen opened China’s first Talent Park in November 2017, surrounded by the offices of Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba etc.), it also has millions of people lacking permanent residency, often living in factory dormitories. Although Shenzhen’s population is projected to increase to 18 million by 2025, its rate of growth has slowed dramatically. It now faces a shortage of housing space along with high housing prices. Many rural migrant workers, particularly in suburban districts, have limited education and no roots in the city. The City government faces the challenge of providing cultural facilities and activities to these migrants to support their integration into the life of the city. A Migrant Workers’ Cultural Festival has been established to encourage participation.

The Shenzhen Cultural Innovation Development Plan 2020 was released in early 2016, to guide the cultural development of Shenzhen for the following five years. Highlights of the plan include protecting and developing cultural heritage and traditions, setting up a platform for social science research and think tanks, encouraging original cultural works, and building new cultural landmarks. It also contains plans for a series of influential cultural festivals in the city, such as the World Choir Competition, an international Science and Technology film festival, a Belt and Road national music festival, and an international photography competition.