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  • Learning from Shenzhen: China's Post-Mao Experiment from Special Zone to Model City ed. by Mary Ann O'Donnell, Winnie Wong and Jonathan Bach
  • Wei (Windy) Zhao (bio)
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Winnie Wong, and Jonathan Bach, editors Learning from Shenzhen: China's Post-Mao Experiment from Special Zone to Model City Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017 xiv + 283 pages, 24 black-and-white illustrations ISBN: 978-0-2264-0112-6, $35 PB

Shenzhen is a well-known city among the Chinese, although it is not a city with thousands of years of history nor the seat of a provincial government. It is, however, one of the four commonly accepted tier-one cities in China, ranked only after Beijing and Shanghai. The city of Shenzhen and the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) were established in 1979 and 1980 respectively as test grounds for the reform and opening policy, which was much debated by the new generation of post- Mao Chinese leaders at the time. Compared to the other three SEZs established in China at the same time, the Shenzhen SEZ was unique because of its geographic and political position: it was the gateway to Hong Kong, which was under Britain's sovereignty until 1997. In the following decades, Shenzhen's population boomed from thirty thousand to over ten million in less than thirty years. Meanwhile, the city has achieved unprecedented economic growth; its GDP reached 2.2 trillion yuan ($338 billion dollars) in 2017, which was comparable to that of Hong Kong ($341 billion dollars). In addition to economic development, Shenzhen also experienced profound sociocultural and spatial transformations.

Focusing on these transformations, Learning from Shenzhen aims to answer two questions: how did a small market town became the Shenzhen of today, and is this process transferable nationally and internationally? The book is developed from the presentations given at two conferences: "Shenzhen + China, Utopias + Dystopias" held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011, and "Learning from Shenzhen" held at the Shenzhen Land Use Resources and Planning Commission in 2011, which was also part of the Shenzhen Urbanism Biennale. Harvesting the fruit of these two intellectual gatherings, eleven scholars with diverse backgrounds, including anthropology, sociology, history, area studies, urban planning, architecture, and public health, contribute to this edited volume.

This book is organized into three chronologically arranged sections following the developmental phases of the Shenzhen SEZ, defined by the ways in which the "urban villages" were transformed. Although some individual case studies cover a broader time-frame, the common theme shared by all the articles within each section collectively articulate the theme of each section from various perspectives.

The theme of the first section is "Experiments," which begins in 1979 and ends in 1992 when all the villages within the inner districts of the Shenzhen SEZ became "neighborhoods" and the ownership of all the collectively owned lands belonging to the residents was transferred to the municipality. The four articles in this section provide in-depth understandings of the political, ideological, and social context of the SEZ by examining its position (political and geographical), subjects (leaders and migrant workers), and urban space. Framing the context for the rest of the book, Jonathan Bach, in "Shezhen: From Exception to Rule," situates the establishment of the Shenzhen SEZ globally and nationally. At the global scale, the Shenzhen SEZ immediately became part of the rapidly expanding system of economic zones that enhanced the circulation of goods and accumulation of capital. At the national level, the goal of establishing the Shenzhen SEZ was to create not only an example of successful economic development, but also a model city built upon a new socialist ideology, world-class infrastructure, civilized citizens, and entrepreneurial spirit. Moreover, the Shenzhen SEZ, strategically located between Hong Kong and interior mainland China, provided a means to reterritorialize both economic and social capital.

Articulating the political context from a human perspective, Mary Ann O'Donnell, in "Heroes of the Special Zone: Modeling Reform and Its Limits," unfolds Shenzhen's earlier developments by examining the personal, professional, and political struggles of its three early leaders. O'Donnell argues that their struggles were not only the result of the very nature of...


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pp. 117-119
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