One of modern China's most striking success stories, Shenzhen was little more than a loose array of rice paddies before the 1980s. Then in 1979, Chairman Deng Xiaoping decided to give capitalism a tightly-controlled chance. The Shenzhen Special Economic Zone was launched, and China's economic future was all but written.
In many ways, Shenzhen owed its success to the already free market of its neighbor, Hong Kong. Developing enormous manufacturing and shopping districts operating at lower labor costs than its neighbor, Shenzhen became a desirable discount alternative for consumers in Hong Kong.
After setting the precedent which the rest of the country began to follow, Shenzhen expanded its specialty to domestic tourism. Lavish theme parks were built, and families from across the nation flooded the market to find out exactly what was happening here on the eastern front.
The thing that has been underplayed by international guidebooks is the historic quality of this region. Shenzhen may be 30 years young, but a Ming Dynasty outpost flourished nearby in the 1300s. International tourists who stop by to see the theme parks and shopping options can also visit outstanding ruins, ancient forts and several remarkable temples.
In southern Shenzhen, this is one of the most important districts for tourists. It stretches to include the heights of Mt Wuton (3,100 feet) to blocks of popular restaurants and bars. Luohu is also home to the most popular shopping outlets in Shenzhen.
This district fosters the high-rise construction jobs that characterize the rapidly expanding skyline of Shenzhen. It is mostly residential, but plays a central role in organizing transportation along the metro lines.
Nanshan district is in the southwest and harbors Xin'an Old Town, a few temples and popular theme parks like Window of the World and Happy Valley. The neighborhoods around the theme parks are important dining and accommodation districts for visiting families.
Adjacent to Luohu and cut by the Shenzhen River, Yantian is technically outside the Special Economic Zone but still plays an important role for tourists. Its most sought-after asset is its coastline, particularly Xiameisha and Dameisha beaches.
It's technically part of Nanshan district, but Shekou deserves a mention of its own. It established itself as an expatriate community in the 1980s and has restaurants, housing, entertainment and schools to suit Western preferences. The overblown Sea World entertainment complex is the defining landmark of Shekou.
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