Shenzhen, the epitome of China’s economic reform and opening up

THE southern city of Shenzhen sums up China’s reform and opening up leading to its modernization, economic development and progress.

Shenzhen is the picture-perfect exemplar of how China metamorphosed and is continuously being transformed by globalization. In many ways, Shenzhen showcases China’s successes and triumphs in its reform and opening up. It is the Chinese city that exemplifies and demonstrates the critical roles that combined leadership, power and capacity of government institutions, business leaders, and the private sector, both at the local and national levels, play in facilitating change and innovation toward technological progress and economic development.

Indeed, Shenzhen is the epitome of China’s reform, opening up, and economic model toward development and modernization that depicts the crucial role of the state even in a market economy. While the market is the mechanism behind incentivizing firms and the efficient allocation of resources such as land, labor and capital, one can clearly see that, indeed, the state (i.e., national and local governments) is responsible and plays a critical role in the institutionalization of the necessary legal and social framework for maintaining fair and square market competition, provides public goods and services, redistributes income, address and correct market externalities, and stabilize the economy.

Sustainable development

Some of the noteworthy characteristics of China’s reform and opening up that is very much evident in Shenzhen is the economic paradigm of pursuing modernization and development that is inclusive, meaning shared prosperity for all by exerting efforts to narrow the gap between the poor and the wealthy, and between rural and urban communities in China.

Another striking feature of China’s reform and opening up that is quite prominently manifested and displayed in Shenzhen is the concept of comprehensive and balanced development. This fundamentally means pursuing development but not at the expense of the environment, thereby sustainable.

Shenzhen’s development and progress from a rural society to one of the world’s most economically prosperous and technologically advanced cities today impressed me that achieving a high level of urbanization, modernization, economic growth and environmental protection are not necessarily incompatible. Rather doable and possible through informed and state-of-the-art industrial design, political and economic governance/management that puts a premium on the importance of the environment, and through enabling and facilitating cutting-edge technologies and industries that make use of human ingenuity and inventiveness to address pragmatically environmental problems in the pursuit of sustainable economic development. No doubt, Shenzhen, to a greater extent, has demonstrated all these and how it is possible to build a “sustainable city.” Shenzhen is indeed an emblem of “sustainable development.”

Comprehensive and balanced development

Likewise, comprehensive and balanced development in China does not only refer to sustainable development, but it also means pursuing modernization without neglecting or disregarding Chinese traditions, culture and values. This path to development and modernization is very much apparent in Shenzhen’s experience of reform and opening up. As a booming and flourishing city, despite urbanization and modernity in lifestyles and standard of living among the inhabitants of Shenzhen, it was able to strike a balance between modernity and preserving China’s traditions, culture, arts, way of life and practices.

Mind you, this is not an easy balance to reach, but to a considerable degree, Shenzhen was able to do it, while as a country, China is continuously pursuing such comprehensive and balanced development to take root in its vast territory.

Moreover, in terms of modernization and development strategies, China’s pursuit of high-quality development of innovation and entrepreneurship, targeted at strengthening innovative entrepreneurship, leading to the rapid transition of China to a new economic development phase based on high-tech production and breakthrough technologies with the extensive and comprehensive inclusion of small and medium enterprises in research and development activities, are no doubt embodied in Shenzhen.

Shenzhen is indeed the tangible and authentic image of China’s transition from a backward and low-tech country to a more technologically driven one. Inasmuch as it is true for China as a country, likewise it is as well true for Shenzhen that the real drivers of China’s stellar economic performance and development over more than four decades have been the rapid growth in its vast purchasing power and fixed-asset investments — including the country’s thriving technology sector; its large and very competent or competitive labor force is also undeniably one of its competitive edges.

In addition, Shenzhen is the epitome of China’s greater internationalization, complete industry chains, rich industrial range, advanced new technologies, including 5G and artificial intelligence, and its achievements and breakthroughs in infrastructure, of which its transportation system is one of the best in the world, if not the best. Also, Shenzhen is a classic showcase of how the Chinese government puts a premium on the role that special economic zones (SEZs) play in facilitating economic growth and development in various cities and industrial areas of the country.

Furthermore, Shenzhen is an illustration of China’s increasing and sustained investments in physical infrastructure and logistics, the construction of large-scale information and communication infrastructure networks, the encouragement on the part of private enterprises to innovate in cutting-edge sectors such as mobile payments, e-commerce, the Internet of Things and smart manufacturing that helped foster the emergence of many locally based international technology firms, including Alibaba, Tencent, Ubtech Robotics, and the like.


Undoubtedly, Shenzhen is the concrete and picture-perfect case study for understanding China’s reform, opening up, growth, development and modernization. Furthermore, Shenzhen provides such inspiration and aspiration, most especially on how it was transformed from its humble beginnings to one of the most modern and affluent cities in the world today and a major global economic and technological powerhouse.

Indeed, my Shenzhen experience served as an eye-opener seeing firsthand how China has become a leader in technology and innovation and why it is the No. 2 economy in the world, and most probably in the near future, it will be the largest.


Indeed, China’s unprecedented successes in its reform and opening up, economic development and modernization, and Shenzhen, as its microcosm, inspire and motivate developing countries as they aspire and pursue national prosperity, economic development and political stability.

Undoubtedly, China’s path to development and modernization is an inspiration and a guide for the developing world. Also, I think developing countries can learn lessons and best practices from China’s experience of balanced modernization and development, as exemplified by Shenzhen.

Some of my observations on why China, particularly Shenzhen, has become as progressive and as developed economically and technologically as it is today is precisely because of several intangible factors, and that includes the ability and propensity of the Chinese people to adapt to change, their forward thinking and proactiveness in promoting innovation, their openness to international trade and investments, their single-mindedness, commitment, clear vision, mission and well-defined goals and strategy, their massive and extensive investment in R&D, their being hardworking and ingenious people, and most of all the effective resource management, particularly in attracting and incentivizing young talents and even talented foreigners. All these, from what I see, contributed a lot to the economic dynamism in China and Shenzhen.

Source: The Manila Times

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.