In 1979, Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping designated four areas as Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Three were located in Guangdong Province, the southeastern region that wraps around the city of Hong Kong. One of those, situated just on the other side of the water from the then-British controlled jurisdiction, Shenzhen would be transformed from a sleepy village of 30,000 residents to a glittering 12-million-person megalopolis in less than four decades.
By definition, the process required internal migration – as was its political purpose. After decades of the economic devastation from forced collectivization especially based on agriculture, the Chinese leadership were by the end of the seventies finally willing to let private enterprise have a go. The SEZ’s were meant to be the experimental platform from which modern China has sprung.
Formerly subsistence farmers, peasants, would be brought to the coast and into these brand-new industrialized districts. A middle class would rise to replace abject poverty, the grandest demographic shift in human history. There was an endless reserve of human capital to just waiting to be mobilized, all it needed was just a little capitalism.
Obviously, Shenzhen in early 2009 ran into trouble like everywhere else in the world. The Great Financial Crisis was a global event, and so was the wave of economic retrenchment. Industry was hardest hit owing to its sensitive relationship to finance and global money. In a globalized world, nothing can move without the monetary grease.
At its worst, in February 2009 shippers were charging nothing except fuel and fees to send containers out of China. Freight loads plummeted, both incoming and those outgoing. Just as Shenzhen had become the industrial heartland supported by the inestimable millions of migrant workers, for the New Year Golden Week holiday 2009 it was believed that millions went home for it but never returned.
Despite all that, China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that Industrial Production throughout the whole country had fallen to a worst 5.4% year-over-year growth in November 2008. The following month, December, it was 5.7%. Only in three months total was IP below 8%, the final one being April 2009 at 7.3%.