The Fishing Village That Met the 21st Century

China’s economy is growing explosively. Here is one town’s story.

Less than 30 years ago, Shenzhen was a sleepy fishing village on China’s border opposite Hong Kong’s New Territories. As part of south China’s Guangdong Province, Shenzhen’s only claim to fame was its proximity to the economic behemoth Hong Kong—that constant reminder to the Communist Chinese of capitalistic power, prestige and wealth.

When u.s. President Richard Nixon made his historic 1972 visit to China, this great nation, teeming with hundreds of millions of people, lay in the thrall of the Cultural Revolution. Education was sidelined in many areas, intelligentsia were sent to labor camps, and China was stuck in a quagmire of its own making. By the time the madness ended in 1976, the nation was an economic backwater.

In the West, during the boom years of the late 1970s and early ’80s, few foresaw the massive transfer of industrial might and investment from the Western democracies to China that was about to take place. Indeed, very few predicted the rise to current power, prestige and wealth that is the story of China today.

Since the turn of the 21st century, China has, quite literally, rocketed to the forefront of world trade and become a principal engine of the new world economy.

China Daily reported last year that “China has moved to a position as the world’s third-largest trading nation, up from sixth when it entered the wto [World Trade Organization] in 2001, embedding the nation seemingly irrevocably in the global economic system. ‘Because China’s economy is more open, and China’s economic size is much bigger, the world is more sensitive to what’s happening in China,’ said Long Yongtu, China’s former wto chief negotiator. ‘I think in that way China is really changing the world’” (Dec. 10, 2006).

The city of Shenzhen typifies China’s massive growth in the last quarter century and the impact it is having on the global economy.

“Shenzhen Speed”

This small-time city, which some estimated at having just over 100,000 population in 1976, was transformed after a quarter century of 3,100 percent growth. The population is now between 14 and 18 million in an area of nearly 2,000 square kilometers—almost twice the population of Los Angeles County.

Today, Shenzhen boasts a skyline that would rival Manhattan’s. The city is filled with shopping malls, luxury condominiums and broad landscaped boulevards. It includes a burgeoning ex-pat community with world-class restaurants and amenities incorporating nearby Mission Hills, the world’s largest golf course, with 216 championship holes.

The staggering growth and development in this port city inspired the coining of a phrase to describe similar growth elsewhere in China: “Shenzhen speed”!

Following a mandate by late Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping in 1980, Shenzhen was set aside as the first of four Special Economic Zones. It was to lead China, long suffering from the impact of economically suffocating communism, into the modern world with an experimental capitalist approach that was to be anchored to Chinese ways and traditions.

This special approach is known as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Deng Xiaoping spoke of this new economic method during the opening speech at the Twelfth National Congress of the Communist Party of China in September 1982: “In carrying out our modernization program we must proceed from Chinese realities. Both in revolution and in construction we should also learn from foreign countries and draw on their experience, but mechanical application of foreign experience and copying of foreign models will get us nowhere. We have had many lessons in this respect. We must integrate the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete realities of China, blaze a path of our own and build a socialism with Chinese characteristics—that is the basic conclusion we have reached after reviewing our long history.”

Chinese leaders can call it socialism, but it is more like capitalism, or better yet: It is capitalism on Red Bull, and the surge is far from over.

Travel around Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guang Zhou, or any of the other economic “empires” within China’s vast expanse, and this nation is unrecognizable from just 20 years ago. Growth, power and money have changed the landscape permanently. It has changed the people, too.

Deng’s dream of an economic titan propelled forward by Chinese ideals never materialized in the way he dreamed. What has developed in its place is a capitalist system riding on the back of a socialist empire. And it is this socialist base with tight controls, including strategic price fixing when necessary, that has motored the surge forward. Few now long for the old ways of Red China.

Western Influence

Over 500 million people now live in the cities of mainland China. These throngs, for the greater part, have readily embraced the capitalist lifestyle. The dominant fashion is no longer the Mao suit; Western clothing and designer jeans prevail. Most city dwellers carry cell phones, pushing China’s cell phone use to well over 300 million units and rising by hundreds of thousands yearly.

But it is not just clothes and phones. There are the automobiles that choke infrastructure in poorer municipalities whose growth has not come up to Shenzhen speed, the Western-themed fast-food restaurants, the glitzy night clubs and more. Hundreds of skyscrapers scratch the smog-shrouded sky of Shanghai; countless building sites rife with cranes dot every city of average size and larger throughout China. The Chinese are driven by a prevailing attitude that, having been oppressed and held down for so long, they want it all now. Consumerist society has arrived.

The younger generation especially has embraced all things Western, from the once-discouraged-but-now-prevalent public displays of affection to hairstyles unknown to this nation a decade ago.

Yet, by embracing a culture not their own and an affluence unknown to their parents, this upcoming generation has nothing to look back on for grounding and support. Thus, the rapid rise of social diseases, substance addictions and aids has become a sign of the times in China.

In business, stories of corruption regularly make the newspapers. Although the punishment in such cases is swift and severe, it has done little to stop a prevailing undercurrent of corruption and greed. Shenzhen continues to battle a crime wave more than eight times greater than one in much-larger Shanghai in 2004.

Speaking about the new economic way, Deng admonished his people to “keep clear heads, firmly resist corruption by decadent ideas from abroad and never permit the bourgeois way of life to spread in our country.” This fatherly admonishment is largely forgotten. The bourgeois lifestyle he and his cohorts most feared and tried to hold in check for so long has exploded across urban China. Decadence is “in.” Coveting is in vogue.

Why the China Miracle

Still, for all its excess, the size, scope and staggering speed of economic growth—the China miracle—remains a sight to behold. But there is a reason behind this unprecedented rise to power and influence.

Why at this time in history are not just the Chinese but India, greater Asia and a resurgent Russia growing so quickly? Why are nations that have remained static and oppressed for hundreds of years suddenly finding themselves squarely at center stage?

How could a small city such as Shenzhen, a literal backwater a quarter century ago, explode so quickly then be duplicated with “Shenzhen speed” all over China in just a few short decades?

There is a reason why tens of thousands of factories dot this land and why the wealth of the Western world continues to flow here.

Your Bible predicts that a 200-million-man army will soon need to be outfitted, equipped and prepared to do battle at Jerusalem (Revelation 9:16). That mighty army will need weapons, clothing, transportation and means of communication. It will need fuel, food and supply lines.

China’s cash-rich present is paving the way for a bloody and devastating future. And the signs are that the day of that great blood-letting is not far off. In fact, it races toward us with Shenzhen speed.

We are entering that period your Bible labels the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). Soon there will be no more holding back this juggernaut of economic power. God is allowing the positioning of the nations of the Far East to do a specific job in these last days—to actually be part of a grand clash of cultures that will immediately precede the imposition of a global culture of peace under the divine rule of Jesus Christ and the saints of God.

Watch Asia. Watch China, India and Russia. Get ready! The kings of the east are preparing to soon ride west—at “Shenzhen speed”!