Shenzhen is a fast growing city formed from almost nothing over the last few decades, created as a political buffer to neighboring Hong Kong, and is now arguably the richest and most modern of all cities in China (though Shanghai might have something to say about that). Of course, being a new city, Shenzhen has little in the way of traditional sites, and visitors tend to use the city as a hub, or head straight on through into Hong Kong, though the local beaches are an increasingly popular draw.
Domestic tourism here, though, is a massive industry, with theme parks by the dozen drawing in visitors from all over the country. While most western visitors tend to find the attractions incredibly tacky, there’s also a certain amount of amusement to be had from the bizarre reconstructions of international monuments and sizable dance performances. Being a much more modern city than most in China, extensive and often ornate parks are common, too, often home to the practice of martial arts, kite flying and mid-afternoon card games.
If there’s one essential sight in Shenzhen, though, it’s the Dafen Oil Painting Village. Set up by a Hong Kong art lover in the late 80s, the village is home to some of China’s top artists (and plenty of unconvincing amateurs, too), and is the place to go to get a truly personalized souvenir of China. You can commission anything from a copy of a photograph to your own inventive piece of art to suit the living room, all at surprisingly affordable prices, but just visiting is an experience, too.
Back in the city, the main draw is in seeing modern China at its best: skyscrapers, designer stores; international brands next to market stalls where you can still haggle until the cows come home. In amongst it all you’ll find spas, and even some enticing traces of Shenzhen’s minimal history, in the shape of the relics of the village this monster city was built over the top of.
Shenzhen is one of those cities you might find yourself in on a trip through Asia, as opposed to one that will top your list on setting out, but as a taste of the modern side of China it’s hard to beat.
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