Last week here on Simply CSOFT, we explored the differences and similarities between Shenzhen and Silicon Valley. Today, our juxtaposition of the two metropolises continues as the question “Should we call Shenzhen ‘The New Silicon Valley?’” lingers in the air.
15 years ago, Shenzhen was known for churning out an endless supply of plastic playthings. Today, it is known for crafting innovative, quality high-tech consumer goods. Without question, the city has come a very long way in a very short period of time. Nonetheless, Rome was not built in a day and Silicon Valley did not become Silicon Valley overnight. Shenzhen still needs time to develop economically, industrially, and culturally. The transformation of “China-con Valley” is not yet complete.
The most important ingredient in the success of the Valley has been Stanford University, a world-class research institute that pushes its students to think outside of the box that has a history of helping graduates establish pioneering businesses. The synergy of cutting-edge technology with the university’s cultivation of nonconformity and their proximity to one another are fundamental to what has made and continues to make Silicon Valley a unique focal point for innovation. The Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is trying to reproduce that same environment but whether such a thing can be created inorganically remains to be seen.
Since World War 2, Silicon Valley has given rise to several advancements in technology that have totally transformed the global economy. Similarly, Shenzhen has changed the world with their commercial advancements. 35 years of low-priced products have given humanity an unprecedented level of plenty. Today affordable, Shenzhen-produced smart phones are also empowering the Earth’s poor with the might of the internet. The city’s move from manufacturing powerhouse to Silicon Valley-style technological innovator, though, has barely begun.
Ultimately, it is that last area of development that is most critically important; it is the culture of the place, whether Shenzhen or Silicon Valley, Shanghai or Salt Lake City, that determines how it develops. Shenzhen, though blessed with 5,000 years of Chinese culture, is yet a young city. Its idyllic, rolling hills have been flattened, with skyscrapers and apartment blocks erected in their place. Its placid, agrarian lifestyle is a faint memory, crowded out by the rush and bustle of a 21st century megalopolis. Its population has swollen from just over 300 thousands in 1979 to about 14 million today. In many ways, the former Shenzhen has been wiped away leaving the new city and its people starting with a fresh slate, the perfect environment for fostering innovation. With little past to turn to, the dynamic go-getters from every corner of China, indeed the world, who call the city “home” have no choice but to focus on the future. To call Shenzhen, “The New Silicon Valley” does them the disservice of tying them to the past. Rather, Shenzhen should be known as “The City Where Tomorrow is Being Built.”