A metropolis where miracles abound
Shenzhen continues to be a magnet for the nation's aspiring entrepreneurs and top talents who have staked their future on the city's meteoric pace of economic development over the years
It's been 33 years since Jia Jinxuan first set foot in Shenzhen.
The construction worker from Hengdian, eastern Zhejiang province, had never thought he would stay in the nation's pioneering special economic zone (SEZ) for more than three decades and bear testimony to its spectacular growth.
Jia, 55, landed his first job in Shenzhen in 1985 as an interior decorator for the 53-story International Trade Centre Building (ITCB) - then the tallest skyscraper on the Chinese mainland, sitting right in the heart of the city's Luohu district. He was also involved in the construction of a number of landmark edifices, including Grand Theatre, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and Bao'an International Airport.
A metropolis where miracles abound
Jia vividly remembers the time when he had to put up with a tedious train journey of more than 30 hours from his hometown, finally exiting the gates at Shenzhen's Luohu railway station. ITCB immediately grabbed his attention.
"I was shocked by what I saw. In my hometown, there were only six-story buildings. It was the first time I had seen such a tall structure."
Jia and 26 other interior decorators, also from Hengdian, were sent to Shenzhen under the designation of the local government, coinciding with the city's explosive economic development. Tens of thousands of builders were recruited from all over the country to build roads, office buildings and homes in the metropolis that was once a sleepy fishing village.
They arrived in the SEZ - the first such zone since China launched its historic reform and opening-up drive in 1978 - chasing their financial dreams in a place where labor forces were needed everywhere and money-making opportunities were believed to be plentiful in the 1980s and 1990s.
Shenzhen's breakneck pace of development at the time was shocking. "Three days for one floor" was a common saying, alluding to the amazing speed at which buildings were going up. The speed, however, was not at the expense of quality. Jia says his employer attached great importance as well to the quality of construction workers and their techniques in erecting ITCB.
"After three months of examination, only 16 of the 27 people (who came together with me) were allowed to stay," he recalls.
The workers were well paid. Jia could rake in up to 400 yuan a month back in 1985 - several times more than what he could earn in his hometown.
But, it wasn't all about money. They were also in search of new technologies and enjoying the privilege of being able to access foreign investment.
"My original thought was to pick up some advanced technologies in Shenzhen and return to my hometown. I had no idea where Shenzhen was before I came, but I knew it was near Hong Kong, with advanced concepts and development mode," says Jia.
City builders, including Jia, have played a seminal role in creating Shenzhen's economic miracle, enabling its GDP to grow more than 20 percent per year on average since the city's founding.
Officially created as the nation's first SEZ in 1980, Shenzhen was entitled to enjoy more market-oriented and flexible economic policies. Since then, its economy has seen exponential growth - from less than 200 million yuan to 2.2 trillion yuan last year - more than 10,000 times bigger and poised to surpass Hong Kong's.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, many advanced ideas and technologies that paved the way for Shenzhen's rapid development were brought in from overseas or Hong Kong.
In ITCB's decoration process, Jia recalls, industry workers from Hong Kong used a new method in brick paving, which had never been adopted on the mainland. "The Hong Kong workers used dry mortar for brick paving, while we all used wet mortar before. I was skeptical of the method initially as I thought it could hinder speed. But, it turned out that it worked better."
It was also the case in the manufacturing sector. In the initial stage of reform and opening-up, most of the technology and equipment came from foreign businesses. For most Shenzhen enterprises, what they did was dealing with basic manufacturing, such as processing and assembling, providing final products to foreign businesses based on their requirements and earning a profit from it.
But now, things have changed. Shenzhen has evolved to a higher level - from a technology importer to exporter.
According to Zhang Junguo, general manager of Shenzhen-based China Construction Shenzhen Decoration Co - one of the builders of ITCB - the company is not only using its own technologies in the decoration process in major projects, but also exporting them overseas, especially in the Belt and Road countries and regions.
"At present, we're offering services for a number of projects in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Qatar, with the contracts amounting to more than 300 million yuan," he said.
Chinese technologies are increasingly being accepted and welcomed by other countries, Zhang pointed out. For his company, the revenue generated from overseas markets has continued to climb in recent years - from 100 million yuan in 2016 to 200 million yuan last year, representing a 100-percent year-on-year growth.
Meanwhile, Shenzhen has made a name for itself as the nation's most innovative city, or China's "Silicon Valley", boasting a number of world-leading technology companies, with their technologies being applied worldwide.
The city is also home to the world's largest telecom equipment maker Huawei, internet giant Tencent and leading drone maker DJI. In the first half of 2018, Shenzhen's GDP generated by high-tech industries reached some 1.02 trillion yuan - growing 11.62 percent year-on-year.
For new city builders, coming to Shenzhen is no longer restricted to learning new technologies but, more importantly, creating new ideas that can be applied elsewhere.
Huang Songyuan arrived in Shenzhen in 2014, working at China Construction Shenzhen Decoration as a project manager. The 28-year-old from southeastern Fujian province has a distinct similarity to Jia. He's also among those who helped build Shenzhen's tallest building - the 592.5-meter tall Ping An Financial Center, located in the city's Futian Central Business District.
Representing a new generation of city builders, Huang says he regards Shenzhen as a place where he can get to know the world's most advanced technologies and keep himself posted each day.
"There are so many new things happening around you every day. You don't need anyone to push you ahead. In this environment, you'll go fast yourself."
He also believes that Shenzhen's innovative and inclusive environment will inspire him to come up with new ideas and thoughts in project management.
"For the older generation of city builders, Shenzhen is more about business opportunities. But, for the younger generation, Shenzhen is more about realizing their dreams."