Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Empty Shenzhen


Chinese New Year is a strange time of year, for those of us foreigners who are still in China. It's a time when the local population, after working their guts out for eleven and a half months, finally let down their hair and enjoy some quality time with their family or go on vacation.

While cities like Shanghai, my home, and Beijing empty out as migrant workers (making up somewhere between 25%-50% of the city population) head back to the small counties and villages to catch up with family and friends, there are still a lot of local residents who are resting, relaxing and enjoying their downtime in the city. The city is quiet and relaxing. The traffic is light and there is a general feeling of rest and relaxing in the air. There are no honking horns and no one is in a rush - perhaps an indication of what Shanghai could become in the future. With that being said it's a great time to be at home in Shanghai, as shops and most basic services are still open, enjoying my idealistic view of what my adopted home can be.

Yesterday I flew to Shenzhen for an assignment and I was a shocked by the emptiness of: the airport, my hotel and the city in general. Shocked so much by the emptiness as I compared it to Shanghai just a day earlier. Shenzhen is very much a migrant city, meaning that no one is actually from Shenzhen; seeing that it didn't exist until 1979 - it was created out of thin air. So when Chinese new year comes around my guess is that the majority of the staff at the airports, hotels just take off back home; leaving the city with an uncanny silence. Adding to the silence is Shenzhen is no doubt the decrease in global demand for Chinese goods which is wreaking havoc in this part of China, which I've been fortunate to document in towns like Dongguan which lays just outside of Shenzhen.

Traveling in China often one becomes used to the noise, the congestion and the chaos that makes this part of the world romantic and interesting to some, and a massive headache to others. But when a town goes completely quiet, it leaves me with a chill - where are fifteen million people who are supposed to be here? It's almost uncomfortable to look around and see massive infrastructure projects just put on hold, or large eight lane expressways completely empty at mid-day.

My hotel had one person working reception and one person working the door and acting as the concierge, a skeleton staff by Chinese standards. Normally in China you're bombarded with staff and service almost everywhere you go. Bags are collected from the taxi, doors are opened for you, no line ups ever; it is not unusually to have two waitresses or servers focusing just one your own table at a restaurant. The taxi drivers are no where to be found, shops are closed and I feel like I am trapped in some kind of bad movie where everyone disappears and I have an entire city to myself. I wonder how much of this emptiness is because of the holiday and how much is caused by the difficulties in manufacturing that China is facing.

The questions really won't end, will China's manufacturing industry recover as global demand recovers? Will cities like Shenzhen be affected? Will migrant workers flood back to this part of China looking for work, even if there is none to be had? Will factories being to hire again? What about the millions of young men and women that work at hotels and restaurants throughout the region, will they have a job to come back to if the business slows down or dies? Over the next twelve months I'm hoping to be back in Guangdong province several times looking at where China is being hurt this most by this economic atom bomb created by greed in our global financial institutions. I saw today on the news that some fifty million people globally have already lost their jobs, I wonder what China's contribution is to that number, and how many more will be added to the total in 2009. Needless to say, I'll be here watching.


Ryan Pyle


  1. Happy New Year!

    2009 Fireworks shows

  2. Fascinating. I'm so glad I found your blog! I look forward to catching up on your more recent posts.



This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle