By Yenching Scholars Daniel Khalessi and Jackson Lok-Tin Tse
On May 20th, 2016, faculty and staff of the Yenching Academy (YCA) led twenty-four Yenching Scholars to Shenzhen, one of China’s epicenters for economic development, global trade, and technological innovation. The purpose of this field study was to understand the spirit, institutions, and history of a city that has occupied a unique place in China’s path toward economic modernization.
Established on May 1, 1980, the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) served as a key pillar of Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of opening China to global markets. Over the past thirty-six years, Shenzhen has been one of China’s fastest growing cities and has attracted approximately US$35 billion (230 billion RMB) in foreign direct investment.
As a requirement of the Master of China Studies curriculum, the field study programs are specifically designed to expose Yenching Scholars to the places, people, and ideas we study in the classroom. Through the Shenzhen Field Study Program, we visited the headquarters of a diverse spectrum of Chinese technology companies, including Internet and mobile media company Tencent, automobile manufacturer BYD, drone producer DJI, and global information and telecommunications technology (ICT) provider Huawei.
During the tour of the Tencent headquarters, Yenching Scholars learned about the humble beginings and expansive vision of the company’s founders, who established the company in 1998, only a few years after graduating from Shenzhen University. In 2015, the company reached a market value of over US$200 billion (1.3 trillion RMB). The company is renowned for producing mobile platforms QQ and WeChat, which permeate the daily lives of many Chinese citizens.
At the headquarters of BYD Co. Ltd., Yenching Scholars had the opportunity to converse with company management, test drive an electric car, and learn about the company’s mission of tackling the country’s environmental challenges. “Given China’s rampant pollution, it is encouraging to see companies like BYD pioneering clean energy technology. I look forward to seeing its applications in the future,” says Joe Mazur, a Yenching Scholar from Harvard University. As high greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation threaten the livelihoods of Chinese citizens cities like Beijing, companies like BYD play an increasingly important role in China’s future.
On a visit to DJI’s headquarters, Yenching Scholars learned about the products and business strategy of a company that has a market share of approximately 70 percent of the global civilian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry. DJI’s aviation software and hardware solutions have wide-ranging applications including, but not limited to, agriculture, search and rescue, sports and news broadcasting, mapping, and education.
Finally, Yenching Scholars toured Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., one of the world’s largest producers of telecommunications equipment. Scholars had the chance to see a number of the company’s products and services, such as the Huawei Modular Data Center, the KunLun Mission Critical Server, and its Safe City platform. “Through this trip Huawei also showed us their customer-centric innovation and strong partnership,” says Miao Shujin, a Yenching Scholar from Nanjing University. “Personally, I was impressed by the cloud computing fields development and the team spirit seen in the Huawei staff.”
Beyond the aforementioned technology companies, Yenching Scholars also had the chance to visit cultural sites such as a Hakka Village, key financial institutions such as the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, and regulatory organizations such as the Shenzhen Development and Reform Commission, and Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone. The diversity of the itinerary dovetailed with Yenching’s mission of providing Scholars with an interdisciplinary perspective of China. Through the Shenzhen Field Study Program, Yenching Scholars were able to gain a multifaceted understanding of a city that has served as one of China’s major engines of growth and innovation over the past four decades.