Shenzhen, Friendly or Unfriendly?

Now Shenzhen   |   August 30, 2021

Photo by Richard Yuan

Recently a New York-based magazine – “Condé Nast Traveler” has published a survey that ranks top 20 most unfriendly cities in the world. Shenzhen, the southern metropolis of China, ranks No. 14. This rank has raised a storm of criticism among Chinese media.

“Another big business city (the Shenzhen Stock Exchange is here), Shenzhen didn’t win over our readers. Though some like the shopping and spas and the proximity to Hong Kong, others complained it was ‘too crowded’ and ‘dirty,’ winding up at visiting ‘only if I have to.’”

— words for Shenzhen on the magazine’s website

Shenzhen Daily, as the main local English newspaper, later published an article called “Expats disagree with SZ’S ‘unfriendliness’”. In this article, it quoted two expats words to against the view. One is Gretta Herrin who is from America and is an international affairs manger of Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School. She said it was fairly easy for her students who could not speak much Chinese to get around in SHenzhen on their own and also she found Shenzhen was much less crowded compared with Hong Kong. Another one is Priscilla Young, an American instructor of environment and energy. She was shocked by the survey result and said downtown Shenzhen is the same as any major international city, such as New York, during rush hours. Besides, she thought highly of the air quality of Shenzhen.

An article published on Shanghaiist was more interesting on Aug 12, 2013 by James Griffiths. In the article, it said “Following responses from 46,476 of its readers (which is actually a fairly respectable sample size for silly magazine surveys like this) the “unfriendly cities” list has some surprises. For example, what did tiny little Wilmington, Delaware do to attract enough ire to rank as the 17th least friendly city in the world? The 70,000 people that live there must be real assholes.”. At the same time, it mentioned that Shenzhen was voted the third best Chinese city to live in by expats according a survey of 175,4000 expats done by The People’s Daily.

In an article on, it raised its suspicions of the survey’s scientificity. “The survey didn’t introduce how many respondents have been to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and how many respondents regard Guangzhou and Shenzhen as the unfriendliest cities in the world. All respondents are Americans, in other words, this list is the unfriendliest cities in American tourists’ mind. In addition, a statement on the website said “unfriendliest” is hard to define and said the criteria for unfriendliest cities could be subjective.” Moreover, it specially mentioned that the Chinese version of Condé Nast Traveler didn’t aware of the unfriendly list.

From those articles, we can see that they were dissatisfied with the survey and presented their arguments. However, there is one point I agree with the magazine, that is, the definition of “friendliness” or “unfriendliness” is rather subjective. For a city, it has its own history. Its economic, political and cultural environment that will affect people’s feeling towards it. Only those people who have experienced this city can judge it.

Shenzhen is an international metropolis with a very short history. It is a typical immigrant city with more than 80% population from other places. Because of this, it has a high tolerance. As immigrant cities as also known as melting pots, most people there wouldn’t find themselves tagged as “strangers” actually. One famous slogan in Shenzhen is “When you come to Shenzhen, you are a shenzhener”. At the same time, Shenzhen, as a Special Economic Zone, attracts more and more foreign investments as well as foreigners. Shekou in Nanshan District has about 10,000 expatriates living there. This open city provides hardwares for its “friendliness”. However, nothing is perfect and absolute. Your lot in a city is really important and definitely will have influence on your judgement. “There are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes”, right?!