The video zipped across a big projection screen: flashing images of cargo ships, men shaking hands, soaring office towers, gardens, trees...

Share story

The video zipped across a big projection screen: flashing images of cargo ships, men shaking hands, soaring office towers, gardens, trees, the symphony.

Seattle?

No. Shenzhen, one of the busiest manufacturing hubs on the planet.

Seattle trade-mission delegates have traveled 6,500 miles to sell the Puget Sound region and its products to China. But they also sat politely as their hosts made a counterpitch.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The video fired a barrage of figures. This being Communist China, there was no bad news. Last year, Shenzhen’s imports and exports made it the third-busiest port in the world. Most indicators were up by double-digit percentages from last year.

The city also was selling its beauty. “Shenzhen is a city of design,” the narrator intoned as the video zoomed through lush parks and along tree-lined boulevards. “It strives for not being big in scale, but vast in quality.”

In 1980, Deng Xiaoping picked Shenzhen as a special economic zone, freeing the economy to adopt limited capitalism. According to lore, Shenzhen was a sleepy fishing village of 30,000 back then. Twenty five years later, the city is bigger than New York, with 11 million residents, including 5 million without official residency permits. It is dominated by sleek office and housing towers that surprised the Seattleites.

“I was expecting a lower level of living,” said Candace Lydston, director of 737 materials management at Boeing. “I haven’t seen one water buffalo.”

And yet, said Shenzhen Vice Mayor Chen Yingchun, “China is still a developing country. … We hope that through cooperation with Seattle, we can learn from those advanced companies in the world.”

An official delegation from Shenzhen’s Longgang District arrived in Seattle on Wednesday and will meet with officials from Boeing, the local software industry and others active in international trade.

It was hard to think of China as a developing country after seeing apartment blocks where units sell for about $175,000 for 1,000 square feet, and rent for $1,250 a month, according to a broker at Shenzhen-Hua Real Estate. The average income in Shenzhen is about $7,000, six times the national average.

Alberto Vettoretti, a lawyer at Dezan Shira & Associates, a China-based law firm, said nine of 10 Shenzhen homes have access to cable TV, and eight in 10 families have computers.

Here, the only visible reminder that China lags the developed countries was the smog that dulled the sun and shortened the views. It comes from coal-fired power plants needed to keep up with rising electricity demand. Coal mining is increasing 40 percent this year in an effort to cope with blackouts that happen once or twice a week during peak months, Vettoretti said.

But on the bus driving to Guangzhou that night, delegates saw the Shenzhen that the video and vice-mayor avoided mentioning: Miles of concrete buildings, fluorescent lights blazing inside.

Most of the estimated 60,000 factories in Guangdong province are along this road. The delegates saw thousands of low-wage workers on the night shift making the world’s electronics, shoes, computers and toys.

“Like a hive,” said one delegate.

Next door stood dormitories furnished with metal bunks. and blankets. Row upon row, block upon block.

Yanan Xu, program director for City University in Bellevue and a native of China, said most of those workers will never earn enough to live in the nicer apartment buildings. They hope to give their children an education, and through that a chance at upward mobility.

Trading with places like Seattle is how Shenzhen hopes to do it.

Alwyn Scott: 206-464-3329 or ascott@seattletimes.com