Shenzhen: Where China's economic boom began

Desperate search underway after China landslide
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Story highlights

  • Shenzhen is regarded as the birthplace of China's economic miracle
  • The southern city is now a major hub for technology hardware

Hong Kong (CNN)The full horrors of the landslide that buried an industrial park in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen are yet to be felt -- with bodies only just being pulled from a collapsed mountain of construction waste and trash.

But the disaster has been particularly unsettling for this mega city of 20 million, regarded as the birthplace of China's economic miracle and a place many see as a model for the country's future.
    The city of towering skyscrapers made its name churning out cheap clothes, toys and electronics, but it is now home to some of China's most high-profile companies -- many taking on and beating Western rivals.
    On Sunday, the same day the man-made trash mountain swallowed up 33 industrial buildings, drone maker DJI opened its 800 square meter flagship store in the city's swanky OCT Harbor mall. Chances are if you're the proud owner of a small, recreational unmanned aircraft, it was made here.
    The company underplays its Chinese origins, but being based in Shenzhen has been the cornerstone of its success. The city bills itself as China's "Silicon Valley" and is home to a $220 billion tech industry.
    Shenzhen: China's Silicon Valley
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    The leader of neighboring Hong Kong, C.Y Leung, said earlier this year that it would be great if the Asian financial center "had achieved half of what Shenzhen had."

    Rags to riches

    It's a rags to riches transformation that China's leaders hope will play out across the nation.
    "The people who are here came here chasing a dream," Liam Casey, founder of PCH, which helps launch tech start-ups, told CNN earlier this year. "If it can be imagined it can be made (here)."
    But just as Shenzhen, one of the country's greenest cities, has reaped the rewards of China's breakneck growth, it has also grappled with its negative effects.
    A string of suicides at a plant owned by Foxconn, which makes everything from Apple's iPad to Dell computers, shone a light on assembly line conditions.
    The region has seen almost 400 strikes this year, according to the China Labour Bulletin.
    It's also home to a major counterfeit business. Apple Watch knock offs were available to buy in the city's Huaqiangbei electronics market more than a month before the launch date.
    And while Shenzhen has thrived, neighboring factory towns like Dongguan have struggled to reinvent themselves, as low-cost manufacturing has headed to countries like Bangladesh or inland in pursuit of cheaper labor.
    It's not yet clear what caused the Shenzhen landslide but locals had long complained of the noise and dust and the license of the company operating the dump expired on February 21, 2015, according to local media.
    Hundreds of trucks carrying construction debris used the waste dump each day and were charged 250 yuan ($38) a time.

    Inherent risks

    A fishing village just 30 years ago, the city was designated China's very first Special Economic Zone after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, and many of China's most successful reforms were tested there.
    It was also where China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, in 1992 proclaimed that "to get rich is glorious" -- unleashing an unprecedented economic boom that is only just beginning to slow.
    The landslide, which comes four months after the massive blasts that destroyed a huge area of the northern city of Tianjin in August, is the latest reminder of the risks that seem to be inherent in China's growth model -- even the country's arguably most advanced city isn't immune.