Trapped in Shenzhen

Folktales from a hyper-modern 21st-century city

I first saw Shenzhen in 2006, gazing through the window of a bus, driving past miles of medium-rise apartments shrouded in a smog of pollution with nary a piece of greenery in sight. It was a place I could not wait to leave. Until 1980, when the Chinese government declared Shenzhen a Special Economic Zone, it was a quiet fishing village on the border of mainland China, abutting Hong Kong’s New Territories. Since the designation Shenzhen has become China’s fastest growing city with a population of more than ten million. It is now a major metropolitan centre, a commercial and industrial magnet where everyone is from somewhere else. “Just like here in Canada,” says a character in Shenzheners by Xue Yiwei.

These are not stories of solitude, but of gut-wrenching loneliness and the devastation that ensues when one human being is unable to connect with another.

Xue Yiwei is an award-winning Chinese...