An old Chinese saying goes, “When everybody adds fuel, the flames rise high.” Leading a subdistrict with an expat population of over 6,000 from 45 countries around the globe, Liu Li, secretary of the Zhaoshang Subdistrict Party Working Committee, has a profound understanding of the proverb.
He believes that the future development of the subdistrict relies on all of the residents within its jurisdiction, regardless of their nationalities. “Expats in Zhaoshang Subdistrict are enjoying government services and, in return, are making contributions to their communities. I think an international community should be a shared community built through collaboration and co-governance,” Liu said.
According to Liu, Zhaoshang Subdistrict has put in place a ‘2+2+3’ service model featuring two service centers — Nanshan International Cultural Exchange and Service Center and Shekou Net Valley Management and Service Center for Expats — two international communities — Shuiwan and Yanshan Communities — and three international volunteer teams. Liu pointed out that the service model is paving the way for Zhaoshang’s internationalization.
According to Liu, Zhaoshang has a volunteer team made up of more than 100 people, of which around 30 are expats who offer volunteer services on a regular basis. The team has organized 24 activities benefiting more than 1,000 residents. The subdistrict is planning to work with Shekou People’s Hospital to improve public hospital services by compiling bilingual, and even trilingual, treatment manuals for expats.
Zhaoshang Subdistrict has always been a pioneer in exploring international services.
The service centers offer expats services just steps away from their homes, ranging from the handling of visa-related affairs, business registration and tax affairs to registration of pet dogs and electric vehicle licenses.
“Almost everything here is translated into English. A lot of service centers have popped up. I am 100 percent confident that what I am doing is on the right path, because I can consult with the people here,” said Bruno Schuyten, a Belgian who has been living in the subdistrict for seven years.
Compared with Shekou Subdistrict, which mainly serves as a residential area for expats, Zhaoshang faces more challenges in terms of governance and services because it also has enterprises and industries.
“Of the 12,000 enterprises based in the subdistrict, 358 are foreign companies,” Liu said, adding that in order to help foreigners and foreign startups thrive in the subdistrict, Zhaoshang has founded the Zhaoshang Venture Capital Alliance, which is the country’s first subdistrict-level alliance of its kind that helps both Chinese and foreigners with getting funding for their businesses or ideas.
“The VC alliance is what distinguishes Zhaoshang from other subdistricts. We want to make Zhaoshang not only an area where expats can live but also a promising place where they can start businesses and make a fortune,” Liu said.
Zhaoshang has continuously been innovating its governance models. The subdistrict has invited two expats to be part-time councilors in an effort to better answer the needs of expats and constantly improve services. The councilors represent a community to reach out to foreigners and help them be aware of all the English services offered by the community.
“With the participation of foreign councilors, local Chinese residents can learn about fine foreign cultures and practices so that we can build a shared community with diverse cultures,” Liu said.
“Zhaoshang is committed to involving foreigners in what they are doing, and they are trying to find more volunteers like me to help translate different languages, so they really want to help integrate people from different parts of the world, and people can easily participate and become part of it,” Schuyten said.
John Becker, one of Schuyten’s American friends, has the same impression. “I feel that there are a lot of good things happening in Zhaoshang that can pave the way for cooperation and collaboration. Shenzhen is really an international city, and that’s a huge blessing. There are people from every single continent here in Shenzhen. It’s just a new world city right here,” Becker said.
Zhaoshang is endowed with unique advantages as an international community. The reform and opening up first started in Shuiwan Village, Zhaoshang Subdistrict, in 1979. In the 1980s, foreign petroleum workers and the crew members of ships would hit the bars at night after a day’s work, which gave birth to the famous bar street you see today.
The subdistrict is home to the country’s first industrial zone that is open to the public, China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone, as well as the first Chinese-foreign equity joint venture in China, China Nanshan Development (Group) Incorporation.