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  • It's a weekday night in Shenzhen.

  • The good citizens of the PRC have come to this park to get fitter, happier and more productive.

  • All under the watchful, approving gaze of Deng Xiaoping, the revered granddaddy of China's free market reforms.

  • The scene tells you much of what you need to know about Shenzhen.

  • It's China for sure. But it's also something different.

  • It's a city of imports: young, hardworking, smart, and often freer-thinking people, plucked from all around the country.

  • They've come here to toil during the day, improve themselves at night, and to get ahead.

  • It's ambition that is the lifeblood of Shenzhen.

  • Its factories; its markets; its startups; its surging tech empires.

  • And it's stuff like this: an orgiastic explosion of LEDs that are the greener, and of course more futuristic, version of fireworks.

  • Can your city do that?

  • No. Your city sure as shit can't.

  • But here's the story of why Shenzhen can.

  • And why everyone - especially the folks in Silicon Valley - should be aware, and probably a little frightened, of what's coming for them.

  • You get in the metal tube. Zoom up 115 floors at a ridiculous speed to the top of the Ping An skyscraper.

  • Then you find a window, and marvel at the sublime bigness of Shenzhen.

  • Forty years ago all this was farmland and dirt roads, a minor hub for rural goods trading just across the border from Hong Kong.

  • Now, it's the hot, steamy, frenetic home to 13 million people

  • that just about everyone on Earth calls the Silicon Valley of China.

  • Everything here moves at what's known as Shenzhen Speed.

  • It's a phrase that describes an unyielding pace of change, and I came here to feel it firsthand.

  • To do that, it's an Instagram pose with the cityscape, a quick scan for government spy drones,

  • and then a car ride, to see where just about everything we use gets made.

  • You hear about factories in China all the time. Today I'm lucky enough to actually go visit one

  • that's located about an hour outside of the center of the city.

  • They're gonna let us see what life is like inside one of these factories.

  • There are grim factories. There are decent factories. And then there's this place, run by Grandsun Electronic.

  • It's safe to say this is not what I expected.

  • The plush surroundings are intended to make customers from all parts of the world feel comfortable.

  • But inside it's more like you'd expect: dozens of workers moving at Shenzhen Speed,

  • making fancy headphones for an Australian company called Nura.

  • How did you guys end up in Shenzhen? I guess that's the thing to do these days.

  • Yeah. Shenzhen is known as a place that people come to to make things.

  • You don't come here to mess around, you come here to get things done.

  • They have the supply chain here - a supplier that can make any component of the headphones you need.

  • And of course there's the labor cost, which is not as cheap as it used to be but still reasonable.

  • The production line has been running at basically maximum capacity since we started. And yeah we can do 500 a day normally.

  • What are the little noises we hear in the background?

  • You're hearing them make sure they assembled the speaker correctly.

  • So that's like a test noise?

  • Yeah that's right.

  • But what is life like for the people who make these wonderful toys?

  • To get a taste of the factory experience, I join the mad dash for lunch.

  • Mmm, cafeteria food.

  • How's the food?

  • How long have you worked here?

  • It's tough to say anything terribly new about the life of the Chinese factory worker.

  • Most of these people have come from China's hinterlands, often leaving their families behind in their rural hometowns.

  • They'll spend about two years on average in Shenzhen,

  • busting their butts working overtime to save up as much money as they can.

  • Is it a step up from hardscrabble subsistence farming? Probably.

  • Are there still safety nets? Yep.

  • But I can tell you one major lifestyle advantage the Chinese have over us gweilos.

  • When we first started working here, after lunch we couldn't really get anyone's attention.

  • Eventually we cottoned on, everyone's just sleeping at that time of day.

  • That said we embraced it very quickly.

  • What is your preferred sleeping apparatus?

  • I'm pretty Spartan, so either on the desk or under the desk with a bit of bubble wrap for a pillow.

  • Trust me, it's good.

  • Luke is just one of many entrepreneurs who come to get their gear made in Shenzhen.

  • There's a flourishing scene here for hardware startups that want to move fast and make things.

  • Many of them can be found here, at a startup incubator called Hax.

  • The idea here is simple: help startups build a prototype,

  • then connect them with factories that can start cranking out their products by the thousands.

  • Take Jamie, here an affable chap who's part of a British startup called Carv.

  • We make a digital ski coach. So effectively it's like an insert you put into your ski boot and it teaches you how to ski better.

  • So you get like real time feedback through headphones, like, that was a bad turn, that was a bad turn, that was a better turn.

  • You have one here, don't you?

  • Yeah yeah, let me show you.

  • So yeah, these are motion sensors that have full motion sensing.

  • Crazy.

  • Like many startups here, Carv began life as a humble Kickstarter campaign.

  • Now, just a couple of years later, they're pumping out 5000 units of their product every month.

  • Do you think you could have brought something like this to life in the UK if you had been accepted by an incubator there?

  • Or now that you've been here you've seen a new world I guess?

  • I think it kind of depends a little bit on how much of a shoestring you're on.

  • Here in Shenzhen it's so much cheaper - in many different categories it's cheaper,

  • like in the product development phase to get different materials 3D printed or machined.

  • You get it here for kind of half the cost and twice as fast. And sometimes seven times as fast.

  • To get a feel for that high speed energy, I hop across the street with Jamie to the famed Huaqiangbei markets.

  • Yeah. So this is the biggest electronics market in the world, probably.

  • They're an important resource for the young entrepreneurs here,

  • and a fantastic place to get your senses overloaded.

  • Such as a hive of activity in here!

  • Aw man it's great, so this is the energy right. You just walk through the market and it's like, bang! You know like, OK.

  • This is where factories have come to display their wares to potential buyers,

  • who is me and a lot of the other people here. Kind of a storefront for factories.

  • OK. And if I make smartphones or TVs or anything like that, I kind of come here to see the latest and greatest stuff?

  • Exactly. You want to find a manufacturer, you come to Huaqiangbei.

  • It's also a great place to find that missing part for your prototype,

  • which is why you run into other crews from Hax roaming the aisles.

  • Buying some screws?

  • Buying some springs. Have you tried - there's a spring woman front if you want one. Just on the left as you go out.

  • The fact that I can get a component in, like, an hour is like absolutely phenomenal.

  • That's like - that is Shenzhen Speed. That's why we're here.

  • Here's how Shenzhen works.

  • You put up a, "damn, things are going well here" skyscraper.

  • Then you put up another one right next to it - because you can.

  • And then, to really drive the point home, you do all of this next to a metallurgic marvel of a stadium.

  • We're talking about a boomtown the likes of which the world has never seen before.

  • And things are just getting started. Because inside the big stadium is the real action.

  • It's a scene of smarts creativity and hustle being collectively mainlined.

  • It doesn't look pretty. It doesn't smell great. It might even be inhumane.

  • But all of this is aimed at making China the dominant technology force of the future.

  • And Silicon Valley should be very very afraid.

  • Welcome, friends, to RoboMasters.

  • This is a robotics competition that draws in hundreds of engineering students from around the world.

  • As you'll soon see I don't really understand the intricacies of the game.

  • But the gist is that you build some robots, choosing from six different types.

  • Like the Engineer, which heals other bots, or the Hero, which does extra damage.

  • Then you put them in a stadium and have them fire plastic bullets at each other to score points.

  • It's fun for the whole family... if your family is a bunch of insanely competitive gearheads

  • They're shooting, be careful, they're shooting.

  • Oh shoot, it's got the gun on me.

  • For contestants, this can be an intense experience.

  • What's your life been like for the last week?

  • The average sleeping time is like three or four hours.

  • How do you do it every day and keep doing that for weeks? It's crazy.

  • Drinking Red Bull.

  • Once these kids arrive for the competition, they basically don't leave the stadium for two weeks.

  • And fighting robot battle after robot battle takes its toll.

  • When was the last time you had something to eat?

  • Yesterday.

  • So you haven't eaten today?

  • No.

  • But it's all worth it, because the reward, if you're lucky, is a job at DJI,

  • the sponsors of the competition and the world's top maker of drones.

  • If you're a talented young roboticist, coming here to Shenzhen to work at DJI is the dream. So the stakes are high.

  • How are you doing? Are you guys winning?

  • I hope so.

  • There are plenty of Chinese tech companies that produce nothing but cheap knockoffs.

  • DJI is not one of them.

  • The company was started in 2006 by a college student named Frank Wang.

  • He made components for drone hobbyists, and then decided to go ahead and make a full on drone empire.

  • I think the core value of DJI is, we're always trying to innovate something new.

  • For example when we created drone, there are actually no flying camera. We created this concept of flying camera.

  • That's basically true.

  • DJI's first runaway hit, the Phantom, brought camera drones to the masses for the first time in 2012.

  • Since then they've made bigger drones, smaller drones, teeny tiny drones,

  • and some specialty ones, like this crop dusting drone.

  • All its products have sold well. Most of its major competitors have flown away in tears.

  • The company rakes in billions of dollars a year and has thousands of employees all over the world.

  • And now, they want to pay it forward.

  • Our founder, after DJI become a little bit successful -

  • Yeah a little bit.

  • Yeah. He started to think that it's time to host his own robotics competition.

  • We want engineers to be recognized as superstars.

  • And this competition, we hope it become very popular, and the people end up being inspired by these engineers.

  • It's not just the competition itself. There's also a RoboMasters documentary, a RoboMasters reality show, and even a RoboMasters anime.

  • With this media blitz, DJI hopes to foster a new generation of innovative engineers

  • who can then join the drone empire and make it even stronger. Or maybe start the next DJI.

  • In other words, what we have here is less of a friendly little robot fest and more of a plan for world domination.

  • Looks like it's up to me to sabotage this thing.

  • Does that make me seem scarier?

  • Mm, a little bit.

  • I've managed to infiltrate this team from Zhejiang university.

  • This is almost too easy.

  • We're going up against the University of Washington.

  • Chinese teams usually destroy American ones, but my incompetence should even up the odds.

  • You guys, don't shoot me, OK? I'm number one. I'm number one.

  • I'm number four.