Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China

Writer(s): Guy Delisle
Artist(s): Guy Delisle
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1894937795
Price: $19.95
Page count: 152
Year Released: 2006
Status: in print
Original Source: Shenzhen (published by L'Association in France, 2000)
Other Collected Edition(s): n/a
Genres: autobiography; diary/journal; journalism/reportage; travelogue
Recommended for Fans Of:
Possibly Objectionable Material: coarse language
If You Like This Book, Try:
Also in This Series: n/a

Plot Summary
In 1997 Guy Delisle traveled to the city of Shenzhen, in southern China, to work as the director of an animation studio for three months. This book chronicles his time there, and the isolation that results from being alone in a strange country where you don't speak the language. Delisle deals with the frustrations of directing shoddy, outsourced animation work by animators who don't seem to be willing or able to do the work to the company's satisfaction, the terror of visiting a Communist dentist's office for a toothache, the joys of commuting to work by bicycle in a nation where bicycles are ubiquitous (or were in the '90s, anyway), and the excitement of sampling indigenous cuisine (dog tastes a bit like mutton, apparently).

He also takes a weekend trip to Hong Kong, which is very close to Shenzhen, but the two cities are almost as culturally different as North and South Korea, despite the reunification of Hong Kong with China that took place a few months prior to Delisle's visit.

Despite the language barrier, Delisle finds ways to make a few acquaintances, who provide him with unique insights into Chinese life. Though there are still a few cultural mysteries that Delisle never quite solves, he comes away from his three-month sojourn with a slightly better understanding of the largest nation on earth.

My Own 2 Cents
Though Delisle originally published Shenzhen before Pyongyang in France with L'Association, Delisle's Canadian publisher, D+Q, published Pyongyang first, and I can see why. Though Shenzhen is interesting, it doesn't have the depth and cultural/political insights that Pyongyang does. Perhaps this is because Delisle's experiences in North Korea were more absurd given the political oppression that is comparatively more severe there than in China (I remember one scene in Pyongyang where Delisle and a colleague spot a Chinese woman in North Korea, and the reason they know she's Chinese is because she's wearing a miniskirt--which a North Korean woman would never be allowed to wear).

Though Delisle's two primary emotions in both books are loneliness and boredom, the significant difference is that in Pyongyang Delisle's guides tried so hard to show him a good, North Korean time (and failed miserably) that Delisle was able to derive some humor from the situation, whereas in Shenzhen he was left primarily to his own devices, which didn't lead to nearly as many "so bad it's funny"-type situations.

However, as a travelogue Shenzhen is still quite interesting, even if the reader doesn't learn quite as much about life in China as one does about life in North Korea from reading Pyongyang.