We get asked a lot what the difference is between China’s major tech hubs of Beijing and Shenzhen. Is Beijing or Shenzhen China’s Silicon Valley? Is Shenzhen really only about hardware? 

Last week, the team was in Shenzhen for the recent TechCrunch conference. This was a great chance to try to find out. I spent it asking everyone I met: “What is Shenzhen? Is it only all about hardware?”

I learned that Haidian really is China’s Silicon Valley—a tech hub that emerged from universities and concentrates basic research, the country’s biggest VCs, and most of its brand-name internet companies. Shenzhen is something the US doesn’t have—it’s built on factories the way Silicon Valley and Haidian are built on universities. 

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David Cohen has covered China stories since 2010 as a writer and editor.