Sunday lunch. It is 1:45P.M.. A bottle of fine Chilean red wine has disappeared effortlessly and the remains of a piece of steak and a particularly nutritious salad are sitting on our plate. A gentle breeze is blowing through the palms. We are at one with the world. In fact the only slightly jarring note is the gaucho-clad sombrero-wearing Chinese waitress but in our current state we are prepared to let that one slip through to the keeper.

We are in a Brazilian barbecue in Shekou. A Brazilian barbecue in China? All the rage ever since the Brazilian airline Varig went bankrupt and Shenzhen Airlines poached forty of its pilots, and our luncheon companions are declaiming in spirited Portuguese.

We are just around the corner from Shekou Sea World and Taizi Square, which must rank as one of the nicest spots around to squander away a pleasant Sunday afternoon. The former cruise ship Minghua dominates Shekou Sea World. Once upon a time Minghua, used to be a floating hotel moored to a quay. Now with the march of reclamation, the sea is a good three quarters of a mile away and the Minghua sits in a large and beautiful ornamental lake.

Along the top of the Minghua in neon lights the characters Sea World are written in the handwriting of Deng Xiaoping. This was copied from an inscription that the great man wrote during his first visit to Shenzhen in 1984. It may seem strange to you that the paramount leader of China would waste his efforts on an amusement park, but therein hides a tale.

The year is 1975. Deng Xiaoping is back in the political saddle after years in the wilderness. He was personally attacked as one of the leading Capitalist Roaders during the Cultural Revolution and only escaped death by putting himself under the protection of powerful military and political leaders in the provinces. But his position is far from unassailable. The often violent struggle between the right, represented by Zhou Enlai and Deng, and the left represented by the Gang of Four and, some would say, by Mao Zedong himself, rages. A major battlefield is over relations with the outside world, especially with the west. The left wants to keep China pure, communist and totally isolated. The right recognises that if China is to pull itself out of poverty, it will have to come to terms with the west.

The struggle sometimes manifests itself in strange forms. The left attacks the right and calls them traitors because they encouraged the Italian film director, Michelangelo Antonioni to make an innocuous film about China. The right attacks the left because Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, has encouraged US academic Roxanne Witke, to write a book about her; she is revealing State Secrets.

Some years previously, when China was engaged in building a railway between Tanzania and Zambia, there was an urgent requirement for a ship to transport and house the workers. Instead of building a ship in China, a Chinese import-export company was authorized to purchase the French liner Ancerville. The Ancerville was renamed the Minghua and rapidly became the centre of a political storm. The left said that the right, particularly Deng Xiaoping had betrayed the country by preferring a second-hand foreign ship to a new product of China’s shipyards. This became one of the leading charges against Deng at the time of his second political eclipse after the first Tian’anmen Incident of 1976.

The issue was put on hold after the 1976 death of Mao and the eclipse of the extreme left. The Minghua continued in the Chinese coastal trade until 1980 when, under foreign management, it converted to the China Australia cruise trade. Finally in 1983 it came to rest at Shekou as a hostel for workers and cadres. Shekou had grown so rapidly that there was a serious shortage of accommodation. Against this background it is hardly surprising that, during his 1984 visit, Deng would find some pleasure in giving his blessing to the cause of some of his old troubles by inscribing calligraphy in his own hand.

Since then, the Minghua has had ups and downs including a serious fire, which led to it being abandoned for some time. In 2001 renovation work began and the Minghua now boasts a four-star hotel, a Brazilian BBQ restaurant, a Western restaurant, a wine bar and cigar house, a coffee shop and boutiques.

The Minghua stands at the eastern boundary of Taizi square. Taizi square is the centre of Shekou’s nightlife; a collection of restaurants, bars and entertainment houses. The ground floor restaurants in many cases have outdoor eating areas and on a Sunday night it is extremely pleasant to sit with a drink and watch Shenzhen’s middle class at play.

Shekou is also where Shenzhen’s Europeans, Americans and Brazilians live so there’s plenty of western food. We were pretty much raised on Italian food so we keep a close eye on it wherever we go. And we think that Grissini on the square matches up pretty well. We can think of few things better than sitting out on an autumn night in the square with a plate of fettucine alla carbonara and a glass of Valpolicella. It makes it all seem worthwhile somehow.

On the other side of the square is the Amazon Brazilian barbecue which we’re happy to patronise. And while the Tex Mex next door isn’t the world’s most authentic, or so our Texan friends tell us, it’s hearty and the service is friendly.

Once we would have said that foreigners dominated the Shekou scene but this has changed. Shekou is China Merchants Group’s flagship and it has recently undertaken a major redevelopment. The redevelopment includes a new Hilton hotel and high-end apartments overlooking the sea. Included in the new Shekou is a restaurant and recreational area approximately three times the size of the original square and on a Sunday night it seems that half of Shenzhen gathers to watch the fountains and the light shows and eat at the proliferation of restaurants.

Address: Seaworld Plaza Shekou

Website: Buses: K115, K204, 204 Bus stop Hai Shang Shi Jie Metro: Hai Shang Shi Jie line 2


See the section on gardens and hiking in Shenzhen


See the section on historic Shenzhen


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