A New Essential Guide to Electronics by Naomi Wu details a different Shenzhen

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Enlarge / The New Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzen is made to be pointed at, rapidly, in a crowded environment.

Machinery Enchantress / Crowd Supply

“Hong Kong has better food, Shanghai has better nightlife. But when it comes to making things—no one can beat Shenzen.”

Many things about the Hua Qiang market in Shenzhen, China, are different than they were in 2016, when Andrew “bunnie” Huang’s Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen was first published. But the importance of the world’s premiere electronics market, and the need for help navigating it, are a constant. That’s why the book is getting an authorized, crowdfunded revision, the New Essential Guide, written by noted maker and Shenzhen native Naomi Wu and due to ship in April 2024.

Naomi Wu’s narrated introduction to the New Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen.

Huang notes on the crowdfunding page that Wu’s “strengths round out my weaknesses.” Wu speaks Mandarin, lives in Shenzhen, and is more familiar with Shenzhen, and China, as it is today. Shenzhen has grown by more than 2 million people, the central Huaqiangbei Road has been replaced by a car-free boulevard, and the city’s metro system has more than 100 new kilometers with dozens of new stations. As happens anywhere, market vendors have also changed locations, payment and communications systems have modernized, and customs have shifted.

The updated guide’s contents are set to include typical visitor guide items, like “Taxis,” “Tipping,” and, new to this edition, “LGBTQ+ Visitors.” Then there are the more Shenzhen-specific guides: “Is It Fake?,” “Do Not Burn Your Contacts,” and “Type It, Don’t Say It.” The original guide had plastic business card pockets, but “They are anachronistic now,” Wu writes; removing them has allowed the 2023 guide to be sold for the same price as the original.

Machinery Enchantress / Crowd Supply

Both the original and updated guide are ring-bound and focus on quick-flipping and “Point to Translate” guides, with clearly defined boxes of English and Mandarin characters for things like “RGB,” “Common anode,” and “LED tape.” “When sourcing components, speed is critical, and it’s quicker to flip through physical pages,” Wu writes. “The market is full of visitors struggling to navigate mobile interfaces in order to make their needs known to busy vendors. It simply doesn’t work as well as walking up and pointing to large, clearly written Chinese of exactly what you want.”

Then there is the other notable thing that’s different about the two guides. Wu, a Chinese national, accomplished hardware maker, and former tech influencer, has gone quiet since the summer of 2023, following interactions with state security actors. The guide’s crowdfunding page notes that “offering an app or download specifically for English-speaking hardware engineers to install on their phones would be… iffy.” Wu adds, “If at some point ‘I’ do offer you such a thing, I’d suggest you not use it.”

Huang, who previously helped sue the government over DRM rules, designed and sold the Chumby, and was one of the first major Xbox hackers, released the original Essential Guide on the rights-friendly Crowd Supply under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA 4.0) that restricted commercial derivatives without explicit permission, which he granted to Wu. The book costs $30, with roughly $8 shipping costs to the US. It is dedicated to Gavin Zhao, whom Huang considered a mentor and who furthered his ambition to print the original guide.

This article was updated to correct the spelling of Shenzhen in several places. Ars regrets the error.

Listing image by Machinery Enchantress/Crowd Supply

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