On an afternoon at a bus stop in the business district in Shenzhen, China, the air is filled with the sound of chirping birds in a nearby park. The street is quiet, with the exception of an occasional diesel truck chugging past — holdouts against a future that glided in with barely a sound: an electric bus. A woman browsing on her smartphone while she waited hadn’t noticed the bus creeping up. Not until the doors opened with a beep and a man barking boisterously into his phone stepped out did she spring into action and hop aboard. Passengers scan in with their smartphones, paying through WeChat, the app developed by Tencent Holdings, the Chinese social media giant whose flashy 50-storey headquarters can be seen from the bus stop. Every megacity can trace its history in increments of rising decibels. For most of them, the turning point was the Industrial Revolution. But in Shenzhen — packed with more than 20-million people and hundreds of factories turning out high-tech hardware — th...

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