more about “bao’an”

There’s been enthusiasm about the question: why is Shenzhen called Shenzhen and not Bao’an City? Most responses have been as speculative as my own; to date, no one has mentioned a paper trail that actually says why Shenzhen and not Bao’an. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, I’m going to outline the facts as I understand them.

In 1953, the Bao’an County seat moved from Nantou to Shenzhen Market. In 1979, when Ba’an County became Shenzhen City, the place name Bao’an ceased to exist. The site of government for Shenzhen City was the original Shenzhen Market. In 1980, Shenzhen City became the Shenzhen SEZ. In 1982, Shenzhen City was divided into the SEZ and Bao’an County. Thus, the name Bao’an as a marker for the rural was only rehabilitated in 1982 as part of ongoing restructuring in the 1980s. There was no premeditated preservation of the rural; that was an effect of attempts to govern the newly established city and SEZ.

So I’m going to make the question more explicit: who knows if there is an official reason that the name was changed from Bao’an to Shenzhen? Who has suggestions for where I should look for this paper trail? What level of leader would be involved in this kind of decision?

To contextualize even further: Shekou was part of the Xihai Commune. When it was selected as the site for the China Merchant’s Industrial Park, the new industrial park was called “the Shekou Industrial Park.” There was no name change for a place that would have been more familiar to Hong Kong people or foreigners. Both Chiwan and Mawan, for example, are historically more famous than Shekou, and are in fact part of present-day Shekou, but the name wasn’t changed.

All this to say, I get naming the SEZ Shenzhen because the experimental epicenter was located in and around the old Shenzhen Market. However, renaming Bao’an County is the part I’m struggling with. Indeed, for at least the first twenty years of Shenzhen’s history, we only talked about the SEZ. All this to say, the Shenzhen SEZ could have as easily been located within Bao’an City borders as within Shenzhen City borders. I’m looking for the logic behind the change, or, an explanation for the absence of geographic logic as a feature of Shenzhen’s establishment.

8 thoughts on “more about “bao’an”

  1. So where was Shenzhen market, in terms of the map today?
    I think you implied before that there was no actual Shenzhen village, have I got that right? So just a market, near the border?

  2. Here are some of the materials I found:

    Several of them mentioned an official report submitted by Bao’an County Authority on 22 August 1978 – “Request of Name Change from Bao’an County to Shenzhen City,” in which the authority suggested to develop Bao’an into an international trade base, with Shum Chun (supposedly referring to the border town) becoming a tourist zone.[1] The “Request” did not specify the reasons for the name change.

    However, it was noted by some sources that there was a split of opinions on whether the name should be changed at all. The disagreement was manifested in the discussion in Guangdong Provincial Standing Committee two months later (18 Oct.), which rejected the name change and decided to call the new administrative area “Bao’an City”. [2]

    Nevertheless, Bao’an authority did not give up, as it submitted “Report on Administrative Change from Bao’an County to Shenzhen City” three times on 25 Nov, 22 Dec. and 29 Dec., and it eventually gained the backing from the Huiyang Authority on 18 Jan 1979. [3] Both authorities agreed that the name change “will be good for trade and process manufacturing”[3], reasoning that “in order to upgrade the county to city, it is better to change the name to Shenzhen, as the border town’s Shenzhen checkpoint connecting Hong Kong is already very famous, whereas Bao’an is known by few.” [4] The modified proposal was approved by Guangdong on 23 Jan. 1979, and by State Council 5 March 1979. [3]

    Another reason for the name change, speculated by an author on Sohu History, is that Bao’an’s past is tightly related to the history of conceding Hong Kong to the Brits. Plus the name “Bao’an”, a homophone of the word “security”, might alarm the Hong Kong authority. [6] However, the article did not cite any sources.

    [1] Secret uncovered! Shenzhen’s name-change is closely related to Huizhou.

    [2] Zhang, H.Y., “Huizhou Helps – A History of the Establishment of the Shenzhen SEZ.” China Yanshi Press

    [3] Nanfang Daily – Huizhou Observation , 19 Sep., 2017. “Historic documents uncover the origin of Shenzhen City.”

    [4] Lao Wang abcd, 20 Aug., 2019. “Don’t say Shenzhen was a Fishing Village. Let’s talk about the history of the establishment of Bao’an County.”

    [5] Yuxian Inverse, 9 Jan., 2020, Origin of the name Shenzhen and its County Establishemeny.

    [6] Shenzhen means Deep Ditches; Why wasn’t it named Bao’an City? 8 July 2017

    • Hi Sice, this is wonderful. Thank you for organizing the materials into a coherent note, which highlights so many aspects of the what is in a name game in Shenzhen. I also notice that most of the articles came out these past few years as part of this was not a fishing village argument. In turn, this has me wondering about what shifted that I (and others) stopped taking the name change for granted? When I arrived, Hong Kong was so central to Shenzhen identity, it didn’t occur to me that place naming wouldn’t reference it. However, it’s been a while now since Shenzhen has foregrounded its relationship to HK, and in that shift perhaps a space for wondering “why not Bao’an City?” opens up… Writing history confounds me becasue its not just that the city keeps changing, but because without those changes, I don’t know if it would be possible to know anything. Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to provide such a complete answer. I’ll follow up on the request of name change document, and see what was considered relevant.

      • That’s an insightful observation. My speculation is that, the opening of the “why not Bao’an” debate has something to do with the development of Bao’an district itselt. For too long, the name Bao’an has been tied with rural region outside the “second border” and it wasn’t necessarily a place that the young wanted to put into their intro (When Bao’an Blvd was constructed, many young people, led by Bao’an Daily, wanted it to be renamed West Shennan Blvd, whereas the older generations who take pride in the history & fame of the old Bao’an prefer Bao’an Blvd). Things changed when Bao’an CBD took off and Luobao Line extended to the airport, which drew out a long-lasting property boom and maybe, just maybe, an interest in Bao’an’s status in Shenzhen’s history as well.

        Middle school students in the 1990s had the privilege of studying “Shenzhen Local History” with a textbook that covers the region’s development from ancient Xin’an County all the way to the urban planning of the 90s. Unfortunately, the green-covered text book disappeared from classrooms since the first decade into the new century. And the Reform-and-Opening-up section in the history textbook simply threw in the old chestnut that “Shenzhen used to be just a small fishing village …” I wonder if the increasing interest in Bao’an has anything to do with a policy change of history education in SZ that we don’t know of ?

        In the past two years, I noticed that more media are diverting from the “fishing village” narrative, CNN called the pre-SEZ Shenzhen “a bustling market town” with “pre-existing villages and towns”, so did New York Times (Scrappy boomtown), Nikkei ( “famously nothing more than a border town” ) Foxbusiness (sleepy backwater on China’s southern border), Aljazeera (a series of fishing villages [not quite right, but better than ONE village narrative]) and of course Shenzhen Daily (” a small backward border town…”) However, BBC, the Guardian, Bloomberg, WSP, AP, CSNBC, SCMP, France24 continue to use the misnomer “fishing”, though it also depends on who’s the writer and editor. I think this is something quite interesting that I should keep on my radar.

  3. Do you have the green-covered textbook? As for discontinuous street names in Shenzhen, they are an entire book about what it means to claim space at both local and more regional levels. In Shenzhen, many cross district (and even cross subdistrict) street names change, reflecting historic subjectivities. The most common examples of these changing names are typically called “XX Old Street,” and used to be the most important street in the area. However, older SEZ street names also change(d), reflecting tensions within the government itself. When I came for example, Nanhai Road, which runs from Shennan Rd to Shekou, was called “Nanyou Rd” in Nanyou and was called “Gongye Road” in Shekou. The name shift occurred at Binhe Rd (in Nanyou) or Industrial Rd #10 as it was known in Shekou.

    As for the fishing village debate, not sure if you’ve seen our anthology about the Shen Kong border (can be accessed from publications link, above). But the history of 渔民村 in Caiwuwei is part of the larger 1950s settlement of the coastline within and agains the context of US-KMT occupation of coastal waters (see Fu Na and Du Liang’s articles, respectively). The village itself became iconic in 1984, when Deng visited during the first southern tour. I think this particular fishing village (and other fishing village) story has two important components. One, is nets-to-riches, that the agency of state policy allowed for super fast capital accumulation. Two, the explicit focus on water implies that the land was up for grabs. If the folks here were fishing people, then the land could be considered unused or blank or available for development by others.

  4. This is very interesting. These name games have so much ramification in terms of struggle of power within the establishment. Apart from the examples you cited, I could think of Binhai Rd. in Nanshan becomes Binhe Rd in Futian; and a school in Bao’an cut “Xixiang” off its name and replaced it with Xiwan (West Bay). I guess the logic was that the more “metropolitan” the school sounds, the more resources it could obtain. What is the title of the book you mentioned?

    I am reading the anthology about the Shen Kong border now. Fascinating.

    The green-covered textbooks I mentioned:
    1.) History of Shenzhen (10/1990)

    2.) Guangdong Geography (12/1992)

    After some digging, it turns out that there is another series (all three editions edited by Shenzhen Edu. Bureau, published by Guangdong Edu. Press):

    a.) Shenzhen Geography (11/1990)
    b.) Shenzhen Geography (02/1997)
    c.) Shenzhen Geography

    • Thanks for the citations. As for Binhe / Binhai. I’m torn about that one because it also maps onto the older geography. Binhe Road used to run parallel to the Shenzhen River from Yumin Village to Chiwei Village, where the road ended. Then when the northern banks of Shenzhen Bay / Houhai got reclaimed, the extension of Binhe that traversed the reclaimed land became known as Binhai, and now the road does run parallel to the coast. That said, the whole Shenzhen Bay / Houhai distinction has me thinking about the location of the speaker. At the mouth of the Shenzhen River, where it discharges into the bay, it makes sense to call this body of water Shenzhen Bay. However, at the mouth of the bay, where it meets up with Lingdingyang Bay (southern reaches of the colloquial PRD), it makes sense to call it Houhai because the immediate reference is Nantou. So in addition to political muscle flexing, I think that many of these sites were not one, and “unification” in thought and deed is ongoing…and its at this level of consolidation that muscle flexing seems to take pride of place.

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