I was playing with the 1866 map of Xin’an County (above) and ended up labeling three important sites on the map–Chiwan, Nantou, and Xixiang. These are the important sites on what used to be called Dachan Bay, and is now known as Qianhai. The reference to all these place names is “Nantou,” which is the colloquially name for the Xin’an County Seat. “Xixiang” means “Western xiang” because it was west of Xin’an. Qianhai means “Front Sea” and Houhai means “Back Sea,” and both are named with respect to Xin’an. Chiwan, of course, was the site of departure for the Western Seas in the Ming and then the South China Sea in the Qing.
The historical relationship between these three places has been gradually restructured since the establishment of the PRC in 1949. First, the County Seat was moved from Nantou to Shenzhen. In practical terms, this meant moving from the PRD to the Kowloon-Canton Railroad. It also meant that Xixiang became the most important town on Qianhai. Second, in 1979, the development of the Shekou Industrial Zone incorporated Chiwan into the new port area. Third, when the Second Line was fixed in 1982, it was drawn just north of Nantou. The new county seat was built up between Nantou and Xixiang. This new county seat was called Bao’an, after the rehabilitated name of the county.
Most recently, this area has been restructured as Qianhai, within the context of the Greater Bay Area. The borders of the Qianhai area run parallel to the coastline (new, reclaimed, but another story), but do not include Xixiang. In other words, what is being restructured as the city’s future are Shekou and Bao’an, while Nantou has been repositioned as a tourist site and Xixiang is on the rise as a residential area.
Below are some impressions of Xixiang, its history, and residential diversity.
Shenzhen is apparently in the midst of a COVID surge. I don’t know what that means in terms of actually numbers; the numbers of confirmed cases that pop up on my app haven’t been more than a couple a day. In terms of events, it means that our weekend walking tours have been postponed. In terms of rumors, we’ve been told to stay away from Yantian and Longgang.
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.
Just when I thought it was safe to go out in public without having to refute the fishing village myth and the city’s nets-to-riches origins, I attended a meeting organized for foreigners visiting Shenzhen. The host (from England via Beijing) asked me point blank to talk about the city that used to be a fishing village. Clearly, my efforts to get a more accurate first impression into the world have not been as successful as I had hoped. Sigh.
There was, however, an unexpected silver line to this encounter; I’ve streamlined my takedown!
In December 2020, the central government called for speeding up rural modernization (加快农业农村现代化). As elsewhere on the planet, this means industrialization, more Science and Technology R&D, and a new role for Shenzhen in the region! (I know that’s what we care about.) Anyway, a few days ago, I visited the Huizhou City Shennong Fragrant Orchid Valley Ecological Agriculture Science and Technology Ltd. (惠州市神农兰香谷生态农业科技有限公司), which is a grape farm, where no grapes would naturally grow, let alone thrive. So what’s the connection to Shenzhen?
Yesterday, I attended a high table dinner for Muse College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. CUHK-SZ is located in Longgang, next to the Shenzhen Moscow State University-Beijing Institute of Technology University (Shenzhen MIS-BIT) and the Longgang sports stadium, which was built for the 2011 Universiade. Both universities were established after the Universiade through national and international initiatives. The first class at CUHK-SZ entered in 2016, while the first class at Shenzhen MIS-BIT entered in 2017. These collaborations indicate Shenzhen’s commitment to formalizing science and technology innovation in the city. Indeed, these investments have been of a piece with the renewal of Huaqiangbei, where upscale malls have replaced the former factory buildings which housed low-cost storefronts, offices, and workshops on the area’s main strip.
Head of the Shanghai Medical Treatment Expert Group, Zhang Wenhong (张文宏) was the keynote speaker at the high table banquet, which also included a performance by the renowned Cantonese opera singer, Zhuo Peili (桌佩丽). Zhang Wenhong became nationally famous for his role in understanding and controlling COVID-19 in China. Accordingly he has become something of a science rock star, especially in venues like CUHK-SZ, where teachers and students lined up to have their picture taken with him.
So, here’s a photograph that confused me for way too long. It pops up on Baidu, when I search “深圳老照片”. It was not immediately apparent to me, however, when and where this landscape existed. And then I stumbled upon a map of Futian Commune and it was like, wow, I get it. Here’s the map:
The English and Chinese online introductions to the Steel Structure Museum (深圳中国钢铁博物馆) emphasizes that the history of steel structures is an international story of human progress. The English intro reads: “We are the only museum in China themed steel structure, which is sponsored by CSCEC Science and Industry as an CSR project. Open to the public since May 18 “International Museum Day” of 2017, we narrate the story of steel structure both of China and rest of the world chronologically and in order of technical process, and explain steel structures’ advantages.” The Chinese introduction is a bit more specific but makes the same point: 深圳中国钢结构博物馆是中国唯一以钢结构为主题的博物馆，由中建科工集团有限公司举办。以“行业首创、中国一流”为建馆目标，以历史和科技并重为陈列原则，以实物、模型、图片、文字、多媒体等为展示手段，集收集、展览、研究、教育、交流于一体，融科普性、学术性、趣味性、参与性于一身，旨在让观众了解世界钢结构的发展历程、探寻中国钢结构的崛起之路以及感受钢结构文明的气韵，是建筑科普的重要基地和科技交流的重要平台 (in Chinese).
The museum tracks the use of steel as a sign of human developmental progress, which begins in England, is aestheticized in Paris, flourishes in the US and culminates in China. Important but missing from this march of progress are mentions of Stalin and socialist industrialization via centralized planning and concomitant movements like the Great Leap Forward, where steel was the key (以钢为纲 image below).
Nevertheless, the theme itself is enlightening, especially in the context of global restructuring in the post Cold War era. So, here’s what the museum has me thinking:
Good friend, Jonathan Bach looked up Hilda Nagel, the name on the gravestone in one of the photos from Holy Hill. He found her listed only as the wife of Rev. A. Nagel in a 1910 directory called “List of Protestant Missionaries in China” under the heading for “Basel Missionary Society, Hong Kong, Lilong”. http://divinity-adhoc.library.yale.edu/Resources/Directories/1910_Directory.pdf. He was then able to find the above photo of Rev. A. Nagel titled “Pupils of the Boy’s Boarding School in Lilong (China)” with an annotation “Teacher Tschong, the missionary Nagel, Teacher Tschin”.