Shenzhen History

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Clockwise from top: Luohu District skyline with KK100 and Shun Hing Square in the center, Skyscrapers along Shennan Road including the China Merchants Bank Tower and East Pacific Center, Central Nanshan District, Skyline of Futian as viewed from Shenzhen Bay Park, a view from Dapeng Fortress and Central Futian as viewed from Lianhuashan Park

Shenzhen ([ʂə́nʈʂə̂n]; Chinese: 深圳) is a major city in Guangdong Province, China. The city is located immediately north of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and holds sub-provincial administrative status, with powers slightly less than a province.

Shenzhen was a market town of 30,000 people on the route of the Kowloon–Canton Railway. That changed in 1979 when Shenzhen was promoted to city-status and in 1980 designated China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ). According to the Government report for 2015, Shenzhen had transformed to a city with population of 10,778,900 and a metropolitan area population of over 18 million. Shenzhen was one of the fastest-growing cities in the world during the 1990s and the 2000s. Shenzhen’s population boom slowed down to less than one percent per year by 2013 as the manufacturing boom ebbed in favor of other industries.

Shenzhen’s modern cityscape is the result of its vibrant economy made possible by rapid foreign investment since the institution of the policy of “reform and opening” establishment of the SEZ in late 1979.

Shenzhen is a major financial center in southern China. The city is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange as well as the headquarters of numerous high-tech companies. Shenzhen ranks 19th in the 2016 edition of the Global Financial Centres Index published by the Z/Yen Group and Qatar Financial Centre Authority. It also has one of the busiest container ports in the world.

Human habitation in Shenzhen dates back to ancient times. The earliest archaeological remains so far unearthed are shards from a site at Xiantouling on Dapeng Bay, dating back to 5000 BC. From the Han dynasty (third century BC) onwards, the area around Shenzhen was a center of the salt monopoly, thus meriting special Imperial protection. Salt pans are still visible around the Pearl River area to the west of the city and are commemorated in the name of Yantian District (盐田, meaning “salt fields”).

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Location in China

The settlement at Nantou was the political center of the area from early antiquity. In the year 331 AD, six counties covering most of modern southeastern Guangdong were merged into one province or “jun” (郡) named Dongguan with its administrative center at Nantou. As well as being a center of the politically and fiscally critical salt trade, the area had strategic importance as a stopping off point for international trade. The main shipping route to India, Arabia and the Byzantine Empire started at Guangzhou. As early as the eighth century, chronicles record the Nantou area as being a major commercial center, and reported that all foreign ships in the Guangzhou trade would stop there. It was also as a naval defense center guarding the southern approaches to the Pearl River.

Shenzhen was also involved in the events surrounding the end of the Southern Song dynasty (1276–79). The Imperial court, fleeing Kublai Khan’s forces, established itself in the Shenzhen area. Lu Xiufu, the then-chief minister, realized all was lost and knowing the Mongolian forces would soon take over the area, he preferred suicide instead of the emperor being captured which might have brought shame to the dynasty. He jumped off a cliff with Emperor Bing, aged 8, the last emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty strapped to his back, killing both. In the late 19th century the Chiu or Zhao (Zhao was also the Song Imperial surname) clan in Hong Kong identified that Chiwan (Chinese:赤湾), an area near Shekou as the final resting place of the Emperor and built a tomb for him. The tomb, since restored, is still at the same location.

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Location of Shenzhen City jurisdiction in Guangdong

Earliest known records that carried the name Shenzhen dates from 1410, during the Ming Dynasty. Local people called the drains in paddy fields “zhen” (). Shenzhen (深圳) literally means “deep drains” as the area was once crisscrossed with rivers and streams, with deep drains within the paddy fields. The character is limited in distribution to an area of South China with its most northerly examples in Zhejiang Province which suggests an association with southwards migration during the Southern Song Dynasty (12th and 13th centuries). The County town at Xin’an in modern Nanshan dates from the Ming Dynasty where it was a major naval center at the mouth of the Pearl River. In this capacity it was heavily involved in 1521 in the successful Chinese action against the Portuguese Fleet under Fernão Pires de Andrade. This battle, called the Battle of Tunmen, was fought in the straits between Shekou and Nei Lingding Island.

In November 1979, Bao’an County (宝安县) was promoted to prefecturelevel, directly governed by Guangdong province. It was renamed Shenzhen, after Shenzhen town, the then administrative centre of the county which stood approximately around present location of the Dongmen.

1980 onwards as a Special Economic Zone

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An old Hong Kong railway sign rendering the city’s name as “Shum Chun”

Shenzhen was singled out to be the first of the five Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in May 1980. Initially, the SEZ comprises an area of only 327.5 km2 of southern Shenzhen, covering the current Luohu, Futian, Nanshan and Yantian districts. The SEZ was created to be an experimental ground for the practice of market capitalism within a community guided by the ideals of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

In 1982 Bao’an County was re-established, though this time as a part of Shenzhen. The county was converted to become Bao’an District, which was out of the Special Economic Zone. Shenzhen was promoted to a Sub-provincial City in March 1983 and was given the right of provincial-level economic administration in November 1988. With a population of 30,000 in 1980, economic development has meant that by 2008 the city has had 12 million inhabitants.

Shenzhen became one of the largest cities in the Pearl River Delta region, which itself is an economic hub of China, as well as the largest manufacturing base in the world.

For five months in 1996, Shenzhen was home to the Provisional Legislative Council and Provisional Executive Council of Hong Kong.

On 1 July 2010, the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone was expanded to include all districts, a five-fold increase over its pre-expansion size. In August 2011, the city hosted the 26th Universiade, an international multi-sport event organized for university athletes.

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