Is it true that SHENZHEN was “a Small Fishing Village”?



You may think you know Shenzhen (深圳), the burgeoning city in southern China’s coastal Guangdong province, quite well.

Dubbed China’s tech hub, this booming city has incubated some of the world’s most influential tech firms like Tencent, DJI, Huawei, etc, in the past decades.

The once “small fishing village”, in the language of China’s official propaganda apparatus, is now a vibrant metropolis which has a sizable GDP even larger than that of Hong Kong and Singapore.

For many, Shenzhen is where China’s future lies. It’s exciting, dynamic and young.

But was it true that Shenzhen was just a “small fishing village” before 1979, when then paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping picked it as the country’s Special Economic Zone to unleash its miraculous growth that lasts till today?

For local scholars, the answer is no.

Shenzhen is rich in history and old, if not dowdy, they would argue.

Such is the argument of Chen Haibin (陈海滨), a 37-year-old history teacher at Pinghu Middle School in the northern suburb of Shenzhen. Spending five years to complete a 500,000 word-long book named The Ancient History of Shenzhen, Chen, defying the conventional wisdom, argued the Shenzhen used to be a regional center and major metropolis in ancient China.

Chen’s research was included in a newly published collection of books on the history of Pinghu (平湖), named Pinghu in 100 years. The effort made Pinghu Shenzhen’s first suburb township to publish its own official history.

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“The history of Pinghu tells us it is wrong to say Shenzhen was only a small fishing village,” Mr. Tan Hao, a renown Chinese scriptwriter said at a symposium, during which scholars discussed the significance of the collection on Thursday.

“The works by Pinghu has set a pole for other parts of Shenzhen,” Mr. Li Jinkui, senior research fellow at China Development Institute, based in Shenzhen, said at the symposium.


Pinghu in ancient history

Lying in the northern suburb of Shenzhen, Pinghu became a major settlement for the ethnic minority of Yao people in southern China back in the Southern Song Dynasty (AD 1127 – 1279).

It evolved into a township in 1522, during the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368 – 1644).

Though the collection did not go back far to the ancient times, it was a detailed study of Pinghu’s history in since the early 20th century, at a time when imperialism ended in China in 1912.

The collection was pleasant to read, as its writers and editors, mainly a team of local reporters, tried hard to avoid officialdom. It is, instead, a collection of feature stories of notable Pinghu native and their descendants, and those “new Pinghuers”, who moved to settle down there to make their life and career distinguished.

In other words, it was a collection of stories of Chen Haibing, and of Lau Chu-Pak (刘铸伯) and the notable Lau’s family.


The Lau family

Born in June 1867 and died in 1922, Lau was a business magnate in Hong Kong and member of the Legislative Council.

Liu was admitted to the Queen’s College in the same year as Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China in 1912.

Together with Ho Fook, a Hong Kong prominent Eurasian compradore and philanthropist, Liu founded in 1900 the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce in which he became the chairman of the chamber later on.

He helped to found the University of Hong Kong by donating to the endowment fund in 1911. He later became the member of the University’s Court between 1911 and 1914 and was honoured life member of the Court in 1914. He was member of the University Council from 1911 to 1922.

His son Lau Tak-po founded the Hong Kong and Yaumatei Ferry Company and the family is still in control of the company.

In addition to his success in Hong Kong, Lau has contributed significantly to the development of Pinghu, his hometown. Lau donated the first modern school and hospital to his hometown.

Walking along the streets of Pinghu, these two faded buildings still stood there, like a testimonial of the township’s past days.

A microcosm

What you may also feel is Pinghu is a microcosm of Shenzhen’s miraculous growth in the past four decades.

It’s GDP stands the third among all 11 townships in Shenzhen. It is also now a major transport hub to link Shenzhen with the northern part of the country.

The railway station, which was opened in 1911 as part of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Chinese Section, with trains running between Kowloon and Canton (Guangdong), has been reopened to passenger service since 2016 as an intermediate station exclusively for bullet trains, while conventional trains do not stop at this station.

While the past glories haven’t departed, Pinghu is leading Shenzhen’s transition into the future.

“We must remember our history. You can know where the future leads only when you have enough understanding of your own history,” Deng Kangyan, a Shenzhen-based writer and documentary director, said at Friday’s symposium.


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