Shenzhen Museum #3 – Modern Shenzhen 现代深圳 (1839 – 1949)

At the Crossroads of Cultures

Now Hong Kong was in colonial hands practicing capitalism, and Mainland China, which is just a stone-throw away, practicing Communism, you can imagine the tension between the British stationed in Hong Kong and China along the borders of Shenzhen and New Territories.

The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory 展拓香港界址專條, 1898

Kowloon Customs 九龍關

The Kowloon Customs 九龍關 was commonly known as Xinguan 新關 or Yangguan 洋關, which can be translated as “New Customs” and ‘”Foreigner Customs” respectively. As its names suggest, this was a customs station managed by the foreigners.

The purpose of this custom was to collect taxes from opium merchants and prevent smuggling of opium into Hong Kong. You would think that it was set up by the Chinese. On the contrary, it was setup by the British to tax their own merchants. Because of the unequal treaties, the Qing Dynasty has no right to tax the merchants.

After the signing of the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898, Britain occupied the area of land north of the Kowloon Peninsula, and the border of the colony was extended northward to Shenzhen River. Consequently, the Lai Chi Kok branch of the Kowloon Customs – designed to manage Hong Kong’s borders – lost its convenience and purpose. It was shut down shortly after 1898. But the customs was still referred to as Kowloon Customs, as the Qing Dynasty did not recognise the new name given to the occupied land – New Territories 新界.

Kowloon Customs was under the British control from its beginning in 2 Apr 1887 until the liberation of Shenzhen in 19 Oct 1949, for 62 years. More than 20 checkpoints were setup along the long border to make it the most number of checkpoints along any border in modern China.

Religious Influence

The late Qing Dynasty suffered from bullying by foreign powers, cultural estrangement, and the negative influence of the Movement of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (which its leader was a Christian and claimed to receive the mandate to rule from God). Many Chinese scholars regarded Christianity as a foreign religion and rejected it. They also often incited people to oppose Christianity, which was one of the important reasons for the frequent occurrence of modern anti-missionary riots in China.

Christina Mission in Shenzhen

Of course, some Chinese just joined the church with the mentality of making a living under the name of religion, and some even took advantage of the special relationship between the church and Westerners and bullied people in the countryside. Therefore, in addition to the cultural conflicts, the special situation of the church, and the bad behaviour of some non-believers, many Chinese people have a very negative view of the Christian faith.

Artefacts from the early churches

The introduction of Christianity into the Shenzhen area began in 1846, belonging to the Basel Mission and Rhenish Missionary Society. It had established 27 churches and missionaries, mainly concentrated in Bao’an.

More important than churches, they started schools for boys and girls, and were the first to push for equal opportunities in education for these farmers’ children. This was contrary to centuries of practice where education was only available to the upper classes in order to control the proletarians. One of these was the Lilang Boarding Schools.

German Lutheran Reverend Rudolph Frederick Lechler 黎力基牧师 (1824-1908) came to China in 1947 under the Basel Mission, and started his over 50 years of affiliation with China. Together with Rev Theodore Hamberg 韩山明牧师, they were sent to spread the Gospel in Chaoshan and Bao’an respectively. After some success in Swatow, Rev Lechler came to Lilang Hill in Bao’an County (modern day Bao’an District) and started Missionary College and Boarding Schools. The small village of Lilang was almost all Christians by the time he left in 1899 at the age of 75.

Shenzhen Christian Church was founded in 1898 in Luohu District by the Rhenish Missionary Society and was rebuilt in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), it was taken as the office of local government, and the church staff went to home to do farm work and the church was forced to halt all activities. The church again opened to worship on May 27, 1984, after Deng Xiaoping returned to politics.

In 1998, the Shenzhen government provided a 4,400 m2 (0.0017 sq mi) land (including green belt) in Meilin Huaguo Hill 梅林花果山 in Futian District for the new church of construction land. Groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 3, 1999, and was completed in August 2000. The new church was put into use on December 9, 2001. The new church cost 30 million yuan, more than ninety percent of the donations from local believers in Shenzhen.

I have to detract here a bit because of Rev. Lechler’s association with Teochew, my ancestral hometown. Rev. Lechler started in the first Christian church in Swatow Yanzhao 盐灶乡 in 1949. This town was famous for the custom of Parading the Gods 营老爷(游神). When Lechler arrived in Longhu in 1947, he was not welcomed by the locals. His fellow church workers were killed by the local mobs. He did not give up and managed to convert and baptised the first two believers in Yanzhao on 12 Oct 1949. This was set as the date the Teochew Christian Church (Lutheran was founded. And from this seed came the Lutheran Churches of Malaysia and Singapore.

Chinese Diaspora

Because of the constant wars in China, the population started to travel overseas to seek a better life for the family. Most of them were ethnically Han Chinese, such as Cantonese, Hokchew, Hokkien, Hakka or Teochew. 

The Chinese Diaspora

In the early 19th century, the age of colonialism was at its height and the great Chinese diaspora began. Many colonies lacked a large pool of laborers. Meanwhile, in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in China, there was a surge in emigration as a result of the poverty and ruin caused by the Taiping rebellion. The Qing Empire was forced to allow its subjects to work overseas under colonial powers.

Association Dongguan-Bao’an Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, 1922

But life for these emigrants were difficult in these foreign lands and that gave rise to clan associations. The raison d’être for establishing clan associations was to offer a place of safety and help to fellow kin from China. Modern day clan associations retain the mission to provide a social meeting place for clansmen and to uphold traditions and customs from the motherland far away.

Opening of the Kowloon-Canton Railways 广九铁路

In 1888, the merchants in Kowloon advocated to build Kowloon-Canton Railway 广九铁路, but were opposed by the people in Guangzhou. However it was written in to the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory of 1898.

Diorama of the opening of connection of the Chinese Section through Luohu Bridge on 15 Oct 1911

The original line of the Chinese section was called Canton-Kowloon Railway (CKR) and the British section was called Kowloon–Canton Railway (KCR). The engineering partnership Messrs Arthur John Barry and John Wolfe-Barry were Consulting Engineers to the project. The complete railway between Kowloon and the Chinese city of Canton (Guangzhou) was opened on 5 October 1911

In 1907, Qing government and Britain formally signed an agreement in Peking on issuing a £100-million bond as part of loan for the construction of the Chinese section of the Canton-Kowloon Railway. In July 1907, construction of the British Section of the KCR began. The construction of Chinese section was delayed and only started in 1909.

Under the loan contract, China needed to employ the British engineers for the construction of Chinese section, but China still employed famous Chinese railway engineer, Yale-educated Zhan Tianyou 詹天佑 as a consultant. On 8 October 1911, the Chinese section of KCR with total length of 142.77 km (88.71 mi) was opened. After liberation in 1949, the railway was renamed Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway 广深铁路. The northern end of railway at that time was located in Dashatou (大沙頭), Guangzhou, was demolished in 1951. 

The British section towards the Southern Terminus at TST, 1914

The segment within Hong Kong, then a British Crown colony, was known as the British Section. It ran from Tsim Sha Tsui in the southern end to Shum Chun (Shenzhen) in the north. Construction began in 1906, and it was opened on 1 October 1910 as a single-track system, roughly corresponding to the present-day East Rail line.

Shum Chun (Shenzhen) Terminus Station of the British Section of Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR), 1910.

Through-train passenger services to China stopped on 14 October 1949, the day prior to the capture of Canton by the Communists. In 1951 agreement was reached with the Chinese authorities for goods wagons to again cross the border, but passenger services continued to terminate at the border at Lo Wu station (the station after Shum Chun Station just before crossing Shenzhen River). 

Opening of the West Kowloon Terminal for the Guangzhou-Hongkong Express Line

Today, the MTR Corporation operates the KCR line which runs from Hung Hom Station to Lo Wu Station. On 2 August 2007, Chief Executive Donald Tsang announced that, considering the technical requirements, passenger forecast, Hong Kong’s future economic development and the closer trade ties between Hong Kong and Guangdong, the new Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link would adopt the dedicated-corridor option using the bullet trains built by China Railways Corporation. It will be operated by MTRC.

Cultural and Educational Influence

With the coming of Western cultures, new cultures and education methods took place in Shenzhen.

Western style Newspapers and Publications, and Recorded Sounds

The starting of newspapers and periodicals, the introduction and popularity of modern entertainment like recorded music, and rise of modern performing artistes made this frontier town hip among the other cities.

Baowen Tai 宝文台 in Longgang is the first printing factory in modern Shenzhen. Liu Dong 刘东 and his family set up Baowen Tai Printing Factory in Longgang Market 龙岗墟 in 1938. Liu Dong was an underground Communist and through his printshop, he was able to bring back printing press equipment, ink and paper to help the Dongjiang Column produce propaganda and publications. He also helped to print 35,000 of the Guerilla’s identity passes to be given th resistance fighters for identification. He was commended by the Communist Party as a contributor to the revolutionary cause. In 2006, Liu Dong donated all these artefacts to the Museum.

Education was divided, however, between the traditional teachings of the Classic and modern subjects like mathematics and sciences. Many of these modern schools were set up by foreign missionaries, but it had a very deep impact to the local population, especially the girls. For the first time, little girls were allowed to attend formal education.

Co-existence of Traditional and Modern Education Styles

Zheng Yuxiu 郑毓秀 (1891-1959), a native of Shenzhen, member of Yongmenhui, a social activist and the first Chinese Doctor of Law. She studied in Paris and was the first female lawyer in China. She later became a judge in Shanghai and a professor in Shanghai Law College. She co-authored the China Civil Law.

Chung Ying Street 中英街

Chung Ying Street 中英街 is a street on the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, within the border town of Sha Tau Kok and Shatoujiao. One side of the street belongs to Hong Kong and the other belongs to mainland China.

Diorama of the encounter, with a real marker depicting the split between the Chinese and British sides.

The street was born out of the Second Convention of Peking 第二北京條約, a treaty that China under the Qing dynasty was forced to lease New Territories to Britain in 1899. The street was a river in 1899, and the British used the high water mark as the border. The river was too shallow at the section of Sha Tau Kok which dried up around 1930s. The residents on both dried river sides then erected their shops to trade. The dried river then renamed to Chung Hing Street 中興街, and later renamed to a more accurate Chung Ying Street 中英街.

On February 15, 1951, the CPC Guangdong Provincial Government began to implement border control. All personnel must enter and leave the country from the official border custom with the Entry and Exit Pass issued by the Public Security Department of Shenzhen. In addition, Sino-British relations were relatively tense in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. China began to implement political and military border defense policies. The Hong Kong (British) government imposed a “curfew” in Sha Tau Kok, and Chung Ying Street became a border restricted area.

In the 1990s, when China was still closed to the world, Chinese tourists visited to buy foreign goods, mostly watches, clothing and jewellery. However, the prosperity has declined in the early 21st century, due to a policy allowing most people from Mainland China to apply to visit Hong Kong directly, causing Chung Ying Street to transform into a place for historical sight-seeing.

Shenzhen Marketplace 深圳墟

Different trades in the marketplace

Shenzhen was the meeting place for the Chinese and foreigners. With the opening of the Kowloon-Canton Railways, the countryside markets and towns saw tremendous growth in economy and commerce.

Different tradesmen came to these markets called Xu 墟 to trade since ancient times, and since Ming Dynasty Shenzhen Market 深圳墟 was already mentioned on maps. At its peak during the Nationalist era, there were over 500 shops trading in the area providing all kinds of goods, 140 inns and taverns, and over 50 restaurants and tea houses. Shenzhen Market is now Dongmen Pedestrian Mall. But there were other famous markets like Pinghu Market 平湖墟 which still exists today.

The modern history of Shenzhen was closely associated with the history of China. In the period of 100 years, Shenzhen suffered humiliation from foreign powers because of a weak China. The history united the Chinese people in believing that only a strong China will prevent them from suffering the same humiliation again.

Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture

Shenzhen Museum was founded in 1981. It consists of 4 museum sites including Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture, Shenzhen Museum of Ancient Art, Dongjiang River Guerrilla Command Headquarters Memorial Museum and Shenzhen Reform and Opening-up Exhibition Hall. 

Located in Shenzhen Civic Center, the Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture, opened in December 2008, takes up 12,500 square meters of land, and covers a construction area of 33,600 square meters. The exhibition building has a total of 3 floors, including 5 basic exhibition halls and 2 special exhibition halls, with an exhibition area of more than 10,000 square meters. The ground floor is a storehouse of cultural relics. In addition, the exhibition building also has multi-functional report Hall, VIP Hall, teahouse, souvenir shops and other ancillary service facilities.

Opening hours : 10:00~18:00 (Visitors are not allowed to enter the museum after 17:30. Closed on Mondays. Open during major festivals and closed the first day after major festivals)

Visited in Jan 2022

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