Shenzhen Museum #4 – Shenzhen’s Reform and Opening Up 深圳改革开放史

Last week we started the series to commemorate the birthday of the Architect of Modern China, Deng Xiaoping. This is the crowning glory – the success story depicted in the final permanent exhibition that chronicled the rise of Shenzhen as a Cosmopolitan city represents Shenzhen between 1979 to present.

This exhibition takes the new period of China’s reform and opening up as the background. According to the economic and social development status of Shenzhen in the past 30 years and the goals and tasks of different stages, it displays the history of Shenzhen’s reform and opening up and development in three stages in chronological order, thus reflecting China from one side. The great historical process of reform, opening up and modernization.

Chapter 1 : Daring to Try and Blazing the New Trail 1978 – 1992

1984 Quote by the Chief Architect of Shenzhen Economic Zone – Deng Xiaoping

Shenzhen, one of the earliest Special Economic Zones (abbreviated to “SEZ”) in China, is like a magnificent pearl in the south. She was born in the expectation of reform and opening up, and grew up in the sunshine and rain of the China’s Miracle. She is used as the “experimental field” and “window” of reform and opening up, and spread her wings and soared by the east wind of reform and opening up.

In Dec 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China opened a new historical period of China’s reform and opening up. Because of the directive of this session, the decision to setup SEZ was confirmed in Apr 1979. And on 26 Aug 1980, Shenzhen SEZ was officially established. This marked the milestone in China’s opening up to the outside world.

Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping addressing the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee

Shenzhen Speed 深圳速度

There’s a term we always hear when it comes to the speed of progress and that term is Shenzhen Speed 深圳速度. This miraculous speed was achieved at the being of the opening up of Shenzhen, where the economic reform for rest of China was also in their infancies.

In July 1979, Shekou Industrial Zone was developed as a testing phase. The blasting of the mountain in Shekou heralded in decades of tremendous growth not seen before in human history.

While the Central Government was all for the development of the SEZ, they were only giving liberal allowance in the adherence of policies but no capital investment “只给政策不给钱”. You have to know that it’s the late 70s, China had just come out of the Cultural Revolution, and utterly broke. They had to rely of the army to do the constructions.

In the initial phase, Shenzhen SEZ carried out large scale constructions building the roads and other infrastructure to attract foreign investments.

Diorama of the construction army – literally they were conscripted from the PLA

The Central Military Commission dispatched 20,000 Combat Engineers to support the construction of Shenzhen SEZ. This was supplemented by droves of workers from the rural areas in the hundreds of thousands. These people formed the backbone of what was to be known as the “Trail-blazing Ox” 开荒牛.

Techniques and tools were quite primitive as they figured out how to build a modern metropolis. But morale was high and everyone had a sense of mission.

In May 1981, a 38-storey building that would be the landmark of Shenzhen was planned and the young team went about designing and figuring out how to construct a modern office building. Construction of 50-storey International Foreign Trade Centre 国贸大厦 started on 1 November 1982 and was completed 37 months later on December 29, 1985. One storey went up every third days. This earned the city’s rapid development the nickname “Shenzhen Speed”.

It was the tallest building in China when it was completed at 160 metres and 50 storeys high. It consists mainly of office space (floors 5-43, except 24) but features a revolving restaurant at the 48th and 49th floor and a helipad atop the building. The first five floors are retail spaces.

Diorama of the Shenzhen Speed – Building the International Trade Building

Through several years of hard work, an urban city rose up from nowhere, and the modern Shenzhen took shape.

First Mayor of Shenzhen Liang Xiang 梁湘

At this point we need to talk about the first mayor of Shenzhen, Liang Xiang 梁湘. His admirers said that he was the pioneer in the construction of the Special Economic Zone and the most hardworking official. His detractors said that he was not different to the Qing officials that he “sold their territorial sovereignty to foreigners”. But it was Xi Zhongxun 习仲勋, Party Secretary of Guangzhou, who commented that he should be the person taking “the most credit” in the reform and opening up of Shenzhen.

Belongings of the first Mayor.of Shenzhen Liang Xiang 梁湘, including the wheelchair he used to inspect the progress of the construction even when he was ill.

Liang was a member of the Guangdong provincial People’s Congress, and the Second Secretary of Guangzhou city from 1977 to 1981. In 1981, Liang served briefly as the First Secretary of Shenzhen. He then became a citizen of the city, and a member and secretary of the standing committee to create its Special Economic Zone. Once the Shenzhen SEZ government was founded Mar 1981, he served as the first Mayor of Shenzhen. He continued to serve as mayor and Party Secretary of the city’s central committee until August 1985, when he gave up the position of mayor.

Mayor of Shenzhen Liang Xiang 梁湘 (L) shaking hands with Deng XIaoping 邓小平 with Party Secretary of Guangzhou, Xi Zongxun 习仲勋, who was the father of the present President of China, Xi Jinping 习近平

While serving as deputy secretary of the Hainan central committee and as the first governor of the province between March 1988 to September 1989, he allowed the escape of leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests through Hainan. He was relinquished of all powers in September 1989 as a result.

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