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Yuan Geng: Father of Shekou
Text by Xu Shuyuan

 

Yuan Geng, dubbed “Father of Shekou.” Shekou is a special district within the Shenzhen SEZ, which was seen as a “test tube” to inject foreign ingredients into China’s traditional economic system. by Yang Shaoming/Xinhua

April 21, 2015, was a busy day for Sihai Teahouse in Sihai Park of Shekou, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. The teahouse hosted a photo exhibition, Me and Yuan Geng, to celebrate the 98th birthday of Yuan Geng, and locals contributed by lighting candles and sending their blessings.

When it comes to proving grounds of China's economic reform and opening-up campaigns, people often turn to Shekou in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and of course Yuan Geng, who led the great undertaking. Hailed as "pioneer of reform and opening-up," Yuan served as the first to operate Shekou, a "special zone" within the SEZ. He hence became the spokesman of the Shekou spirit as well as its creator.

Heaps of things had to be done before China could enact its reform and opening-up policies. Decision makers still argued fiercely over market-oriented economy versus planned economy even though the Chinese government had pulled order out of chaos and confirmed its shift in focus to economic development.

In October 1975, Yuan Geng, then deputy director of the Bureau of Foreign Affairs under the Ministry of Communications, was dispatched by Minister Ye Fei to investigate Hong Kong-based China Merchants Group. During his stay there, Yuan keenly realized that the source of economic growth lied on the mainland even though Hong Kong remained the major economic stage. To minimize the costs considering expensive Hong Kong real estate, he formulated a plan to establish an industrial district in Shekou, a neighbor of Hong Kong, to fuse mainland advantages of cheap land and labor with Hong Kong's funds, sophisticated technology and raw materials.

Yuan handed over a report after his investigation sated with plenty of ideas for the blueprint of China's economic reform and opening-up policies.

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