To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
China and Inner Asia
In Session: Bordering China, Bordering Reform (Part 1): China's Hong Kong Border
4: Leveraging Liminality: The Border Town of Baoan and the Origins of China's Reform and Opening
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Immediately north of Hong Kong, Shenzhen is China’s most successful Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Commonly known as the “social laboratory” of reform and opening, Shenzhen was the foremost frontier for the People’s Republic’s adoption of market principles and entrance into the world economy in the late 1970s. This paper looks at prototypes of the SEZ in Bao’an County, the precursor of Shenzhen during the Mao era (1949-1976). Between 1949 and 1978, Bao’an was a liminal space where state endeavors to establish a socialist economy were challenged by capitalist influences from the adjacent British Crown Colony. Like the Berlin Wall, the boundary between Bao’an and Hong Kong artificially divided people organically connected by family ties, cultural roots, and economic relations into two opposed socio-political systems in the Cold War. Unlike the militarily fortified demarcation lines in Europe, the border between Bao’an and Hong Kong hardened after 1949 but remained sufficiently porous for commodities, money, and people to circulate, usually illicitly. To create an enclave of exception to socialism, communist cadres in Bao’an reconceptualized the border as a connection rather than a division, an asset rather than a threat, and promoted individualized, duty-free cross-border trade and informal foreign investment schemes as early as 1961. Although beholden to the inward-looking planned economy and stymied by radical leftist campaigns, these local improvisations formed the foundation for the SEZ—the very hallmark of Deng Xiaoping’s economic statecraft.