Yuan Geng: Chinese guerilla spy turned economic pioneer, dies at 99

After joining Communist Party at 21, Yuan fed intelligence to US about Japanese movements in Pearl River Delta during second world war, then helped establish the model for China’s special economic zones

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 February, 2016, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 February, 2016, 10:44pm

He was not senior enough in the ruling hierarchy to make an impact on policymaking, but at vice-ministerial rank Yuan Geng put his stamp on modern China’s history with his pioneering role in carrying carry out Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up policy.

Yuan was the founder of the Shekou Industrial Zone, the mainland’s first laboratory for economic experiments 37 years ago. It became a cornerstone for the establishment of the first special economic zone in Shenzhen.

Yuan died on Sunday at age of 99 at his Shekou home.

He was born in Baoan county, now a district under Shenzhen, in April 1917 and joined the Communist Party at 21.

He became a soldier, fighting against the Japanese army during the second world war and against Kuomintang the army during China’s civil war. As an intelligence officer with the Communist guerillas in the Pearl River Delta region, he provided crucial information about the Japanese in Guangdong to the US military.

He helped set up the guerillas’ liaison office in Hong Kong, which later became the Xinhua News Agency Branch, Beijing’s de facto embassy in the city after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Yuan was little known to the outside world until he founded the Shekou zone and became the first CEO of Hong Kong-listed China Merchants Group when his proposal for the area received the go-ahead from Beijing on January 31, 1979.

Yuan pioneered a series of bold experiments in the zone, such as state-owned enterprises distributing wages and housing based on performance and merit rather than ranks. He also introduced foreign investors into the zone – a first for the mainland.

Shenzhen party officials and residents paid their respects to him on Sunday, lighting candles and leaving flowers outside the China Merchants museum.