In the waters of Deep Bay between Hong Kong and China, the British and the Qing set a boundary at the high-water mark on the Chinese side. Villagers on both sides cultivated oysters, renting fields and renewing leases despite the tumult of war and revolution. After the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, the water border--like the land frontier--persisted as a patchwork of traditional rights and imperial claims, leases held first by individuals and then paid by the communes to the British Crown. On the Chinese side, oystermen were organized into state units, producing oyster products to export for foreign currency. On the Hong Kong side, oystermen in Lau Fau Shan continued to farm while merchants lobbied constantly for protection and compensation. Between ambiguous boundaries and conflicting claims, Deep Bay was a constant source of conflict.
Using Hong Kong archival documents, Shenzhen published sources, and recent local and oral histories, this paper examines the borders of the Deep Bay oysterbeds. It demonstrates that oystermen on both sides constantly negotiated the border, from the various stages of cultivation to encounters with militia and police, from traditional rivalries to the threat of environment change. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, however, Chinese rebels took advantage of confused authority and kidnapped Hong Kong oystermen in the name of revolutionary struggle. This paper shows how one border locality experienced ideological and global conflict, from everyday negotiation to extraordinary circumstance.