Shantou was one of the original Special Economic Zones of the People's Republic of China, but failed to blossom like others cities such as Shenzhen, Xiamen and Zhuhai. However, it is the home to the only university in the northeast region of Guangdong province, Shantou University.
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Shantou was a fishing village part of Tuojiang City (鮀江都), Xieyang District (揭陽縣) during the Song Dynasty. It came to be Xialing (廈嶺) during the Yuan Dynasty. In 1563, Shantou was a part of Denghai District (澄海縣) in Chao Prefecture (Chaozhou). As early as 1574, Shantou had been called Shashan Ping (沙汕坪). In the seventeenth century, a cannon platform called Shashan Toupaotai (沙汕頭炮臺 sha shan tou pao tai) was made here, and the placename later was shortend to "Shantou".
Since November 1991 (consented by the PRC in April), Shantou expanded to contain the entire Shantou metropolitan area: Five county-level districts, one county, and two cities (administered on behalf of the province):
Government statistics show that 2.16 million overseas Chinese have roots in Shantou, with significant populations of Chaozhou people residing in Thailand and Singapore. This is demonstrated by the unusually high number of international direct flights between Bangkok and Shantou.