Shantou was a fishing village part of Tuojiang City, Jieyang District during the Song Dynasty. It came to be Xialing during the Yuan Dynasty. In 1563, Shantou was a part of Chenghai District in Chao Prefecture (Chaozhou). As early as 1574, Shantou had been called Shashan Ping.
In the seventeenth century, a cannon platform called Shashan Toupaotai was made here, and the placename later was shortened to "Shantou". It became a city in 1919, and was separated from Chenghai in 1921. 1922 saw the devastating Swatow Typhoon, which killed 50,000 out of the 65,000 people then inhabiting the city. In the 1930s, Shantou Port was a transport hub and merchandise distribution centre for Southeast China; its cargo throughput ranked third in the nation.