views updated Jun 11 2018


Guangzhou, known as the city of the rams (yangcheng) and the city of flowers (huacheng), is the capital city of Guangdong province and one of the foremost metropolises and international ports in China. Guangzhou, approximately 161 kilometers (100 miles) away from the South China Sea, is located in the northern part of the Pearl River Delta, at the confluence of the West, North, and East Rivers. River channels link Guangzhou to the former British colony of Hong Kong, and to Macau, the former Portuguese colony. Besides Hong Kong and Macau, neighboring areas are the provinces of Hunan, Jiangxi, Fujian, and Hainan, as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Guangzhou is situated on the plains, backed by mountainous land to the north. Located in the subtropical and monsoon zone, Guangzhou has a year-round average temperature of 20° to 22°C (68°-70°F), with 79 percent average humidity. Guangzhou's annual precipitation is about 2,200 mm (87 inches). Warmth, humidity, and fertile delta soil provides for flowering trees, subtropical flowers, and abundant fruits (such as banana, citrus, lichee, and pineapple).

Since early in its history, Guangzhou has been the key center of the lingnan (south of the mountain range) region in progressive South China as well as the hub of domestic and international trade. A large number of its population has emigrated to Southeast Asia, North and South America, as well as to other parts of the world, and this provides Guangzhou and South China with a significant link to overseas Chinese and the outside world.

Municipal Guangzhou has a population of about 6 million and covers an area of 7,434 square meters (8,891 square yards). The indigenous residents of Guangzhou were the Nanyue who were absorbed by the Han Chinese during the Tang dynasty (618–906). Today, the primary ethnic group living in Guangzhou is Han, with small numbers of Li, Yao, Zhuang, Miao, Hui, and Manchu. Cantonese, one of the major seven dialects in China, is the native tongue of Guangzhou. Cantonese cuisine, Yue opera, folk music, including bubugao and xiyangyang, are distinctive to the region and influential in China and overseas.

As the starting point of the Silk Road on the sea, Guangzhou had established trade relationship in silk with Rome already in 116 c.e.. Other trading partners were India, Ceylon, Syria, Persia, and Arabia. In the eighth century, a regular foreign trade market was founded with the Shibo Si (Bureau of Sea Trade) to manage foreign trade. Buddhism and Islam were introduced into Guangzhou with the arrival of Indian and Arab merchants.

The coming of the Portuguese to Guangzhou in 1517, followed by the Spaniards in 1575 and English in 1636, ushered in a new era of colonialist penetration of China, in which the Arabs lost their dominant position. In 1685 the Manchu Qing regime lifted the ban on the entry of foreign vessels, thus facilitating foreign trade. The British East India Company, from 1715, then signing a favorable trade agreement with the Guangdong customs, to the first Opium War (1839–1842), was the dominant foreign trading power in Guangzhou. In 1720, the cohong system was instituted by the Qing government authorizing certain Cantonese merchants, known as Thirteen Hongs (guilds), to conduct business with the English, Dutch, French, Americans, Swedes, Danes, Spaniards, and other foreigners who maintained their factories in the designated areas of Guangzhou. In 1757 all foreign trade was restricted solely to Guangzhou.

Frictions occurred when the foreigners found the cohong system manipulative and inconvenient, whereas the Qing authority did not allow foreigners to trade freely or to establish diplomatic relations with China. Unable to sell well manufactured goods in the China market, British merchants began smuggling Indian opium into China to make up for their trade deficit. In response to the Qing government's crackdown on opium traffic, Britain went to war with China in 1840, and in 1842, they forced the defeated Qing regime to sign the Treaty of Nanjing. This treaty opened up five ports, including Guangzhou, to foreigners, and conceded Hong Kong to Britain.

Guangzhou has played a key role in Chinese revolutions. After the demise of the Qing government in 1912, Guangzhou became the headquarters of the Nationalist Party (Guomindang, GMD) and the base, shared by the GMD and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), of the anti-warlord and anti-imperialist Nationalist Revolution.

Since the opening of China in 1979, Guangzhou has again emerged as a prominent city of commerce and has been at the forefront in China's domestic economic reforms and China's interactions with the outside world. Along with Shanghai, Guangzhou's labor force is one of the most productive in China. Guangzhou's economic, political, and social influence in contemporary China is further reinforced by its geographical closeness to Hong Kong, and to the two special economic zones of Shenzhen and Zhuhai.

see also China, After 1945; China, First Opium War to 1945; China, Foreign Trade; Chinese Revolutions; Empire, British, in Asia and Pacific; Hong Kong, from World War II; Hong Kong, to World War II; Opium; Opium Wars.


Johnson, Graham E. Historical Dictionary of Guangzhou (Canton) and Guangdong. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999.

Lee, Edward Bing-Shuey. Modern Canton. Shanghai: The Mercury Press, 1936.

Ng, Yong Sang. Canton, City of the Rams: A General Description and a Brief Historical Survey. Canton: M.S. Cheung, 1936.

Vogel, Ezra F. Canton Under Communism: Programs and Politics in a Provincial Capita, 1949–1968. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.

"China Tourist and Travel Guide for Guangzhou City, China." Travelnet Ltd. Available from

"Guangzhou Travel Guide: Hotel, Map, Climate, Pictures, and Tour." Available from


views updated May 11 2018

Guangzhou (Canton) Largest city in s China, on the Pearl River; capital of Guangdong province. It has been an important trading port since 300 bc. The birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, it was the focal point of the nationalist revolution (1911). It is s China's leading industrial and commercial city. Industries: textiles, rubber products, shipbuilding. Pop. (1998 est.) 6,741,400.