Guangdong Province is situated on China’s coast, at the bottom of the roundish bulge that represents coastal China beginning with Haizhou Bay in the north – at the border between Jiangsu and Shandong Provinces – and ending with the Gulf of Tonkin in the south. West of Guangdong Province lies Guangxi Province (note that “xi” means west while “dong” – you guessed it! – means “east”, and though one writes “Guangxi Province”, this is actually shorthand for Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region).
Guangdong Province is flanked to the north by three other provinces (from northwest to northeast): Hunan, Jiangxi and Fujian. Lastly, Guangdong Province is shaped somewhat like an old-fashioned, low-profile, elongated teapot (think of the classic, Alladin teapot shape) that points westward and is slightly tilted, as if pouring its tea from a downturned spout – and to top it off, the “tea puddle” below this spout is Hainan Island, formerly a part of Guangdong Province, but since 1988, a separate province.
Guangdong Province spans a land mass of roughly 180,000 square kilometers (18 million hectares, or about 44 ½ million acres). Its coastline – excluding its islands (of which there are 759 to be exact!) – measures some 3370 kilometers. But perhaps the province’s most defining characteristic is that it is the place where many of China’s larger southern rivers empty into the sea, which itself suggests (true!) that Guangdong is a low-lying province, as regards altitude, notwithstanding the existence of the Nanling Mountains on the province’s northern border. Among the major rivers that reach the Yellow Sea/ the Gulf of Tonkin at Guangdong Province are the Han, Jian and Moyan Rivers, as well as the very famous Pearl River, China’s third-largest.
Accordingly, a very large part of Guangdong Province is fertile delta land, with the waters of the Pearl River Estuary – with Macau on the southwestern and Hong Kong on the northeastern lip of the estuary’s “mouth”, or where the Pearl River Estuary meets the South China Sea – representing a rich fishery. Since time immemorial, as the phrase goes, the area of present-day Guangdong has been renowned as “a place of rice and fish”.
Guangdong Brief History
Present-day Guangdong Province, inhabited originally by the the so-called Hundred Yue people, though it had been a part of Imperial China ever since the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, was largely ignored by Imperial China until the time of the first great migration of Han Chinese people to the area as a result of warring in the Han Chinese north during the Jin (CE 264-420) Dynasty. Later migrations of Han Chinese people followed, namely, during the Tang (CE 618-907) and Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasties, then later during the Mongol invasion of the 13th century.
Most of the Yue tribes of Guangdong were gradually assimilated, though some were displaced, while small enclaves remained – and remain to this day. The Han Chinese retreat, as it were, in Guangdong in the face of the relentless Mongol invasion ended in CE 1279 at the Battle of Yamen, when Kublai Khan cum Emperor Shizu, grandson of Genghis Khan, whose Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty reign lasted from CE 1260-1294, finally crushed all resistance in Guangdong.
Guangdong would become embroiled in China’s trade conflict with foreign powers, resulting in China’s loss of Hong Kong to the British as well as China’s loss of Macau to the Portuguese. These humiliations set the stage for the uprising against the Manchu-led Qing government, which would be toppled in 1911 by Republic of China forces under the astute leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Guangdong had earlier been the birthplace of the Taiping Rebellion, which also took place during the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty.
Guangdong Province is one of China’s production and trade powerhouses, thanks in no small part to Hong Kong and Macau. Its infrastructure is extremely well-developed. In 2003, Guangdong’s GDP represented 1/9 of China’s total GDP. For the past 20+ years, Guangdong’s GDP has been the largest of all of China’s 22 official provinces (not counting Taiwan). Guangdong’s foreign trade represents about 1/3 of all of China’s foreign trade, it accounts for about 1/4 of all of China’s use of foreign currency (counting both trade and investment, including currency speculation), and its tax revenues provide about 1/7 of all of the taxes generated in China. Guangdong’s significance to China is, in a word, incomparable.
Guangdong’s recent development – beginning with Deng Xiaoping’s opening of the country – has rested on 6 pillars of industrial growth: telecommunications, electric/ electronic machinery, petrochemicals, foodstuffs, textiles and building materials. To this, Guangdong is in the process of adding paper, medicine and automobile production. Guangdong is rich in natural resources, but its best, most highly prized resource is its people, its workforce, who rank among the most educated and most efficient in China.
The province is at the same time one of the most densely populated areas in the country, the fourth most densely populated (per square kilometer), in fact (only Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai rank higher). All of China’s 56 ethnic groups are represented in Guangdong, as well as a significant number of the races and nationalities the world over, since Guangdong is home to countless numbers of expats from the four corners of the earth. All of the world’s major religions – and quite a few of its lesser religions – are represented here, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. Guangdong both begets numerous entrepreneurs who depart China for foreign shores, and receives them back with open arms years later, when many of them return to their beloved Guangdong to retire.
Many Chinese dialects are heard in the province, though the province has developed its own special native dialect over the years, a dialect that is an amalgam of the historical Cantonese (from the Yue people) dialect, the Hakka dialect (the Hakka are an official ethnic minority, though they are a sub-group of the Han Chinese ethnic group), and the Min dialect (the Min have since been assimilated into mainstream Han Chinese culture, though the Qiang ethnic minority of Sichuan Province are modern-day cousins of the Min). In many cities, towns and villages of Guangdong Province, the inhabitants speak an unmixed Yue dialect, while in many other cities, towns and villages of the province, the inhabitants speak an unmixed Hakka dialect (note that the Hakka is one of the groups of people who migrated to Guangdong in an earlier period in order to escape war and civil strife in the north of the country). However, Mandarin is the official language of government, and the primary language of schools and other institutions of learning, though ethnic languages are of course maintained, also in the school curriculum.
Guangdong Province boasts several national level universities such as Jinan University, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangdong University (both a Foreign Studies and a Chinese Traditional Medicine campus), and South China University (both an Agriculture and a Technology campus). In addition, the province is home to a plethora of provincial level institutions of higher learning, meaning that the province has a student population density that is one of the highest in the country.
The number and range of tourist attractions in Guangdong Province are too numerous to mention, though if one were to select a handful of the most popular attractions outside of Hong Kong and Macau (these cities and their innumerable attractions are more than adequately profiled in the articles devoted to the cities themselves), they would include: Yuexia Hill, in Guangzhou; Mount Danxia, in the northern part of the province; Mount Dinghu as well as Star Lake & the Seven Star Crags, in Zhaoqing, about 80 kilometers west of Guangzhou; and Zhongshan Sun Wen Memorial Park, in the city of Zhongshan (about 50 kilometers south-southeast of Guangzhou), both of which are named after Dr. Sun Yat-sen, whose name at birth was Sun Zhongshan.
One would also be remiss not to mention the countryside of this lush province, just as one would be equally at fault not to mention the tourist possiblilies of the many islands in nearby Pearl River Estuary and in the South China Sea, which provide a welcome South Sea Island break from the hustle and bustle of the large metropolis.