Learn about China – Guangdong Province

Guangdong – An Introduction

Guǎngdōng 广东 is a province in Southeast China, located on the South China Sea coast on the border with Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions to the south. Hainan is offshore across from the Leizhou Peninsula. Guangdong Province map

“Guǎng” 广 means “expanse” or “vast”, and has been associated with the region since the creation of Guang Prefecture in AD 226. “Guangdong” and neighbouring Guangxi literally mean “expanse east” and “expanse west”. Together, Guangdong and Guangxi are called 两广 liǎng guǎng “Two Expanses”. Guǎngdōng has traditionally romanised as Canton or Kwangtung. “Canton”, though derived from Cantão (the Portuguese transliteration of “Guangdong”), refers only to the provincial capital instead of the whole province.

Due to its special geographical position, Guangdong province has for long served as a window of the country to the world.

Guangdong Population

At the moment Guangdong province is the most populous province in China, with approximately 110 million people.

The capital city, Guangzhou (广州 Guǎngzhōu), formerly known as Canton to the western world, is located at the head of the Pearl River Delta (珠江三角洲 Zhūjiāng sānjiǎozhōu). Guangzhou and the economic hub Shenzhen are among the most populous and important cities in China.

The local people of Guangzhou (Canton) and their language are still called Cantonese in English. Because of the prestige of Canton and its accent, the term Cantonese, can be used related to the residents and Chinese dialects outside the provincial capital. Despite this usage continues today, has much lesser extent with the translitterated Chinese name being used instead.

The biggest cities in Guangdong have been magnets for migrant workers who came from poor inland provinces. In many cities this has led some problems, but it also means that Mandarin is widely spoken and service staff are more conversant in Mandarin than in the local version of Cantonese.

Canton Tower in Guangzhou

Canton Tower in Guangzhou

Food in Guangdong

The food and language of the area are still known as Cantonese. Cantonese food is widely recognized as among the most distinctive in China and is the best-known Chinese cuisine worldwide. It is characterized by the use of a variety of fresh ingredients, minimal seasoning, and quick cooking (typically, by stir-frying). Living in a coastal province, the people are particularly fond of seafood.

Geography and Climate

Guangdong faces the South China Sea to the south and has a total of 4,300 km (2,700 mi) of coastline. Leizhou Peninsula is on the southwestern end of the province and in there are a few inactive volcanoes. The Pearl River Delta is the convergent point of three upstream rivers: the East River东江(Dōngjiāng), North River北江(Běijiāng), and West River西江(Xījiāng). The river delta is filled with hundreds of small islands. The province is geographically separated from the north by a few mountain ranges collectively called the Nan Mountains (南岭Nán Lǐng). The highest peak in the province is Shikengkong with an elevation of 6,240 feet (1,902 meters) above sea level.

Guangdong Mountains

Since much of Guangdong lies south of the Tropic of Cancer, it is one of the Chinese provinces with tropical and subtropical climates with a temperature averages between 26C – 30C.

However, sitting on the Chinese southernmost part, this place is frequently affected by typhoons, especially in summer time.

Economy in Guangdong

For centuries the economic foundation of Guangdong was primarily agriculture, but that sector’s proportion of the provincial economy has been declining since the mid-1980s. In part, this is because rapid urbanization from the late 1980s has encroached on the croplands around major municipalities, seriously reducing agricultural production there. However, rice is the leading crop, although food-grain crops occupy almost all of the total cultivated area, the industrial and fruit crops grown on the remaining land are of national importance.

port of Guangdong

As one of the earliest open trading ports to outside world and the starting-point of Maritime Silk Road, Guangdong has a long history of commercial trade and it is also the origin of modern national industry.

The province contributes approximately 12% of the PRC’s national economic output, and is home to the production facilities and offices of a wide-ranging set of Chinese and foreign corporations. Guangdong also hosts the largest import and export fair in China, the Canton Fair, hosted in the provincial capital of Guangzhou.

Local festivals and events in Guangdong

As well as the traditional Chinese festivals or activities like Spring Festival and Lantern Festival, Guangdong province has some characterized activities. The Pearl River Cruise has been a must for visitors to Guangzhou, due to the picturesque scenery along the third longest river of the country.

Guangzhou International Food Festival is another of the most famous festival in the province,which is held annually in October or November and it attracts people from all over the world.

Guangzhou is also home to the country’s leading football team, Guangzhou Evergrande who have dominated the widely talked about Chinese Super League in recent history. A visit to the lively Tianhe Stadium is a must for any sporting fan.

Visit Shenzhen

Described as a window of China’s opening up policy, Shenzhen was simply a market town with a population of a few hundred thousand along the Kowloon-Canton railway route. In 1979 it was officially a named city and later was established as a Special Economic Zone in 1980. Since that time it has grown from a fishing village into a major and economically significant city. It has become a real boom town and today is a bustling city of 14 million people and that is only rising. ShenzhenShenzhen was recently judged as the most liveable and third most beautiful city in China. In fact, despite this metropolis being less than 30 years old, it has undergone an extraordinary and rapid transformation which needs to be seen to be believed.

A well-structured city, Shenzhen presents an abundance of parks and open spaces, a wide range of places to visit and a new ever-expanding underground metro system. Shenzhen’s relative new status and it’s reputation as a city of opportunity has been a pull for Chinese from across the country. It’s home to a dizzying array of typical cuisines and cultures, and while the main language is Mandarin, you’re just as likely to hear Cantonese or dialects from far further North.

Go and see the Canton Tower

Canton Tower

It rises up to 600 meters in height, drawing in the skyline a sinuous silhouette that evokes the soft curves of a female body. This is the Canton Tower or Guangzhou Tower (simplified Chinese 广州塔), the panoramic tower for television broadcasts. Is a multi-purpose observation tower in Haizhu District in Guangzhou, Guangdong. The tower was topped out in 2009 and it became operational in late 2010 for the Asian Games. It was the tallest structure in China before the Shanghai Tower was built in the 2013.

The Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower comprises a total of 37 floors housing exhibition spaces, a conference center, a cinema, several restaurants and cafés, and a lookout point.

Shamian Island

Shamian Island, also known as Zhongliusha or Shicuizhou, is a sandbank island in the Liwan District of Guangzhou. The island’s name literally means “sandy surface” in Chinese.

The territory was divided into two concessions given to France and the United Kingdom by the Qing government in the 19th century (of which 4/5 went to the British and 1/5 to the French). Shamian Island served as an important port for Guangzhou’s foreign trade and it also became a strategic point for defence during the second Opium Wars.

Shamian Island

The island is now an historical and touristic area that serves as reminder of the colonial European period, with quiet pedestrian avenues flanked by trees and lined by historical buildings in various states of upkeep.

Differences between Mandarin and Cantonese

Mandarin Chinese or pǔtōnghuà 普通话 is the official language and is spoken in mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. Cantonese is spoken by the people of Hong Kong, Macau and the wider Guangdong province, including Guangzhou (previously Canton in English).

Technically, Cantonese, or guǎngdōng huà 广东话, is a subset of the Yue (yuè 粤) language family found in southern China, but “Cantonese” is commonly used to refer to this group of languages.

The primary difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is in pronunciation, where Mandarin is usually romanized using the pinyin system while Cantonese commonly uses Yale romanization. Both Cantonese and Mandarin are tonal languages, however Mandarin has 4 tones plus a neutral tone, while Cantonese has 9 tones in total which can be divided into 6 open syllables and 3 checked syllables.

Regarding the writing systems, both Mandarin and Cantonese shared the same character sets until the 1950s and 1960s when simplified Chinese characters were officially adopted in mainland China, while the traditional characters were retained by Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong.

Simplified characters are used throughout the mainland to express a wide variety of spoken dialects, though some traditional character writing remains for classical purposes and in the southern, Cantonese-speaking regions of the mainland.

Cantonese basically is a spoken dialect only, and written Chinese is the same but Cantonese speakers pronounce the traditional characters differently, but they don’t even use the same words when speaking.


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