Guangzhou — known historically as Canton or, less commonly, Kwangchow — is the capital and largest city of Guangdong province, People's Republic of China. Located on the Pearl River, about north-northwest of Hong Kong and north-northeast of Macau, Guangzhou is a key national transportation hub and trading port. One of the five National Central Cities, it holds sub-provincial administrative status.
Guangzhou is the third largest Chinese city and southern China's largest city. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 12.78 million. Some estimates place the population of the entire Pearl River Delta Mega City built up area as high as 40 million including Shenzhen (10.36 million), Dongguan (8.22 million) and most parts of Foshan (7.19 million), Jiangmen (4.45 million), Zhongshan (3.12 million) and a small part of Huizhou adjoining Dongguan and Shenzhen, with an area of about . In 2008 Guangzhou was identified as a Beta World City by the global city index produced by the GaWC, the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.
Guangzhou's earliest recorded name is Panyu, derived from two nearby mountains known as Pan and Yu in ancient times. Its recorded history begins with China's conquest of the area during the Qin Dynasty. Panyu expanded when it became capital of the Nanyue Kingdom (南越) in 206 BC; the territory of the Nanyue Kingdom included what is now Vietnam.
The Han Dynasty annexed the Nanyue Kingdom in 111 BC during the empire's expansion southward, and Panyu became a provincial capital and remains so today. In 226 AD, Panyu became the seat of Guang Prefecture (; Guangzhou / ; Guangfu). While originally referring to the prefecture alone, local citizens gradually adopted the custom of using the same name for their city.
Although Guangzhou replaced Panyu as the name of the walled city, Panyu was still the name of the surrounding area until the end of Qing Dynasty. Today, Panyu is a district of Guangzhou south of Haizhu District separated from the rest of the city by the Pearl River.
The Old Book of Tang described Guangzhou as important port in the south of China. In that period, direct routes connected the Middle East and China. A Chinese prisoner, who was captured in the Battle of Talas and stayed in Iraq for twelve years, returned to China by ship on a direct route from Iraq to Guangzhou. Guangzhou was mentioned by various Muslim geographers in the ninth and tenth centuries, such as Al-Masudi and Ibn Khordadbeh, according to a local Guangzhou government report on October 30, 758, corresponding to the day of Guisi of the ninth lunar month in the first year of the Qianyuan era of Emperor Suzong of the Tang Dynasty. The Arab historian Abu Zayd as-Sirafi mentioned Guangzhou several times in his book The Journey of as-Sirafi (Arabic:), providing a description of daily life, food, business dealings, and the justice system of the city. As-Sirafi also reports that in 878 followers of the Chinese rebel leader Huang Chao besieged Guangzhou and massacred a large number of foreign merchants residing there. The foreign merchants were Arab Muslims, Persians, Jews and Christians
From the tenth to twelfth century, Persian women were to be found in Guangzhou. Multiple women originating from the Persian Gulf lived in Guangzhou's foreign quarter. Some scholars did not differentiate between Persian and Arab, calling them both "Dashi", and some say that the Chinese called all women coming from the Persian Gulf "Persian Women".
During the Northern Song Dynasty, the celebrated poet Su Shi (Shisu) visited Guangzhou's Baozhuangyan Temple and wrote the inscription "Liu Rong" (Six Banyan Trees) because of the six banyan trees he saw there. It has since been called the Temple of the 6 Banyan Trees.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Guangzhou by sea in 1514, establishing a monopoly on the external trade out of its harbour by 1517. They were later expelled from their settlements in Guangzhou (Cantão in Portuguese), but instead granted use of Macau as a trade base with the city in 1557. They would keep a near monopoly on foreign trade in the region until the arrival of the Dutch in the early 17th century.
17th through 19th centuries
It is believed that the romanisation "Canton" originated from the Portuguese , which was transcribed from Guangdong. Nevertheless, because at the time of the Portuguese arrival, the capital city had no specific appellation other than the provincial capital by its people, the province name was adopted for the walled city by the Europeans. The etymology of Canton, as well as the similar pronunciation with the province name Guangdong might have partly contributed to the recent confusion of Canton and Guangdong by certain English speakers. However, definitive English lexica, such as Merriam–Webster's Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary and Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English do not list 'Guangdong' as a synonym (or variant) under 'Canton'.
After China gained control of Taiwan in 1683, the Qing government became more open to foreign trade. Guangzhou quickly emerged as one of the most suitable ports for international trade and before long ships arrived from all over the world.
The Portuguese in Macau, the Spanish in Manila, Arabs from the Middle East and Muslims from India were already actively trading in the port by the 1690s, when the French and English began frequenting the port through the Canton System.
Other companies were soon to follow: the Ostend General India company in 1717; Dutch East India Company in 1729; the first Danish ship in 1731, which was followed by a Danish Asiatic Company ship in 1734; the Swedish East India Company in 1732; followed by an occasional Prussian and Trieste Company ship; the Americans in 1784; and the first ships from Australia in 1788.
By the middle of the 18th century, Guangzhou had emerged as one of the world's great trading ports under the Thirteen Factories, which was a distinction it maintained until the outbreak of the First Opium War in 1839 and the opening of other ports in China in 1842. The privilege during this period made Guangzhou one of the top 3 cities in the world. During the war, the British captured Canton on March 18, 1841. The Second Battle of Canton was fought in May 1841.
The plague epidemic – part of the Third Pandemic – reached Guangzhou in 1894, causing the death of 60,000 people in a few weeks. In 1918, the city's urban council was established and Guangzhou became the official name of the city in Chinese. Panyu became a country's name to the southern side of Guangzhou.
In both 1930 and 1953, Guangzhou was promoted to the status of a municipality, but each time promotion was rescinded within a year.
Japanese troops occupied Guangzhou from October 21, 1938, to September 16, 1945, after violent bombings. In the city, the Imperial Japanese Army conducted bacteriological research unit 8604, a section of unit 731, where Japanese doctors experimented on human prisoners.
After the fall of the capital Nanjing in April 1949, the Nationalist government under the acting president Li Zongren relocated to Guangzhou.
Communist forces entered the city on October 14, 1949. This led the nationalists to blow up the Haizhu Bridge as the major link across the Pearl River and to the acting president's leaving for New York, whereas Chiang Kai-shek set up the capital for the Nationalist government in Chongqing again. The communist government soon renamed the city's English name to "Guangzhou". A massive exodus followed as many fled to nearby Hong Kong and Macau, and the provincial capital's international status dwindled. The urban renewal projects of the new communist government improved the lives of some residents. New housing on the shores of the Pearl River provided homes for the poor boat people. Reforms by Deng Xiaoping, who came to power in the late 1970s, led to rapid economic growth due to the city's close proximity to Hong Kong and access to the Pearl River.
As labour costs increased in Hong Kong, manufacturers opened new plants in the cities of Guangdong including Guangzhou. As the largest city in one of China's wealthiest provinces, Guangzhou attracts farmers from the countryside looking for factory work. Cantonese links to overseas Chinese and beneficial tax reforms of the 1990s have aided the city's rapid growth.