Guangzhou (also known as Canton, and less commonly as Kwangchow) is the capital and largest city of Guangdong province in South China. Located on the Pearl River, about north-northwest of Hong Kong and north of Macau, Guangzhou serves as an important 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 the largest city in South Central China. As of the 2010 census, the city's administrative area had a population of 12.70 million. Some estimates place the population of the entire Pearl River Delta Mega City built-up area as high as 44,449,738 including 10 out of 12 Guangzhou urban districts, Shenzhen (10.36 million), Dongguan (8.22 million), Zhongshan (3.12 million), Macau (0.55 million), most parts of Foshan (7.20 million), Jiangmen (1.82 million), Zhuhai (0.89 million) and Huyang County of Huizhou (0.76 million) adjoining Dongguan and Shenzhen, with an area of about .
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 in 206 BC; the territory of Nanyue included what is now northern 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).
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 what is now 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. Guangzhou was known as Khanfu خانفو by the Arabs. According to a local Guangzhou government report, the city was sacked by Muslims on October 30, 758. 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
During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, Guangzhou was the capital of the Southern Han state which existed from 917 to 971, and was one of the most stable of the southern states. The region enjoyed considerable cultural and economic success in this period.
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 Six 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 were 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 , which was transcribed from Guangdong (also pronounced Kanton in Japanese). 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.
In Guangzhou, the national monuments known as "The Muslim's Loyal Trio" are the tombs of Ming-loyalist Muslims who were martyred while fighting in battle against the Qing in Guangzhou.
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 three 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.
Japanese troops occupied Guangzhou from October 21, 1938, to September 16, 1945, after bombing the city. The Imperial Japanese Army conducted bacteriological research in Guangzhou under Unit 8604, a section of Unit 731.
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. The Nationalists blew up the Haizhu Bridge, an important passage across the Pearl River, in order to slow the Communist advance and allow the government to flee to Chongqing. 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 and China liberalized its economy, manufacturers opened new plants in 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 in the 1990s contributed to the city's rapid growth.