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Guangzhou

Guangzhou is the third largest city in China and southern China’s largest city. Guangzhou (广州 Guǎngzhōu or just simply GZ) is the capital of Guangdong Province in southern China. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of 12.7 million, making it the third largest city in China afterShanghai and Beijing. If you consider thePearl River Delta as a triangle (it isn’t exactly), Guangzhou is the inland corner andHong Kong and Macau the two on the sea.

In the era of tea clippers, Guangzhou was known in the West as “Canton.” The food and the language of the area are still known as “Cantonese” and it is perfectly acceptable to use either the western or Chinese term interchangeably. The Cantonese are proud and hardworking people known throughout China and the world over for their famous cuisine and tack for business. One thing you will notice in Downtown Guangzhou is that there is none of the horn honking that is typical in other Chinese cities. Apparently there is a local ordinance prohibiting it. Guangzhou drivers seem to follow the rules of the road a bit more than in other cities where it is generally a free-for-all.

The city is famous for foreign trade and business doings, and holds China’s largest trade fair, the Canton Fair. However, in between the seemingly endless skyscrapers, shopping malls and building sites there is a lot of culture and history. While Guangzhou is not usually high on the list of Asian tourist destinations, it is amazing how much the city actually has to offer.

As a major sea port, Guangzhou’s history is full of color. In 786 the city was sacked by the Persians and in 1711 the British East India Company established a trading post here. In 1757, the government designated the city as the only port allowed business transactions with foreign nations. This continued until 1842, the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, when four other ports were added. Losing the exclusive privilege pushed Guangzhou to become more industrialized later.

Guangzhou was also part of the so called “Maritime Silk Road” that linked southern China with India, South-East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. As a result of its links with the Middle East, a mosque was established in the city in 627, and a small Muslim community continues to live in Guangzhou to this day. Additionally, the sixth patriarch of Zen Buddhism was born in Guangzhou and taught the famous Platform Sutra in the city. As a result, Guangzhou has retained a strong connection with this school of Buddhism, and the monastery where the sixth patriarch studied is considered a local treasure. The first Protestant missionary in China, Robert Morrison, entered Guangzhou in 1807. This started the spread of Christianity in the country.

 

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