Guangdong (广东; Gwóngdūng in Cantonese; Guǎngdōng in Mandarin) in South China is the country's most populous province, and one of the richest. A global center for manufacturing and trade, Guangdong has a long history connecting China with the outside world, with maritime trade going back centuries, a border with Hong Kong, and as the ancestral homeland of many overseas Chinese. And it's not just big cities and historic sites: the province also has beautiful mountains, idyllic villages, popular beaches, and world-famous cuisine.
If Guangdong were a country, then as of 2012 its population of 104 million would make it 12th in the world (after Mexico, ahead of the Philippines) and its GDP of $850 billion would be 16th (after South Korea, ahead of Indonesia). Both population and GDP are still growing.
In the era of tea clippers, both Guangdong and its capital Guangzhou were often referred to on maps and in spoken English as Canton. This usage continues today but to a much lesser extent with the transliterated Chinese name being used instead. Other versions no longer used include Kwangtung. The food and language of the area are still known as Cantonese.
|Chaoshan (Shanwei, Jieyang, Shantou, Chaozhou)|
The coastal area east of the Pearl River Delta, culturally and linguistically distinct from the rest of the province.
|Northern Guangdong (Yunfu, Zhaoqing, Qingyuan, Shaoguan, Heyuan, Meizhou)|
The inland part of Guangdong – the cities here are less internationalized, and they're interspersed with stunning mountains.
|Pearl River Delta (Jiangmen, Foshan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Shenzhen, Huizhou)|
"The world's workshop", a major manufacturing area. Guangdong produces a third of China's total exports and most of those are from the Delta region. The area from Shenzhen to Guangzhou is essentially one massive factory city.
|Western Guangdong (Zhanjiang, Maoming, Yangjiang)|
The coastal area west of the Pearl River Delta
- 1 Guangzhou (广州) - the capital of the province, largest city, economic and cultural center
- 2 Chaozhou (潮州) - main center of Teochew culture, near the border with Fujian
- 3 Meizhou (梅州) - main center of Hakka culture, and ancestral homeland of many overseas Hakkas
- 4 Qingyuan (清远) - popular for its white-water rafting and hot springs.
- 5 Shaoguan (韶关) - visited for the forest and mountains that surround it, and home to the Yao ethnic minority
- 6 Shenzhen (深圳) - the "Silicon Valley of China", a boom town on the border with Hong Kong
- 7 Taishan (台山) - homeland of the first Chinese immigrants to the United States, and an easy daytrip distance from the Kaiping Diaolou.
- 8 Zhanjiang (湛江) - in the west, near Hainan, known for its French colonial architecture.
- 9 Zhongshan (中山) - Hometown of the revolutionary father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen
Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou are Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where various government programs encourage investment.
- 1 Danxiashan, near Shaoguan, reddish mountains with striking shapes, including rock formations shaped like certain sexual characteristics
- 2 Kaiping – A small town famous for its mixture of western and eastern style castle-like dwellings built by overseas Chinese and the setting for the popular Chinese film "Let the Bullets Fly" 《让子弹飞》.
The area that is now Guangdong was once inhabited by non-Chinese ethnic groups collectively known as the Baiyue. The region was first conquered by the Qin Dynasty from 221-214 BC, but would become the independent Nanyue Kingdom in 204 BC following the fall of the Qin Dynasty. The Nanyue Kingdom had a Chinese king, but the majority of the population was Baiyue. The Nanyue Kingdom was conquered by the Han Dynasty in 111 BC, and the Baiyue people were gradually assimilated into the Han Chinese.
Guangdong borders the South China Sea and surrounds Hong Kong and Macau, both of which were administered as part of the province before being colonised. Though far from Beijing and sometimes seen as a provincial backwater, Guangdong has always been an active center of industry and trade; it was a major terminus of the Maritime Silk Road and also important in the era of tea clippers. It has also always been different from Northern China in some ways; there is a Guangdong saying that "The mountains are high and the Emperor is far away."
The province's economy improved dramatically after Deng Xiaoping initiated economic reforms in 1978. Home to three of the country's Special Economic Zones (marked "SEZ" below, see List of Chinese provinces and regions for an explanation) and to a burgeoning manufacturing industry, Guangdong is now China's richest province and accounts for about a third of all of China's exports. Many people from Hong Kong, as well as many overseas Chinese from Southeast Asia and Western countries have invested heavily in the province due to close family, cultural and linguistic ties. The two main economic hubs of Shenzhen and Guangzhou saw their GDPs surpass that of Hong Kong in 2018 and 2019 respectively, marking important milestones in the economic development of the province.
The major cities in Guangdong have been magnets for migrant workers from poor inland provinces since the 1980s. In many cities this has led to problems with petty crime and homelessness. It also means that Mandarin is increasingly widely spoken and many taxi drivers or service staff are more conversant in Mandarin than Cantonese.
Many ethnic Chinese in Western countries and Southeast Asia can trace their ancestry to Guangdong. The Chinese food most familiar to Westerners is basically Cantonese cooking, albeit sometimes adapted for the customers' tastes.
Guangdong has a subtropical climate. Annual rainfall averages 1500-2000 millimeters and temperature averages 19C - 26C. Summers are hot and wet and there may be typhoons. The best time to visit Guangdong is in the Spring or Autumn.
- Main article: Cantonese phrasebook
Although Mandarin is widely spoken (almost universally so by educated people, especially in areas like Shenzhen which have been built through migration from all across China), the historic and main language of the province is Cantonese. Cantonese people are extremely proud and protective of their language (this applies in Hong Kong as well) and they all continue to use it widely despite efforts at Mandarinization. Cantonese itself is more closely related to the language of the great Tang Dynasty than the more modern (circa Yuan Dynasty) Mandarin. Cantonese people worldwide tend to refer to themselves as "Tong Yan" (People of the Tang in Cantonese) rather than Han, the standard appellation for ethnic Chinese.
Cantonese also has dialectal variations, and the varieties of Cantonese spoken in different cities have their own local quirks, though the Guangzhou dialect is taken to be the prestige dialect, and is understood throughout Cantonese-speaking areas. Some dialects are closely related but have low mutual intelligibility with standard Cantonese; perhaps the most notable one is Taishanese, spoken in Taishan, Kaiping and the surrounding areas. Another example is the Yangjiang dialect.
In the Chaoshan region, a language called Teochew (the native pronunciation of Chaozhou) is spoken. Teochew is not mutually intelligible with Cantonese or Mandarin, but is partially mutually intelligible with Minnan, which is spoken in neighbouring South Fujian and in Taiwan. Certain parts of the province, especially the border areas, are also home to Hakka communities whose Hakka dialect is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin or Teochew and only slightly with Cantonese. Speakers of these languages are often trilingual in their local tongue, Cantonese and Mandarin.
As with elsewhere in China, English is not widely spoken, though airline and high-end hotel staff in the major cities will usually have a basic grasp of English, and Guangzhou and Shenzhen are home to numerous foreigner-friendly bars and restaurants with English-speaking staff due to their large expatriate populations.
There are several large modern airports in the region: Guangzhou (CAN IATA) is the main hub of China Southern Airlines and one of China's main intercontinental hubs, serving a wide array of international flights to every inhabited continent except South America. The airports in Shenzhen (SZX IATA) and Shantou (SWA IATA) also serve a limited number of international flights to other Asian countries. Many other cities also have an airport, but these cater almost entirely for domestic Chinese flights. Alternatively, travellers can consider flying into Hong Kong or Macau and crossing the border by land or ferry.
The area is also well connected to the rest of China by road and rail.
There are also many ports, mainly container ports handling massive freight traffic (2.4 million tons in 2003), but with some passenger services. In particular, there are ferries (mostly fast hydrofoils) connecting Hong Kong and Macau with the neighboring Guangdong cities Shenzhen and Zhuhai, and some even run upriver to Guangzhou. See the city articles for details.
Citizens of 53 countries can visit Guangdong visa-free for up to six days if you enter at the airports in Guangzhou, Shenzhen or Shantou. All you need is your passport (valid for at least three months) and proof of onward travel (to a third country or region outside mainland China—not the one you entered Guangdong from) from one of Guangdong's ports (border crossings, sea ports, or airports). This is available for citizens of Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, Russia, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
A separate visa-on-arrival option exists for Shenzhen only if entering from Hong Kong; see Shenzhen for details.
As elsewhere in China, there is an extensive rail network; Guangzhou is one of the major hubs. Rail is the main means of inter-city travel for the Chinese themselves, and many visitors travel that way as well. The system now includes fast bullet trains on some routes; unless your budget is very tight, these are the best way to go — fast, clean and comfortable.
All the major cities have airports with good domestic connections; some have international connections as well. See the individual city articles for details.
There is also an extensive highway network, much of it very good. Buses go almost anywhere, somewhat cheaper than the trains. See the China article for more. Driving yourself is also possible, but often problematic; see Driving in China.
Most of the public transit systems in the province accept the multi-purpose Lingnan Pass - Yang Cheng Tong (岭南通-羊城通) stored value card. It's accepted all over the province except in Shenzhen. The card costs ¥50, which includes an ¥18 deposit and a starting balance of ¥32. You can purchase and recharge the cards in many places, including metro customer service counters and some convenience stores. Returning your card at the end of the trip can be done at any Yang Cheng Tong service center.
These are some tourists' hot spots when they visit Guangdong:
- Baiyun Hill in Guangzhou
- Xiangjiang Wildlife Park in Guangzhou
- Overseas Chinese Town in Shenzhen
- Guanlan Golf Course in Shenzhen
- Yuanming New Park in Zhuhai
- Dr. Sun Yat-sen's birthplace in Zhongshan
- Star Lake in Zhaoqing
- Mount Sijiao in Foshan
- Mount Danxia in Shaoguan, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List
- Qingxin Hot Springs in Qingyuan
- Hailing Island's Dajiao Bay in Yangjiang
- Nanling national forest park in Shaoguan
Cantonese cuisine (粤菜, yuè cài) is well known around the world, in one form or another, as the source of much overseas Chinese cuisine. Not too spicy, with fresh ingredients and a wide variety of meats (influenced by Guangzhou's history as an international trading hub). Particularly well known is dim sum (点心, diǎnxīn), where diners eat a variety of small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates, and siu mei (烧味), which includes dishes such as roast duck (烧鸭), crispy-skin pork belly (烧肉), barbecued pork (叉烧) and soy sauce chicken (豉油鸡). Shunde is known as the culinary capital of Guangdong due to the fact that many world-class Cantonese chefs were born and trained there. Different cities also have their own local specialities. For instance, Dongguan is known for its Chinese sausages (腊肠), Qingyuan and Zhanjiang are known for their chicken, Zhuhai is known for its seafood, and Zhaoqing is known for its rice dumplings (裹蒸粽).
The Hakka and Teochew people have their own distinctive cuisines. Hakka cuisine is known for several signature dishes such as lei cha (擂茶), salt-baked chicken (盐焗鸡), stuffed tofu (酿豆腐), braised pork belly with preserved mustard (梅菜扣肉), and braised pork belly with taro (芋头扣肉). Teochew cuisine is known for seafood and for vegetarian dishes, and is in many ways more similar to South Fujian cuisine than to Cantonese cuisine. Famous examples of Teochew dishes include braised goose (卤鹅), cold crab (冻蟹), pork jelly (猪脚冻) and fish balls (鱼丸).
Guangdong has many restaurants, with Guangzhou in particular having a reputation as a diner's paradise. Other than sit-down restaurants, bustling night markets provide an eclectic mix of inexpensive finger foods, snacks, and delicacies. These markets are filled with shops and food carts integrating the eating and window-shopping experiences. Night markets are usually very crowded with both tourists and locals.
At some restaurants, when you sit down, your table may be given a large plastic bowl and hot water or tea, which you're supposed to use to rinse your dishes and chopsticks before you eat. Rinsing isn't really necessary (the dishes are already clean), but maybe it gives people peace of mind. If each place setting includes both a plate and a small bowl, eat from the bowl and use the plate to discard unwanted scraps.
Guangdong is known for herbal tea (凉茶 liángchá). You can find sweet herbal tea drinks at supermarkets and convenience stores – look for the popular brands 王老吉 Wánglǎojí and 加多宝 Jiāduōbǎo. Or you can get the traditional, very bitter stuff at little shops where people buy it as a cold remedy.
Unlike in northern China, heavy drinking is not part of the local culture in Guangdong. That said, alcohol is widely available, and beer drinking is relatively common. It is not difficult to find famous types of baijiu such as Maotai and Wuliangye, and there is also locally-produced baijiu if you are interested. As Shenzhen and Guangzhou are home to large Western expatriate communities, Western wines and liquors can also be found, though you will be paying a steep premium for them.
The major cities of Guangdong are have a problem with pickpocketing, and anyone who does not look Chinese is a prime target. For some info on defenses, see pickpockets.
A route West from Guangdong into areas with lower prices and colourful minority ethnic groups is covered in Hong Kong to Kunming overland. Extensions of that route into other areas with similar characteristics are described at Yunnan tourist trail and Overland to Tibet.
Nearby places include the major tourist area around Guilin (on the Hong Kong to Kunming route), the beach resorts of Hainan, the unique semi-autonomous cities of Hong Kong and Macau, and the whole of Fujian province which includes several world heritage sites and the lively city of Xiamen.