South China has always been outward-looking. Many of China's mariners and traders have come from this region and many overseas Chinese can trace their ancestry to South China.
All of the provinces in this region have coastlines, but Guangxi is best known for its karst limestone terrain, with fantastically gum drop-shaped hills which have inspired traditional Chinese landscape painting for centuries.
This region of China has looked toward the sea for thousands of years, with Canton (as it was then known to Europeans) being an important trading port. Today, it is again a major center for trade; Guangdong alone produces a third of China's exports, and the other provinces of the region are also very much open for business. Four of China's six Special Economic Zones — areas with tax breaks and other government measures to encourage trade and development — are in this region.
Beautiful mountains and rice terraces.
|Guangdong (Chaoshan, Northern Guangdong, Pearl River Delta, Western Guangdong)|
Bustling cities, quiet villages, and a long history of maritime trade.
A tropical island of popular beach resorts.
Two former colonies, Portuguese Macau and British Hong Kong, are now Special Administrative Regions of China. Economically, linguistically and culturally, they are part of the Pearl River Delta area and very much a part of this region. They were administered as parts of Guangdong province before being colonised by European powers. However, they are not covered in this article because they are remarkably different from a traveller's point of view. They have their own entry requirements, visas, and currencies.
- 1 Guilin, main city of a major tourist area with incredible karst mountains
- 2 Guangzhou, formerly known in Europe as Canton, is the capital of Guangdong, historically Southern China's greatest city, and the third largest city in China
- 3 Haikou, capital of Hainan, more of a transit hub than a tourist destination, though it does have several attractions
- 4 Nanning, capital and transit hub of Guangxi
- 5 Sanya, Hainan's tourist center
- 6 Shantou, Guangdong
- 7 Shenzhen Guangdong megacity, next to Hong Kong
- 8 Yangshuo, smaller town near Guilin with similar attractions, popular with backpackers
- 9 Zhuhai, Guangdong, next to Macau
Shantou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and the entire island province of Hainan are Special Economic Zones, meaning that they have various government measures to encourage trade and investment. For a more detailed explanation of the term, see Chinese provinces and regions.
- The stretch of the Li River between 1 Guilin and Yangshuo is the major tourist draw in Guangxi, mainly for the karst (interesting limestone mountains) scenery
- The "castles" (diaolou) built by overseas Chinese in 2 Kaiping, Guangdong, mainly in the early 20th century, are on the UNESCO World Heritage List
- 3 Danxiashan – striking red and brown mountains and cliffs in northern Guangdong
This area has been a center of international trade for centuries. Guangzhou in Guangdong was one of the main Chinese ports on the Maritime Silk Road, starting a few hundred BCE or a few hundred CE according to different historians. Shorter-range trade, such as from Hainan to Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia, has also been going on for a very long time.
Along with neighboring East China, this area was the "China Coast" of the 19th century, the region where tea clippers loaded and other trade (including opium) boomed. Both Chinese and European traders made and lost fortunes, and wars were fought over trading rights. A host of "missionaries, mercenaries and misfits" from all over the world poured in while education, production, modernisation, corruption, consumption, and seduction all went on at a furious pace. Today the area is far less wild, but it is still booming and still attracts many foreign residents.
The region has also been the source of much migration. Many overseas Chinese can trace their ancestry to one of these provinces, and Guangdong in particular has descendants more or less everywhere. In any European country, most people of Chinese descent can trace their roots to Guangdong, and the most common style of Chinese food in Europe is Cantonese (Guangdong) food.
This area of China is linguistically rich, with many mutually unintelligible Chinese "dialects" spoken as well as the unrelated Zhuang language in Guangxi, belonging to the ethnic minority of the same name. The predominant language this region is Cantonese, which is also spoken in nearby Hong Kong and Macau. Other dialects spoken include Hakka, Teochew (spoken in Chaoshan, near the Fujian border) and Hainanese. The area is also home to several ethnic minorities besides the Zhuang, such as the Li people in Hainan, who speak various non-Chinese languages.
As elsewhere in China, Mandarin is the lingua franca. As Mandarin is the language used in schools, most people are bilingual in Mandarin and their local tongue.
Guangzhou is one of China's main aviation hubs, and is served by flights from all over China, as well as from major cities all over the world. It is also common to fly into the area through Hong Kong or Macau, nearby cities which are also international hubs.
As elsewhere in China, there is an extensive rail network. 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, and 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.
- Unique and beautiful mountains, most famously around Guilin but also in Danxiashan
- "The world's workshop" – sprawling factories and dazzling skyscrapers in the Pearl River Delta
- The legacy of overseas Chinese in Kaiping and Taishan
- China's best beaches, most famously Sanya in Hainan
- Historic sites from Guangzhou's centuries as a maritime trading hub and Dongguan's involvement in the Opium Wars
The whole coast, and especially Hainan, is well provided with beaches and many areas have facilities for kite surfing, diving or other water-based activities.
This is warm tropical water, though, and dangerous species such as sharks and jellyfish are present in some areas; consult a knowledgeable local before swimming anywhere except on busy beaches. Also, check any rented equipment very carefully before doing any inherently dangerous activities such as SCUBA or hang-gliding; government inspections are non-existent or lax and not all vendors are conscientious.
Cantonese (Guangdong) cuisine is one of the 'eight famous cuisines' in China. Cantonese food is widespread around the world, the basic style of most Chinese restaurants anywhere. Though true Guangdong cuisine, or Yue (粵) as it is known in China, may contain a few surprises, the essence of the style of cooking will be familiar to most visitors. Hainan is also known for its seafood. Hainan food tends to be lightly seasoned and not as heavy as other regions.
As anywhere in China, beer, wine, brandy and bai jiu (the local white lightning) are very widely available. See China#Alcohol for discussion.
Some brands are common in this region that are much less so elsewhere in China. The Filipino company San Miguel has breweries in Hong Kong and Guangdong, and their beer is popular among expats and travellers in that region. The Singapore-based firm Asia Pacific Breweries have a brewery on Hainan and their brands of beer, Tiger and Anchor, are common all over the island. Hainan also has a number of locally-brewed pineapple-based beers, odd but worth a try.
Humidity is often very high in the summer. Typhoons are possible any time between May and November, with the highest risk in July and August.
China's relatively new and quite extensive system of fast bullet trains provides connections from this region to the rest of China.
- One major line runs from Guangzhou all the way to Beijing on a inland route, via Nanning, Wuhan and Zhengzhou.
- Branches off this line connect to all the main cities of Eastern and Central China.
- Beyond Beijing, there is a high-speed line into the Northeast.
- Another line runs along the coast all the way from Shenzhen to Shanghai, via Shantou, Xiamen and Hangzhou.
- The link further South to Zhanjiang and Hainan is due in 2016.
- A line from Guangzhou to Chengdu, via Guilin (a major tourist area) and Guiyang is due to go into service in 2014
Once those are all in service, they will be the most convenient way to leave the region. There are also good connections by regular train, by road or by air from this region to anywhere in China.