Guangzhou (Canton) has been an economic center for centuries. The city, with its liberal economic policies, has played a major role in China’s recent modernization efforts, attracting foreign capital and investment. Guangzhou is home of the Chinese Export Commodities Fair, better known as the “Canton Trade Fair.”

Guangzhou (Canton) is the largest city in southern China and the capital of Guangdong Province, which is the main point of entry to China from Hong Kong. Guangzhou is located on the southeastern coast in the Pearl River delta.

As the economic center of the delta, Guangzhou is one of the nation’s leading manufacturing and commercial areas. The city’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $92 billion in 2007, sixth among Chinese cities. Guangzhou has a long history of economic activity. As far back as the eleventh century, foreign traders settled in Guangzhou to trade spices and ivory for tea and silk. During the nineteenth century Guangzhou was further opened to the West when European nations imposed on China unequal trade treaties that gave traders from Europe access to Chinese markets. In addition to Guangzhou’s importance as a trading center, the city played a major role in the First Opium War (1839–1842), the Republican Revolution of 1911, and current political and economic reforms in China.

Guangzhou gained notoriety for another reason after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Residents of the city who had relatives living abroad were either punished or reeducated. Guangzhou residents were next attacked for their overseas family connections during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), this time by Red Guards. Residents who had relatives overseas were either harassed or persecuted for their contact with lifestyles deemed decadent. Guangzhou still has China’s largest population of people with relatives living abroad.

Guangzhou’s industry includes computers, petrochemicals, machinery, shipbuilding, sugar refining, textiles, household electrical appliances, light industrial products for daily use, rubber products, and garments. Local crops include rice, sugarcane, and fruit. Mineral resources include zinc, lead, limestone, coal, salt, copper, and iron.

Guangzhou, empowered by its liberal economic policies, has played a central role in the country’s recent modernization efforts, attracting foreign investment and capital. Western companies wanting to enter the Chinese market have established shops, factories, and hotels. But despite such investment, overseas Chinese investors account for most of the foreign capital.

Guangzhou is home of the Chinese Export Commodities Fair, which is more commonly known as the Canton Trade Fair. The fair, established in 1957, is held every April and October. The relevance of the fair has been in question, however, since China’s admittance to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 and the nation’s continuing economic reforms. In the past the fair offered the only place where representatives of Chinese state-owned enterprises and foreign companies could negotiate deals. But with the opening of China’s massive economy, the fair faces increasing competition from other provincial and municipal governments intent on hosting large-scale business and trade conventions.

Further Reading

Kirk, M. (Ed.). (2009). China by numbers 2009. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Victor, F. S. (Ed.). (1985). Chinese cities: The growth of the metropolis since 1949. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Yusuf, S. (1997). The dynamics of urban growth in three Chinese cities. New York: Oxford University Press.

Source: Leitich, Keith A.. (2009). Guangzhou (Canton). In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 952–953. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

An old illustration of Canton (Guangzhou).

Guangzhou (Canton) (Gu?ngzh?u ??)|Gu?ngzh?u ?? (Guangzhou (Canton))

Download the PDF of this article