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.
Guangdong borders the South China Sea and surrounds Hong Kong and Macau. 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 Emperor is far away and the mountains are high."
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 one of the richest provinces in China and does about a third of all China's exports
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 overseas Chinese, particularly those who emigrated before 1949, trace their roots to Guangdong, although many are from other coastal provinces such as Fujian or the area around Shanghai. 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.
| Eastern Guangdong |
the coastal area east of the Pearl River Delta including the prefectures of Shanwei, Jieyang, Shantou and Chaozhou
| Northern Guangdong |
the inland part of Guangdong including the prefectures of Yunfu, Zhaoqing, Qingyuan, Shaoguan, Heyuan and Meizhou
| Pearl River Delta |
"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. The region includes the prefectures of Jiangmen, Foshan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Shenzhen and Huizhou
| Western Guangdong |
the coastal area west of the Pearl River Delta including the prefectures of Zhanjiang, Maoming and Yangjiang
- Guangzhou - the capital of the province, largest city, economic and cultural center
- Dongguan - center for the garment trade, light manufacturing, and electronics, between Guangzhou and Shenzhen
- Qingyuan - popular among local travelers for its white-water rafting and hot springs.
- Shantou - on the coast North of Hong Kong, SEZ
- Shaoguan - located in northern Guangdong
- Shenzhen - boom town on border with Hong Kong, SEZ
- Zhongshan - Hometown of the revolutionary father of modern China, Sun Yatsen, and now a major industrial city southwest of Guangzhou
- Zhanjiang - in the West, near Hainan
- Zhuhai - fast growing town on border with Macau, SEZ
Shenzhen. Zhuhai and Shantou are Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where various government programs encourage investment.
- 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 historic language of most of the region is Cantonese which differs from Mandarin as much as French differs from Italian or Spanish. Cantonese people are extremely proud of their language (this applies in Hong Kong as well) and 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.
Note that there can be significant dialectal variations within Cantonese, and the Cantonese spoken in areas in the far Western reaches of Guangdong (e.g. Taishan) are only marginally, or sometimes even not mutually intelligible with the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong or Guangzhou. Cantonese is also the native language of the neighboring northeastern part of Guangxi province. Nevertheless, the Guangzhou dialect of Cantonese is considered to be the prestige dialect, and is generally understood throughout the Cantonese-speaking areas.
At the coastal areas near the border with Fujian, most notably Chaozhou and Shantou, a language called Teochew (the native pronunciation of Chaozhou) is spoken. Teochew is not mutually intelligible with Cantonese or Mandarin, but is to a small extent mutually intelligible with the Xiamen dialect of Minnan.
Certain parts of the province are also home to Hakka communities whose Hakka dialect is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin or Teochew and only slightly with Cantonese.
There are several large modern airports in the region: Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, Hong Kong International Airport and Macau have many international flights; Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou cater almost entirely for domestic Chinese flights.
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.
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. Busses 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.
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
- Qingxin Hot Springs in Qingyuan
- Hailing Island's Dajiao Bay in Yangjiang
- Nanling national forest park in Shaoguan
- The China Danxia landscape near Danxiashan are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
By visiting these destinations, a visitor can gain an understanding of China's history and culture as well as experience the customs and cultural differences both between their own culture and China and between Guangdong and other regions of China.
Guangdong has a 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.
The major cities of Guangdong are heavily infested with pickpockets, 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, and the whole of Fujian province which includes several world heritage sites and the lively city of Xiamen.