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Guangzhou History

The city of Guangzhou (named Canton before 1980), capital of China’s Guangdong Province, traces its roots back to 214 B.C. with the creation of Panyu, the first known city to be built on its site. Panyu became the seat of theNanyue Kingdom in 206 B.C.

Since those early days, history suggests that Guangzhou has always been occupied land and a hub of foreign trade, characteristics that were evident throughout every dynasty and which remain to this day.

In 111 B.C., the Nanyue Kingdom was annexed by the Han Dynasty, and Panyu became its provincial capital. In 226 A.D., the city would also become the site of the Guang Prefecture, which is where the name Guangzhou came from.

It is interesting to note that the name Guangzhou actually referred to the prefecture and not the city, which was still officially named Panyu. However, everyone was so used to calling the city Guangzhou instead of Panyu that the name stuck. The name Guangzhou was then taken to refer to the walled city while Panyu was used to refer to the area just outside of the city’s walls.

During 758 A.D., Guangzhou was ravaged by Arab and Persian pirates. History books refer to that time as the Qianyuan era of the Tang Dynasty, when Emperor Suzong reigned. Around this time, Guangzhou became famous for its six banyan trees, thanks to the famous poet Su Shi who penned a poem entitled “Liu Rong” (Six Banyan Trees) when he visited the city during the Northern Song Dynasty. The poem referred to the six banyan trees that surrounded the city’s famed Baozhuangyan Temple. Since then, the temple has been known as the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees.

By the 16th century, Europeans had discovered Guangzhou and would regularly make sojourns there. The first of these Europeans were the Portuguese, who arrived in Guangzhou in 1511. Given its strategic location by the sea and its ideal position for foreign trade, Guangzhou was transformed into a Portuguese harbor. In 1557, the Chinese would overthrow the Portuguese monopoly of Guangzhou and would instead grant them the use of Macau as their trade base. From Macau, the Portuguese continued to monopolize international trade in the region until they were joined by the Dutch in the 17th century.

It would not be until 1683 when the Chinese would themselves engage in foreign trade, a development sparked byChina’s claim of control over Taiwan that year. Naturally, Guangzhou quickly became one of its key ports for commerce. By 1690, several nationalities were engaged in trade with the Chinese at the Guangzhou port. These included the Portuguese from Macau, Spaniards from Manila in the Philippines, and Armenians and Muslims from India. Also among the most active traders at the time were the French and English, through the British East India Company.

The Americans would jump onto the trade bandwagon in 1784 followed by the Australians in 1788. When the first Opium War between China and Britainended in 1842, the Treaty of Nanking was enacted, and it opened five Chinese treaty ports, including Nanking. (The other ports were Shanghai, Xiamen,Fuzhou and Ningbo.) This further spurred the city’s economic development. At that time, Guangzhou was such a prosperous hub of commerce that it was considered one of the top three cities in the world.

In 1918, the name “Guangzhou” finally became the city’s official name, thanks to the city’s first-ever urban council, which was established that same year. Meanwhile, the name “Panyu” was given to one of the counties to the south ofGuangzhou. The city was promoted to a municipality twice – in 1930 and 1953 – but this promotion was canceled both times.

In 1949, Communist forces came to Guangzhou and launched renewal projects the improved the standard of living. New houses were constructed among the Pearl River, providing shelter for the poor and homeless victims of the war.

During the late seventies, Deng Xiaoping came to power and put the city back on the road to economic growth, capitalizing on Guangzhou’s close proximity to Hong Kong.

The city’s low labor costs attracted manufacturers from Hong Kong and elsewhere, and they opened new plants inGuangzhou in the nineties. Moreover, beneficial tax reform further spurred the city’s economic development.

Guangzhou further expanded its borders in 2000 with the addition of Panyu and Huadu as districts and Zengcheng and Conghua as county-level cities.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 June 2013 11:34