Also known to many westerners as
Canton, Guangzhou has long been one of South-China principal cities. Its
position as a local power base and financial and commercial hub stretches back
over two millennia, while the area has been inhabited since Neolithic times.
Throughout history, it functioned, as a point of
contact between China and the outside world, making it a breeding ground for
new ideas and revolution.
Like any city with a sense of history, Guangzhou has its very own foundation
myth. Legend has it that five immortals descended from heaven astride goats,
bringing with them five ears of corn to save the local population from
starvation. Consequently Guangzhou boasts a lovely nickname, City of Rams/ Goat Town.
It is believed that the first city built at the site of Guangzhou was Panyu (the
locals pronounced this in Cantonese as Poon Yu) founded in 214 BC. The city has
been continuously occupied since that time. Panyu was expanded when it became
the capital of the Nanyue Kingdom in 206 BC.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-609BC), many foreign visitors to China made their
first stop in Guangzhou, and trade soon developed with Arab, Indian and Persian
merchants. After 1760, all
foreign trade in China was restricted to Guangzhou. In effect, the city had a
1842, Guangzhou became one of
five "treaty ports" open to unrestricted foreign trade.
During this period, Guangzhou established its reputation as a hotbed of
radicalism and rebellion. Hong Xiu Quan, the leader of the extraordinarily
bloody pseudo-Christian, anti-Qing "Tai Ping Rebellion" of the 1850s was a
Guangzhou local. He conducted early revolutionary activities in the city. Sun
Yat-sen, founder of the Republic of China and Chinese Nationalist Party, was also born nearby, and he
launched several failed coup attempts from Guangzhou. He eventually triggered
the protests that resulted in the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the
formation of the Republic of China in 1911.
In the late 1970s and
early 1980s, Guangzhou was one of the first cities earmarked for open market
reforms under Deng Xiao Ping's economic reform policies. Since then, Guangzhou
has reclaimed its place as one of China's most prosperous and thriving cities.
Reforms by Deng Xiaoping, who came to power in
the late 1970s, led to rapid economic growth due to the city's close proximity
to Hong Kong and access to the Pearl River.