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Guangzhou History, China

The Many Lives of Guangzhou

Situated on the banks of the fabled Pearl River, Guangzhou's strategic location has cemented its place in history. In order to fully appreciate today's modern city you must first get acquainted with its storied past.

A Legend of Five Rams

Records from three thousand years ago document the existence of a walled settlement in the northern part of present day Guangzhou. The Pai Yueh people lived an agricultural existence under the Zhou Dynasty. Locals tell the story of five mystical beings carried by five celestial rams who came down from heaven to save the people from famine. The city was named Wu-Yang Chen or Five Ram City in their honor.

The Many Trials of Pan-Yu

In 211 BC the region was conquered by the Chinese and the city renamed Pan-Yu. It briefly gained prominence as the capital of the autonomous NanYue state - which also held sovereignty over Vietnam - but was later reassimilated under the Han. The succeeding centuries of Chinese rule would see Pan-Yu steadily gain size and influence while most of China felt the brunt of internecine conflict.

Pan-Yu was declared the capital of Guang Prefecture or Guang Zhou developing commerce textile and porcelain industries and foreign exchange. It enjoyed relations with nearby Middle Eastern and Indian cultures. No stranger to conflict its walls would be rebuilt dozens of times, but expansion would continue. The city now often referred to as Guangzhou, eventually earned fame as a trading port and would see the birth of China's first customs bureau which would factor greatly in times to come.

The Glory of Canton

In 1683 China's Qing government began encouraging foreign trade relations. Guangzhou's position skyrocketed as it enjoyed greater commerce from Europe and the Middle East. In an effort to maintain control, the government limited maritime trade to the port of Guangzhou which foreigners nicknamed Canton. The so-called 'Canton System' would catapult Guangzhou to become one of the world's greatest trading ports by the 18th century.

The Thirteen Factories controlled the entry of foreign goods into China through the CoHong or delegated traders. The growing demand for Chinese products such as silk, porcelain (china) and tea created a trade imbalance with England which resulted in the Two Opium Wars. Concessions after a crushing Chinese defeat would break the monopoly and the Cantonese port suffered a loss of status.

Say Hello to Guangzhou

Guangzhou would foster more strife birthing the anti-dynastic TaiPing rebellion. Amid the turmoil of partisanship, a beacon of hope would rise in the form of its most famous son SunYat-Sen. From the mid 19th to the early 20th century Sun would use the city as Kuomintang party headquarters to dream of a Nationalist China.

Many flocked to his cause but his death in 1925 plunged the cause into internal conflict. The Communist party gained prominence and would spearhead China into the modern world. The Chinese government has developed Guangzhou into a formidable commercial and industrial powerhouse fully taking advantage of its strengths.

Like the legendary phoenix, Guangzhou has repeatedly risen from the ashes of strife growing in stature with each incarnation. Its rich history has created a city fully cognizant of its past and poised to achieve more in the future.

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