Guangzhou

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In Guangzhou, as in many Chinese cities, the momentum for modern development remains strong throughout the older and newer parts of the city. Guangzhous old city consists of four districts: Yue Xiu, Li Wan, Dong Shan and Hai Zhu. In addition to containing a large number of historic sites, these districts also boast many modern shopping and entertainment facilities. Development of the newer Tian He and Bai Yun districts began largely after the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 and has continued to the present.

Yue Xiu District

Located in central Guangzhou, this district claims home to the citys most prestigious shopping street, Guangzhou Beijing Road -a shopping paradise. Near Beijing Road, there are two other famous shopping areas, Yang Zhong Womens Street and Gao Di Street, The Fashion Street. Both areas specialize in clothing and cosmetics, and attract women from across the country, who are drawn by the rich variety of products and who take advantage of the low prices. The business opportunities created here have brought these two shopping streets recognition as they gave rise to the first generation of the Chinese nouveau riche in the early 1980s. During this period, many employees working for government and state-owned companies left their jobs to set up small businesses.

Although it is heavily developed with shopping and entertainment amenities, the districts open Fu Qian Park offers visitors some breathing space and an opportunity to join the local Tai Chi practitioners. Nearby Yue Xiu Park is also a traditional tourist destination with its various historic sites.

Li Wan District

Situated on the western part of Guangzhou, this district is the citys most developed and is fittingly nicknamed "Guangzhou within Guangzhou." Shang Xia Jiu Road Shopping boasts itself as a popular destination. This street is tightly packed with many old-style businesses, which include the Guangzhou Restaurant, Lian Xiang Mansion (Lotus Scent Mansion) and Ou Cheng Ji Gallery. Shoppers can shop to their hearts content, but the architecture is also worth a look at. Historically noteworthy, with some elaborately decorated tile rooftops, Shang Xia Jiu Commercial Street is a charmer. Other reasons to come to Li Wan: women here are reputed to be the most beautiful in Guangzhou; and historically, a huge concentration of businessmen, officials and aristocrats have flocked to this district.

LI Wans other tourist attraction is Sha Mian Island, an islet in the Pearl River. Rented out to Westerners before China became independent in 1949, the heavily shaded island has a cluster of European-style buildings, including the United States' consulate. The White Horse Shopping Plaza and the Mediterranean Marketplace near the railway station form Guangzhous biggest wholesale clothing market, attracting many vendors from North China, who buy in bulk and stock up for their own shops and stalls. The Qing Ping Market is South Chinas biggest market for agricultural products, which include vegetables, flowers, grain, meat, seafood, Chinese medicinal herbs and pets, as well as antiques.

Dong Shan District

Located on the eastern side of Guangzhou, the majority of this district developed after the Peoples Republic of China was founded in 1949. Qu Zhuang and Tao Jin Keng (means 'Gold-digging Cave') are notable business areas in Guangzhou. Most foreigners live here in Guangzhou. The Friendship Store, World Trade Plaza and other popular shopping venues are here, as are almost all of Guangzhous famous bars. The bars usually stock an English magazine called Thats Guangzhou, which is free, and provides all you need to know about the local community and entertainment options in the big city.

Da Sha Tou District

Electrical applicance business occupy Da Sha Tou. Among them is the time-tested old favorite, Hai Yin Electrical Appliances City, which stocks a huge variety of goods. It also encourages customers to test their haggling skills. Besides new merchandise, bargain hunters can also find second-hand electrical appliances at budget prices.

Hai Zhu District

The Pearl River neatly divides Guangzhou, and south of the river is the Hai Zhu (Sea Pearl) District. Initially, Hai Zhu was home to the citys huge infrastructure of factories. Now, however, residential apartment blocks have replaced most of the factories. Partly in response to this newly created residential area, Chinas biggest market for bridal and evening gowns has sprouted along the northern section of the Jiang Nan thoroughfare.

Tian He District

Newly developed in the past 15 years, the Tian He District could easily be called Guangzhous Silicon Valley. The Gang Ding region is definitely making a name for itself as a producer of computer products and businesses, similar to the reputation enjoyed by the Zhong Guan Cun District in Beijing. Pacific Electronic Technology Square (The), New Concept Computer Town and Nan Fang Computer City all have their roots in this district. Together, they create South Chinas biggest computer market. Tian He City Plaza, Hong Cheng Plaza and Guangzhou Books Center are visibly enjoying a growing popularity in trade, as more visitors flock to sample the latest in shopping, food and entertainment. Many local youngsters head here for whats cool and new in computer games. The older generations, on the other hand, prefer quieter times, strolling through the citys parks and viewing the street-side flower displays.

Bai Yun District

Bai Yun Mountain (White Cloud) claims to be the rooftop of Guangzhou. Atop the mountain, enjoy a magnificent view of the citys buildings and skyscrapers. Besides the breathtaking scenery and many historic sites, a restaurant on the mountain top prepares bean curd made with mountain mineral water. This is a definite local treat, one which hikers take advantage of after scaling the mountain.

History of Guangzhou

Also known to many westerners as Canton, Guangzhou has long been one of South Chinas 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, willingly or otherwise, as a point of contact between China and the outside world, making it a breeding ground for new ideas, dissent and revolution. After neglect in the early days of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China, the city has recently re-established itself as an important national base for industry and trade.

Like any city with a sense of history, Guangzhou has its very own foundation myth. Legend has it that five gods descended from heaven astride goats, bringing with them five ears of corn to save the local population from starvation. Whatever the truth in this tale, it at least helps to explain one of the old names for the city: "Goat Town."

Folk tales aside, archaeological remains indicate that humans lived in the region now occupied by Guangzhou as long ago as 5000BC. Settlers from the Yang Tze River valley first introduced agriculture in 8th century BC. In 214BC, following his campaign of conquest and unification, Chinas first emperor, Qin Shi Hang, created the prefecture (an old administrative area) of Nan Hai, with Guangzhou as its administrative seat. By then, the city was already an important river and sea port. With this official recognition, it grew rapidly into a major regional center.

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. In particular, the Islamic population flourished, and by the end of the first millennium, the city had a foreign population of about 10,000. The first Europeans arrived in the early 16th century, with the Portuguese gaining a trade monopoly in 1511. The British broke this monopoly in the 17th century, and they were closely followed by the Dutch and the French, all seeking their share in the lucrative trade of tea, porcelain and silk. After 1760, all foreign trade in China was restricted to Guangzhou. In effect, the city had a virtual monopoly.

The popularity of foreign trade (and the foreigners' hunger to profit from it) sowed the seeds of decline for Guangzhou and eventually for all of imperial China. As early as the 1770s, the British, alarmed at an increasing trade deficit, started importing Indian opium through Guangzhou. This had the desired effect of redressing the balance of trade and slowing the flow of silver into Chinese hands, but caused widespread social problems inside China. Worried by these developments, the Qing government banned the opium trade, a decision British merchants chose to ignore.

In 1839, the Imperial High Commissioner, Lin Ze Xu, started an anti-opium campaign, impounding and destroying thousands of tons of the drug in Guangzhou. The British military used this as a pretext to dispatch a fleet, and the situation rapidly deteriorated into the conflict known as the "Opium War." In 1842, the two countries signed the Treaty of Nanjing (the first of many so-called "agreements" forced upon the Chinese by foreign powers), under which the island of Hong Kong was ceded to the British, and 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 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.

During the early 1920s, Guangzhou retained this rebellious streak, The city saw a number of protests led by students and workers against the continued foreign presence. Some of these demonstrations were met with violence from foreign troops, and more strikes were called in retaliation. Guangzhou even acquired the nickname "Red City" among some observers, an uncanny omen since one of the first communes in China was established here (albeit briefly) under Soviet guidance in 1927.

Guangzhous modern history continued to be turbulent. The city emerged as an important industrial base during the 1930s, but it was seized by Japanese marines in 1938 and remained under Japanese control druing the war. After the Japanese, Chiang Kai-sheks Nationalist forces occupied Guangzhou. In 1949, ruling powers changed hands once more. This time, the city fell to Communist troops under Lin Biao. Due to its strategic vulnerability, it was largely ignored in the central policy written up by Mao Ze Dong. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Guangzhou was one of the first cities earmarked for open market reforms under Deng Xiao Pings economic reform policies. Since then, Guangzhou has reclaimed its place as one of Chinas most prosperous and thriving cities.

 

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