History of Guangzhou

The earliest name of Guangzhou was ‘Chu Ting’ which was derived from the 33rd year of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s rule. When the emperor unified Lingnan (the term that referred to the province and culture of Guangdong) and set up the Nanhai Eparchy in 214 BC, he based the administrative capital in Panyu, and in effect, Guangzhou was called Panyu during that period. In 226 AD, Sun Quan in his efforts to reinforce his rule transferred the administrative capital from Guangxin to Panyu. The name of the city took “Guang” from Guangxin, and soon enough, the name Guangzhou appeared and continued to be the name of the city until 1921.

Even before the arrival in 1514 of the Portuguese, the first Europeans to set foot in Guangzhou by sea, the city had already been maintaining ties with its neighbors, from as far west as Persia. With its strategic location along the Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou had trade ties with India, Persian Gulf, East Asia and Southeast Asia. There were quarters in the city where foreigners live, and by the 12th century there was even a sizable number of foreigners who lived in the city, many of them Persian women.

By 1517 the Portuguese founded a monopoly on trade along Pearl River and they were expelled and pushed back to Macau where they flourished starting in 1557. The quarters they left were called Cantão, a romanized term for Guangdong, and this started Canton, the Western name for Guangzhou.

The Spanish from the Philippines and Muslims from India were actively trading with the city and by the 1700s, the French and the English arrived through the Canton System, a system by China to control trade with the West in its favor. East India companies from Britain, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, the United States and Australia began trading with the city during that time, and by the mid-1700s and through the 1800s Guangzhou was touted as one of the top three cities in the world. Its chief products back then were porcelain, silk and tea.

One of the most prominent and controversial products coming from abroad was opium, which was produced by British East India Company and brought in by British and US traders from India. This substance was banned in China in the 1700s, but British traders managed to export opium to China in a complicated trading scheme that involved depending on legal markets, and to some extent smuggling them hidden on British ships and peddled into the mainland by local traders. The illicit component of the trade was its reaction to the imbalanced trade with China and the growing number of opium users in the country.

Realizing the harm that opium has brought to the Chinese, the Qing Empire again banned the opium trade in 1799, and ordered the seizure and destruction of all stock. The British retaliated, the Opium Wars ensued, and the Chinese lost that led to the Treaty of Nanjing. This led to the annexation of Hong Kong and opened up China and Guangzhou further, and the city essentially became the hotbed of Chinese politics and revolution. The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty in China and soon the Chinese Revolution led to the foundation of the Republic of China in 1911.

After the Japanese occupation, the Communist leadership under Deng Xiao Ping instituted economic reforms in the late 1970s that opened up Guangzhou once again to outside trade. Soon, the banks of the Pearl River saw the construction of numerous factories that attracted foreign businesses even more. With the ever-increasing cost of doing business in Hong Kong, Guangzhou offered a more cost-efficient alternative, and its nickname as the “Maritime Silk Road” was strengthened even more.

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