Port of Guangzhou
Review and History

The Port of GuangZhou (formerly Canton) is located on the Pearl River about 125 kilometers northwest of Hong Kong in the People’s Republic of China. It is a major seaport and South China’s most comprehensive port. The Port of GuangZhou is an important transport and economic hub for the Pearl River Delta region. In 2006, 7.6 million people lived in the GuangZhou City, and 9.8 million people lived in the metropolitan area surrounding the Port of GuangZhou.

Port History

The Port of GuangZhou’s earliest residents were the Pai Yueh people. As early as 1000 BC, there was a walled city known as Nan-wu Ch’eng in the northern part of today’s Ghanzhou. The mid-Yangtze Kingdom of Ch’u conquered the Port of GuangZhou in 887 BC and renamed it Wu-yang Ch’eng, or “City of Five Goats.” The Ch’in Dynasty made it the capital of their Nan-hai prefecture.

After the Chi’in Dynasty failed, the Port of GuangZhou became an autonomous state called Nan Yueh. In 111 BC, the Han Dynasty annexed Nan Yueh, assimilating the Yueh people for the next 300 years as they solidified their empire.

From the 3rd Century AD until the early 7th Century, the area remained a part of China’s area of influence while barbarians invaded North China. Canton grew and became rich during these years, and Hindu and Arab traders established vibrant communities in the Port of GuangZhou. Until the end of the T’ang Dynasty in the early 10th Century, the Port of GuangZhou was a peaceful, prosperous community. But when the Tang Dynasty fell, civil conflicts caused much damage.

The Sung Dynasty took power in 960 AD, and the Port of GuangZhou continued to grow to the point that it had to be expanded. In the late 11th Century, a second city wall was constructed to protect new settlements outside the old walls. With communities on two hills, the Port of GuangZhou began to be called P’an-yu (the name of GuangZhou’s county today). For 150 years, trade with Southeast Asia opened the way for later Chinese emigration, and many Chinese from North China moved into the region after the Mongol conquest. The Yuan rulers of the 13th and 14th Centuries encouraged a booming economy by maintaining Chinese-Mongol relations and supporting maritime trade.

The Port of GuangZhou was expanded and rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty from the late 14th to early 17th Centuries. The old towns on two hilltops were demolished and combined into one big walled city. An additional outer wall was constructed in 1535 to bring in new commercial areas on the north bank of the Pearl River. When Europeans brought an end to Arab superiority, the Portuguese sent representatives to Canton in the early 16th Century. Dutch and British envoys arrived in the Port of GuangZhou the 17th Century.

From 1644 until the early 20th Century, the Port of GuangZhou was ruled by the Manchu Dynasty who made it the capital of their Viceroyalty of Kawngtung and Kwangsi. In 1699, the British East India Company opened a commercial center, and the United States, France, the Netherlands, and other nations established similar communities. Trade continued unimpeded until the early 19th Century.

In the 1820s, conflict with foreign traders grew. Trade restrictions were onerous to foreign traders, and China would not engage in normal diplomatic relations with them. In 1839, China destroyed large amounts of opium that the British had brought in illegally.

The British retaliated by attacking Chinese positions within the Canton Estuary, beginning the Opium War that lasted until 1842. China suffered a humiliating defeat, and the Port of GuangZhou avoided destruction by paying a $6 million ransom. In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking with Great Britain opened the Port of GuangZhou, and the United States and France secured similar treaties in 1844.

Despite the treaties, there was much resentment against foreigners, and the Port of GuangZhou closed its gates until 1857. In 1856, a second Opium War broke out between Britain and France and China, and European forces occupied the Port of GuangZhou until 1861. While foreign imperialists occupied Canton, the Taiping Rebellion revealed deep anti-dynastic sentiments. Although the rebellion failed, two opposing forces agitated the Port of GuangZhou for the next 50 years as anti-Manchu and nationalist forces struggled for domination.

Canton citizen Sun Yat-sen cast a spell over the Port of GuangZhou from 1885 to 1925 and made it the base for his attempts to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty and establish a republic. The 1911 Canton Uprising opened a successful revolution. Headquarters for Sun’s party, the Kuomintang, the Port of GuangZhou was the base for struggles against China’s warlords from 1916 to 1925. In 1924, Sun reorganized his part and reactivated the Nationalist revolution, bringing many people to Canton, including many future leaders of the China’s Communist Party (including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Chiang Kai-shek).

Crushing opposition by the Canton Merchants Volunteer Corps and defeating the local warlords, Chiang took power in 1924. When Sun died in 1925, a power struggle began between the Nationalists and the Communists consumed the Port of GuangZhou. Chiang’s forces crushed a Communist coup in 1927, and Canton remained under official Nationalist control until 1937. However, the Port of GuangZhou was really controlled by local leaders who decried the Chiang dictatorship and threatened to secede from Nanking.

When war with Japan came in 1937, the Port of GuangZhou was an important target for air raids. The Japanese took the Port of GuangZhou in 1938 and held it until the end of World War II in 1945. When the Communists took control of China’s government in 1949, recovery efforts began for the Port of GuangZhou.

Today’s Port of GuangZhou grew from the Old Huangpu Port that was the starting port for the ancient ocean-based silk route. The Port of GuangZhou became a modern city despite difficult times during China’s Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution from the mid-1960s to 1976. Since the 1950s, industry and manufacturing have grown substantially in Canton.

Manufacturing of textiles, electronics, processed foods, newsprint, and firecrackers are an important part of the city’s economy. Heavy industries like shipbuilding and the production of iron and steel, chemicals, cement, and machinery also provide significant income. There are also many small plants manufacturing consumer goods. The Port of GuangZhou is well-known for hand-made items like jade and ivory carvings, fine embroidery, porcelain, paper umbrellas, and fans.

In the last decades of the 20th Century, foreign investors have contributed much to the Port of GuangZhou’s development, and it has become one of China’s most important tourist destinations. The Port of GuangZhou is extremely important to the city’s economy as well. It handles a wide variety of cargoes, including the area’s manufactured goods and coal, steel, ore, oil, fertilizers, and automobiles. The port is also important to the Port of GuangZhou’s booming tourism industry, providing passenger service to many cruise lines.

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