/kwahng"toong", kwang"-/; Chin. /gwahng"doong"/, n.
Older Spelling. Guangdong.

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Chinese (Wade-Giles)  Kuang-tung,  (Pinyin)  Guangdong,  
      sheng (province) of South China. It is the southernmost of the mainland provinces and constitutes the region through which South China's trade is primarily channeled. Kwangtung has one of the longest coastlines of any province and has an area of 76,100 square miles (197,100 square kilometres). It is bounded by the Chuang Autonomous Region of Kwangsi to the west, by the provinces of Hunan and Kiangsi to the north and Fukien to the northeast, and by the South China Sea and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to the south. One foreign holding remains on the coast of Kwangtung—the Portuguese territory of Macao. The capital is Canton (Wade–Giles: Kuangchou; Pinyin: Guangzhou).

      Historically Kwangtung and Kwangsi often were jointly governed. Kwangtung was first administered as a separate entity in AD 997; it was from this time that the term Kwangtung (Chinese: “Eastern Expanses”) began to be used. Kwangtung has its own physical and cultural identity. Its topography separates it somewhat from the rest of China, and this factor, together with its long coastline, its contact with other countries through its overseas emigrants, and its early exposure to Western influence through the port of Canton, has resulted in the emergence of a degree of self-sufficiency and separatism. Canton dominates the province to an unusual extent.

Physical and human geography
The land
      The surface configuration in Kwangtung is diverse, being composed primarily of rounded hills, cut by streams and rivers, and scattered and ribbonlike alluvial valleys. Together with the Kwangsi region, Kwangtung is clearly separated from the Yangtze River basin by the Nan Mountains, the southernmost of the three major Chinese mountain ranges running from east to west. The greater part of eastern Kwangtung consists of the southerly extension of the Southern Uplands, which stretch down from Fukien and Chekiang provinces. A series of longitudinal valleys running from northeast to southwest extends as far as the vicinity of Canton. Smooth, low hills cover about 70 percent of the province. Most peaks range in elevation from 1,500 to 2,500 feet (450 to 750 metres), with a few reaching 5,500 feet. Level land of any size is primarily found in the alluvial deltas, formed where rivers empty into the South China Sea.

      Of great extent and importance, the Pearl River Delta, measuring about 3,500 square miles, is marked by hilly outliers and by a labyrinth of canalized channels and distributaries totaling some 1,500 miles in length. The delta marks the convergence of the three major rivers of the Pearl River system—the Hsi (West), Pei (North), and Tung (East) rivers. The Pearl River is the name given to the lower course of the Hsi beyond the confluence. Entirely rain-fed, these rivers, which are subject to extreme seasonal fluctuations, collect so much water that, anomalously, the Pearl system discharges annually six and a half times as much water as the Huang Ho (Yellow River), although its basin area is only about half as large. Altogether, Kwangtung has some 1,300 large and small rivers. The Han (Han River) is the most important river outside the Pearl system. Other important rivers and lowlands are located in the southwest.

      In general, soils are poor, as high temperatures and plentiful rainfall result in podzolization (bleaching) and leaching. Almost all of western Kwangtung is covered with mature red soils, whereas the rest of the province is covered with a mixture of old and young red soils that usually have been subjected to a high degree of podzolization. In the wettest and hottest parts of Kwangtung, lateritic (heavily leached, iron-bearing) soils are common; like the red soils, they do not resist erosion and require substantial fertilization in their cultivation. Yellow soils are found in the wettest and coolest parts of Kwangtung, occurring in small pockets of flatland with imperfect drainage.

      Of more limited distribution but of greater economic significance are the alluviums deposited in the river valleys and deltas. As a result of the cultivation of rice, the alluviums have developed special morphological characteristics, the most striking of which is the formation of iron hardpans (hard impervious layers composed chiefly of clay) in the zone of the fluctuating water table.

      Since much of Kwangtung lies south of the Tropic of Cancer, it is the only Chinese province with tropical and subtropical climates. The average July temperature in the Hsi Valley, which is from 82° to 86° F (28° to 30° C), is little different from temperatures in the lower Yangtze and on the Huang Ho, but the average January temperature is considerably higher, ranging from 55° to 61° F (13° to 16° C). Except at higher elevations, frost is rare, so that almost the entire province lies within the area where two crops of rice can be grown. True winter does not occur in the province, but the hot summer varies in length from about 10 months in the south to six months in the north.

      The rainfall regime shows a pronounced summer maximum, with the rainy season lasting from mid-April, when Kwangtung starts to be dominated by moisture-laden tropical air masses from the Equator and the Indian Ocean, until mid-October. More than half of the total precipitation falls between June and August. The months between July and September form the main typhoon season, which ordinarily is accompanied by heavy rains and widespread destruction. The driest period is from December to February. Kwangtung's annual rainfall is approximately 60 to 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 millimetres), decreasing with distance from the coast to the northwest but increasing with altitude and exposure to the prevailing summer monsoon winds.

Plant life
      Abundant moisture, moderate to high temperatures, and variegated physiography support luxuriant and highly diversified plant growth. Broad-leaved evergreen forests, intermixed with coniferous and deciduous trees, originally covered much of the land, while a more tropical type of vegetation predominates on the south coast. With the exception of the more remote mountainous areas, much of this natural vegetation cover has been stripped by fire and by the use of trees and shrubs for fuel. This circumstance, together with millennia of uninterrupted cultivation, has resulted in much of the natural vegetation now taking the form of secondary forests of hardwoods and horsetail pine. On the more severely eroded hills, coarse grasses and ferns have taken hold. Bamboo groves, varying greatly in height and extent, are widespread, particularly in humid river valleys. The most productive and least disturbed forests cover the mountainous areas. Certain trees, notably camphor, have been revered and protected for centuries and are found around grave plots and cultivated fields. Since 1949 massive afforestation programs have been undertaken. In the highlands, where coniferous and deciduous species thrive together, the broad-leaved evergreen forests are characterized by tropical oaks, tan oaks (oaks that yield tannin), and chestnut oaks (or chinquapins). The more significant coniferous species of economic value include horsetail pine, Chinese fir, and Chinese hemlock. Some of the species of cypress and pine are little known outside China. Truly tropical monsoon rain forests are common in the south.

Animal life
      Among the mammals found in Kwangtung are many tropical bats, and squirrels, mice, and rats of many species are abundant. Insectivores are generally more diverse than in other regions of China, and carnivores are exemplified by civet cats and small-clawed otters. Types of birds vary according to habitat. In the tropical forest, wildfowl, peacocks, and silver pheasants are common. Reptiles are more restricted in distribution. Kwangtung has a number of pit vipers, including the huge and deadly Chinese vipers and bamboo vipers, as well as nonpoisonous pythons, which are up to 20 feet long. Insects of every description—crickets, butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, cicadas, and beetles—are found in profusion. Amphibians include ground burrowers and many types of frogs and toads.

      Tigers, rhinoceroses, panthers, wolves, bears, and foxes once roamed the hills of Kwangtung, but their numbers have been decimated by forest fires and persistent deforestation; they are now considered to be extinct in the area. In the tropical monsoon forest, however, a great number of animals, many of which live in the trees, still remain.

Settlement patterns
      Most of the people of the province live in villages, which remain the basic functional units in the countryside. Population distribution bears almost a one-to-one correlation with agricultural productivity. The greatest numbers of villages are in the fertile river deltas and along the waterways. To an even greater extent, towns and cities are located in the deltas and coastal areas and along major communication lines. The most highly urbanized area within the province is the Pearl River Delta, where almost two-thirds of the population lives in urban areas. Kwangtung is a relatively highly urbanized province for China, with about one-fifth of its population being classified as urban. The urban hierarchy is headed by Canton. It is far greater in size than the second largest city, Swatow (Shan-t'ou). Other important municipalities include Shao-kuan, Chiang-men, and Chan-chiang. Canton and Chan-chiang have been designated “open” coastal cities and have become central to the planning of the province's economic future.

The people
      Kwangtung is populated largely by the Han (Chinese), the other ethnic minorities totaling only a tiny portion of its population. The Yao (Mien) are the largest ethnic minority in Kwangtung and are concentrated principally near its northwestern border in autonomous counties. A heavily Sinicized group, the Chuang-chia (Zhuang), live in Lien-shan, and the She live in the northeast around Ch'ao-an. The Ching were transferred to Kwangsi in 1965, when the multinational Tung-hsing Autonomous County in extreme southwestern Kwangtung changed its provincial jurisdiction. The so-called Tan, or Tanka, the Boat People, are not officially designated as a national minority. Whereas some scholars believe they are descendants of aborigines, others regard them as simply a people who live on boats and speak Cantonese. They generally live along the rivers in the Pearl Basin as well as along the coast.

      The relative ethnic homogeneity prevailing in Kwangtung stands in contrast to the great diversity of dialects. By far the most important dialect is Cantonese (Cantonese language), spoken in central and western Kwangtung. There is considerable variety among the Cantonese speakers, but the form spoken in Canton is generally regarded as the standard. Hakka (Hakka language) is another important dialect; it predominates in the north and northeast of the province. Offshoots of Hakka are common in central Kwangtung. A third major dialect, Min-nan (or south Fukien dialect), is spoken mostly along an eastern coastal area centred on Swatow.

      In addition to these Han dialects, there are the languages and dialects of the ethnic minorities. New scripts have been created for a number of these languages. They not only are taught in minority-area schools but also are used in conjunction with Chinese in official communications in minority communities.

The economy
      The economic foundation of Kwangtung is primarily agriculture. Rice is the leading crop. Since less than one-fifth of the land is under cultivation, agriculture is of necessity extremely intensive; but the limited extent of sown land available is partly offset by repeated use of it. Progress in irrigation and flood control has made water control possible for almost all of the cultivated area, producing good rice yields. Farming and irrigation have become increasingly mechanized, with more reliance placed on the use of chemical fertilizers.

      Two crops of rice a year can be grown on most cultivated land, and in the Pearl River Delta three crops are not unusual. Thus, although average yields per harvest are below the national average, annual yields exceed the average. Although food-grain crops occupy almost all of the total cultivated area, the industrial and fruit crops grown on the remaining land are of national importance. Kwangtung annually produces much of China's total output of sugarcane. In tropical Kwangtung, a number of industrial crops are successfully raised, including rubber, sisal, palm oil, hemp, coffee, and black pepper. Other traditional agricultural products include sweet potatoes, peanuts (groundnuts), and tea. No less than 300 types of fruits are grown, among the more representative of which are citrus, litchi, pineapples, and bananas.

      Kwangtung, with its long coastline, produces about one-fifth of China's fish. Fish production accounts for as much as one-third of the income of some localities. More than 400 species of saltwater fish, including yellow croaker, white herring, mackerel, golden thread, and pomfret, are caught from numerous fishing ports.

      In the first half of the 20th century Kwangtung experienced modern growth as Canton developed into an industrial, commercial, and transportation centre. But because of the paucity of its iron deposits, Kwangtung received only scant attention during the First Five-Year Plan (1953–57). The discovery of other mineral deposits, however, prompted the development of some heavier industries, including metal and petrochemical processing, the manufacture of machinery, and shipbuilding and ship repairing. A large proportion of these industries is still concentrated in Canton.

      Coal reserves and manganese deposits are located on the Lei-chou Peninsula; quantities of oil-shale deposits have also been discovered there. Tungsten, which is associated with bismuth, molybdenum, and tin deposits, is mined near the Kiangsi border, where uranium is also found. The province also produces some lead and antimony.

      Light industry has always been of significance in the province. Apart from handicrafts, light industry—especially food processing and the manufacture of textiles—accounts for about two-thirds of industrial production. Almost all of the major light industries are located in the Pearl River Delta. The largest and most widespread industry is rice milling, which takes place in nearly every county and municipality. Kwangtung's light industrial production has grown dramatically, partly because of the province's level of exports. Kwangtung has been given special authority to develop trade and investment ties with other countries; three of China's first four special economic zones were established in the province.

      Economically and culturally, the different regions of Kwangtung are linked by the waterways of the Pearl River system. In addition, a number of coastal and international shipping routes are variously linked to more than 100 large and small ports. The leading ports, including Huang-p'u (Canton's seaport), Chan-chiang, and Swatow, are of national significance. Water transport accounts for more than two-fifths of Kwangtung's total traffic tonnage. The waterways are maintained by continually dredging, widening, and clearing channels.

      Connections with other provinces depend principally on land transportation. Kwangtung has developed the best highway network in China, running primarily along river valleys. Interprovincial links, both for highways and railroads, usually run north–south. The vital Canton–Han-k'ou railroad was double-tracked in the early 1960s. The low priority placed on east–west transport is indicated by the absence of a railroad running parallel to the Hsi River and by the fact that the Canton–Chan-chiang line was only opened in 1963.

      Kwangtung provides a crucial link in China's domestic and international civil aviation routes. Air services connect the province to numerous international cities. To cope with the increasing traffic, Canton's Pai-yün airport has been enlarged and modernized.

Administration and social conditions
      The administrative system in Kwangtung has undergone many changes since 1949. Autonomous administrative units were established in the early 1950s for areas with large ethnic minority populations. The status of Canton was changed in 1954 from a centrally administered municipality (t'eh-pieh-shih) to a prefecture-level municipality (shih) under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. In addition to the municipality of Canton, Kwangtung is subdivided into seven other prefecture-level municipalities and three prefectures (ti-ch'ü). Kwangtung is further divided into counties (hsien). Rural administration was reorganized in 1958 when communization replaced the administrative villages, market towns, and municipal districts. In 1980–81 the government implemented a policy of greater decentralized economic management, and the communes lost their administrative role.

      Education, health, and other social conditions in Kwangtung have generally been improved since 1949. There are now many more kindergartens and nurseries for preschool education, secondary schools, and post-secondary schools and universities. Repeated campaigns have succeeded in reducing illiteracy throughout the province. Special attention has been given to the education of the ethnic minorities. New schools, including a national minority college, have been established in minority communities.

Health and welfare
      In general, hospitals, clinics, and many health stations, including maternity centres, are available at the local level. Better equipped and better staffed hospitals are maintained at the county and provincial levels. Medical education has been greatly expanded and includes a college devoted to Chinese medicine (acupuncture and herbal medicine). Many short-term medical-training classes are organized for health workers assigned to rural areas. The development of medical services, coupled with the general improvement in sanitation and health education, has succeeded in eliminating many previously common diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and filariasis.

Cultural life
      Kwangtung has long been noted for the distinctive cultural traits of its people, as evidenced by the variety of dialects spoken. Kwangtung is famous for its two types of local opera: the Yüeh Opera and the Ch'ao Opera, which are popular among the Cantonese and Fukienese communities, respectively. Kwangtung also has some characteristic puppet plays. The hand puppets of Canton are distinguished by their size—they are between three and four feet high—and by the beautiful carving of their wooden heads. Many places in Kwangtung have distinctive forms of folk art; examples are the woodcuts of Ch'ao-an and the stone engravings of Shun-te.

      Cantonese food is widely recognized as among the best in China. Living in a coastal province, the people are particularly fond of seafood. Especially in winter, the “big-headed fish” (tench) is often served raw in a fish salad—a departure from habitual Chinese culinary practice. Some other food habits, such as the eating of newborn rats, monkey's brain, and fried snake, are regarded as revolting by most Chinese in other provinces. Chinese who have returned from Southeast Asia have popularized the chewing of betel nut wrapped in Celosia (cockscomb) leaves.

      Ancestor worship, folk religions, and all the institutional religions of Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islām coexist in the province, as they do in most places in China. Among these religions, ancestor worship has the most pervasive influence. Although some folk religions are national in outlook, others are of a more regional or local character, such as the worship of the goddess of fishing and navigation, T'ien-hou Sheng-mu. With the possible exception of Muslims and Christians, people in Kwangtung are polytheistic, visiting temples or priests of different faiths as occasions demand.

      Kwangtung is a province where lineage—an important social institution in China—has been emphasized. The importance of ancestry is often reflected in the settlement pattern of lineage groups. The inhabitants of many villages belong exclusively to one or two lineages. In such villages, community and lineage organizations are virtually identical. Conflicts between lineages were once common and often took the form of community strife, with bitter vendettas sometimes lasting for long periods of time.

      With the founding of the new regime in 1949, systematic efforts were made to change these cultural patterns in accordance with governmental ideology and policy, although in the early 1980s limited religious practice was again allowed. On the other hand, many aspects of traditional culture, especially the folk arts and the theatre, were revived and extolled.

      Physically separated from the early centres of Chinese civilization in North China, Kwangtung was originally occupied by non-Han ethnic groups. It was first incorporated into the Chinese empire in 222 BC, when Shih huang-ti, first emperor of the Ch'in Dynasty, conquered the area along the Hsi and Pei river valleys down to the Pearl River Delta. In 111 BC Chinese domination was extended to the whole of what is now Kwangtung, including Hai-nan, by Wu-ti of the Han Dynasty. The conquest, however, was not followed by successful colonization, and Kwangtung remained part of the empire only politically.

      During the five centuries of the Sui, T'ang, and Pei (Northern) Sung dynasties, from AD 581 to 1127, the military and agricultural colonization of Kwangtung gradually took place. This colonization, combined with increasing overseas trade channeled through Canton, led to an increase of migration into Kwangtung and to the emergence of Canton as a metropolis with a population of hundreds of thousands. At the end of the period, however, Kwangtung was still occupied predominantly by its original ethnic population. The region was viewed as a semicivilized frontier, and disgraced officials often were exiled there.

      The southward thrust of the Han was greatly intensified from 1126, when the Juchen of the Chin dynasty captured the Pei Sung capital at what is now K'ai-feng, forcing the Sung to migrate south. Another major population movement followed a century and a half later as China fell to the Mongols. These migrations marked the beginning of effective Han occupation and the rapid cultural development of Kwangtung. Especially after the 16th century the growth of population was so fast that, by the late 17th century, Kwangtung had become an area from which emigration took place. Migrants from Kwangtung moved first to Kwangsi, Szechwan, and Taiwan and then in the mid-19th century began to pour into Southeast Asia and North America, and some were also taken as indentured labourers to British, French, and Dutch colonies.

      Since the mid-19th century, Kwangtung has produced a number of prominent political and military, as well as intellectual, leaders. Many of the leaders of political movements during this period—such as Hung Hsiu-ch'uan, leader of the Taiping Rebellion (1850–64); K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao of the Reform Movement (1898); and Sun Yat-sen, who led the republican revolution of 1911–12—had associations with Kwangtung.

      In the 1920s Chiang Kai-shek made Canton the base from which his program to reunify China under Nationalist (Nationalist Party) rule was launched. Foreign privileges in the city were reduced, and modernization of the economy was undertaken. The almost simultaneous rise of the Communist movement and the advent of Japanese aggression in the 1930s, however, thwarted the plans of Chiang and the Nationalists. From 1939 to 1945 the Japanese occupied Kwangtung Province. After World War II the conflict between the Communists and the Nationalists erupted into full-scale civil war and continued until the Communist victory in late 1949.

Yue-man Yeung Chen-tung Chang Victor C. Falkenheim

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Universalium. 2010.

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