Guangdong or Kwangtung (both: gwängˈdŏngˈ) [key], province (2010 pop. 104,303,132), c.76,000 sq mi (196,891 sq km), S China. The capital is Guangzhou. On coastal islands and adjacent mainland territories are Hong Kong and Macao. The island of Hainan, once part of Guangdong, became a separate province in 1988. The hilly coastline is the longest of any province (constituting more than one fifth of the country's total coastline); the only real breaks to the interior are at Shantou on the Han River delta and at Guangzhou at the Pearl River delta. Inland transportation is good; before the 1950s water routes predominated, but now railroads and highways have taken over the freighting.
Between 15% and 20% of the province is under cultivation, primarily in the delta areas, which are among the most populous in China. There the climate is subtropical and the rainfall heavy most of the year. Two or three crops are generally harvested. Guangdong is the country's leading producer of sugarcane; rice and silk are other major crops, although the silk industry is no longer as important as it once was. Other commercial crops include hemp, tobacco, tea, tropical and subtropical fruits, and peanuts. Fishing in Guangdong accounts for about 20% of China's catch.
Guangdong has tungsten, iron, manganese, titanium, tin, lead, uranium, and bismuth deposits. Shale oil deposits are found in the south, and there is offshore drilling for oil; the province has several oil refineries. There are also lumber and paper mills, and food-processing, printing, cement, and fertilizer plants. The large handicraft industry, which once thrived on European trade, has dwindled, but the apparel and electronics industries grew significantly in the late 20th cent.
Guangzhou, an "open" economic city, is still the heart of the province, with a great range of manufactures. Zhanjiang, another "open" city, has grown significantly due to foreign trade and investment since the late 1970s. Three of the country's first four special economic zones were established in Guangdong, at Shantou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai. In early 1990s the province accounted for two thirds of China's exports; its portion has slowly decreased as economic development has increased in other provinces. The return of Hong Kong to China in the late 1990s, however, has spurred additional growth in areas of Guangdong near the Hong Kong border.
The Cantonese constitute the bulk of Guangdong's population, which is non-Mandarin speaking. The people of the province are known around the world; one half of the overseas Chinese are from Guangdong province.
The region, originally settled by Miao, Li, and Yao tribes, continually attracted migrating groups from the north; some (notably the Hakka) retained their own languages. Guangdong came under Chinese suzerainty during the unification under the Ch'in dynasty (c.211 B.C.), and was more firmly absorbed during the Han dynasty. Guangdong was the main scene of China's early foreign contact, chiefly through Guangzhou; there was trade with the west during the Roman Empire, trade with the Arabs during the T'ang dynasty, and European trade that originated during the 16th cent. with the Portuguese. Guangdong has been a center of revolutionary activity; there the Kuomintang was formed (1912) under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen, and there Chiang Kai-shek began his drive (1920s) for the unification of the country.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.