In the era of tea clippers, both Guangdong and its capital Guangzhou were often referred to on maps and in spoken English as Canton. This usage continues today but to a much lesser extent with the transliterated Chinese name being used instead. Other versions no longer used include Kwangtung. The food and language of the area are still known as Cantonese. Much of what is associated with overseas Chinese food and culture has its origins here.
Guangdong borders the South China Sea and surrounds Hong Kong and Macau. Long a provincial backwater, the province's economic fortunes changed dramatically when Deng Xiaoping initiated economic reforms in 1978. Home to three of the country's Special Economic Zones (marked "SEZ" below, see List of Chinese provinces and regions for an explanation) and to a burgeoning manufacturing industry, Guangdong is now the richest province in China. It is also the most populous Chinese provinces, with approximately 110 million people, more than all but ten countries.
The major cities in Guangdong have been magnets for migrant workers from poor inland provinces since the 1980s. In many cities this has led to problems with petty crime and homelessness. It also means that Mandarin is increasingly widely spoken and many taxi drivers or service staff are more conversant in Mandarin than the local versions of Cantonese.
Many overseas Chinese, particularly those which emigrated before 1949, trace their roots to Guangdong, although many are from other coastal provinces such as Fujian or the area around Shanghai. The Chinese food most familiar to Westerners is basically Cantonese cooking, albeit sometimes adapted for the customers' tastes.
Guangdong has a subtropical climate. Annual rainfall averages 1500-2000 millimeters and temperature averages 19C - 26C. Summers are very hot, humid and wet and there may be typhoons. By May the temperature gauge is easily in the 30's with the humidity and air pollution making feel even hotter. The best time to visit Guangdong is in the Spring or Autumn.
Shenzhen. Zhuhai and Shantou are Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where various government programs encourage investment.
The historic language of the region is still Cantonese which differs from Mandarin as much as French differs from Italian or Spanish. Cantonese or Guangdongren people are extremely proud of their language (this applies to neighboring Hong Kong as well) and continue to use it widely despite endless efforts at Mandarinization. Cantonese itself is more closely related to the language of the great Tang Dynasty than the more modern (circa Yuan Dynasty) Mandarin. Cantonese people worldwide thus tend to refer to themselves as "Tong Yan" (People of the Tang in Cantonese) rather than Han, the standard appellation for all ethnic Chinese. Note that there can be significant dialectal variations within Cantonese itself, and the Cantonese spoken in areas in the far Western reaches of Guangdong (and neighboring eastern Guangxi Province as well) (eg. Taishan) are only marginally, or sometimes even not mutually intelligible with the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong or Guangzhou. Cantonese is also the native language of the neighboring northeastern part of Guangxi province. Nevertheless, the Guangzhou dialect of Cantonese is considered to be the prestige or standardized dialect, and is generally understood throughout the Cantonese-speaking areas. Note that in Hong Kong, Cantonese enjoys official status.
At the coastal areas near the border with Fujian, most notably Chaozhou and Shantou, a variant of Minnan known commonly as Teochew (the native pronunciation of Chaozhou) is spoken. Teochew is not mutually intelligible with Cantonese, but is to a small extent mutually intelligible with the Xiamen dialect of Minnan.
Certain parts of the province are also home to Hakka communities, and they speak the Hakka dialect, which is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin or Teochew. However the Hakka dialect is partially intelligible with Cantonese.
The area is also well connected to the rest of China by road and rail.
There are also many ports, mainly container ports handling massive freight traffic (2.4 million tons in 2003), but with some passenger services. In particular, there are ferries (mostly fast hydrofoils) connecting Hong Kong and Macau with the neighboring Guangdong cities Shenzhen and Zhuhai, and some even run upriver to Guangzhou. See the city articles for details.
As elsewhere in China, there is an extensive rail network; Guangzhou is one of the major hubs. Rail is the main means of inter-city travel for the Chinese themselves, and many visitors travel that way as well. The system now includes fast bullet trains on some routes; unless your budget is very tight, these are the best way to go — fast, clean and comfortable.
All the major cities have airports with good domestic connections; some have international connections as well. See the individual city articles for details.
There is also an extensive highway network, much of it very good. Busses go almost anywhere, somewhat cheaper than the trains. See the China article for more. Driving yourself is also possible, but often problematic; see Driving in China.
These are some tourists' hot spots when they visit Guangdong:
By visiting these destinations, a visitor can gain an understanding of China's history and culture as well as experience the customs and cultural differences both between their own culture and China and between Guangdong and other regions of China.
Guangdong has a many restaurants, with Guangzhou in particular having a reputation as a diner's paradise. Other than sit-down restaurants, bustling night markets provide an eclectic mix of inexpensive finger foods, snacks, and delicacies. These markets are filled with shops and food carts integrating the eating and window-shopping experiences. Night markets are usually very crowded with both tourists and locals.
The major cities of Guangdong are heavily infested with pickpockets, and anyone who does not look Chinese is a prime target. For some info on defenses, see pickpockets.
As with everywhere else in Mainland China, prostitution is illegal but common. However the city of Foshan is the only jurisdiction in Mainland China that legalizes prostitution. But only erotic massages or Happy Endings is legal. Homosexual prostitution is illegal and is known to be prosecuted.