Saturday, 8 December 2012

Guangdong - Made in China

China is a big country!  Both in terms of its land area (third biggest in the world after Russia and Canada) but, more significantly, in terms of its population, currently more than 1.3 billion people.  I've already skirted around the edges of China, during my blog posts about Hong Kong and Xinjiang/Uyghuristan.  Guangdong 广东 (literally eastern expanse 广) is also a bit like, 'the other China' - the heartland of Cantonese culture and language, as opposed to the official Mandarin.  Guangdong is 'the south', far away from the northern cultures of Beijing and Shanghai.

The capital of Guangdong is Guangzhou, a city of 12.7 million people, bigger than London, Paris or New York.  If Guangzhou doesn't ring any bells, that's probably because it's better known in English as Canton.  A European mispronunciation of the Chinese name, Canton gives us the English word for the language, Cantonese.

Actually, Guangdong has twenty cities with more than one million people, most of which you'll never have heard of.  The next biggest ones are:

Shenzhen, Guangdong's main economic powerhouse: 10.3 million
Dongguan, home to the world's largest shopping mall: 8.2 million
Foshan, famous for its tradition of martial arts: 7.2 million
Zhanjiang, the 'French Hong Kong': 6.9 million
Jieyang, where people speak the Teochow dialect: 5.9 million
Maoming, a diverse city with large minority populations (Yao, Zhuang, Miao): 5.8 million
Shantou, the toy-manufacturing hub: 5.4 million

Guangzhou waterfront by Wilson Loo
Never heard of them? Well neither had I, until I started researching for this blog post!

Guangdong itself has a population of 104 million people!  If it was a country, it would be the 12th biggest country in the world, in terms of population, almost the equivalent of Mexico!  In terms of land area, Guangdong is about the same size as Cambodia

Coming from Ireland, with our meagre population of just over six million (the same as a medium-sized Cantonese city!), it's hard to get my head around the number of people who live in China!

There were approximately 4.6 million people in Ireland when I was born, in 1975 and Ireland's population has increased by about 36% in that time.  China's population has increased by about 47% in the same time period but, as I'm beginning to realise with China, it's all about scale and China's 47% increase means an extra 428 million people, which is twice the population of Indonesia (the world's fourth biggest country) or 1.5 times the population of the United States!

Shenzhen skyline by Wilson Loo
The Chinese government has been trying to deal with population growth via its well-known 'one-child policy', which is especially relevant to people living in one of China's many giant cities.  The government states that a further 400 million births were prevented as a result of the 'one-child policy' between its inception in 1979 and the time of the statement, in 2011.  It's a weird thing to try to calculate, when you think about it, counting 'people who were never born'? 

Approximately 20% of the world's population (1 in 5 people) is Chinese (literally made in China!) Another interesting statistic, and something I didn't realise before now, is that 90% of China's population lives on 1/5 of Chinese territory, mostly in industrial coastal regions like Guangdong and in places like China's most populous city/state, Chongqing.  So there is a whole 4/5 of Chinese territory where a mere 10% of the population lives.  That's still 130 million people though, which is equivalent to the population of Russia or Japan!

Shenzhen modern building by Wilson Loo
Guangdong's second-biggest city, Shenzhen, didn't really exist when I was born - it was established as China's first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1979 and, since then, has seen its population grow to 12 million people.  Admittedly, about half of Shenzhen's population is composed of migrant workers, who return to their villages at the weekend.  Nevertheless, it's interesting to think that, in my life-time, a city of 12 million people can 'suddenly' appear, as if out of nowhere!

It's quite a challenge taking on Guangdong and I'm sure I'll only really manage to scratch the surface of this fascinating Chinese province.  Hopefully my research will help me unlock some of the mystery that is China!

Image credits:

For this blog post, I want to highlight the photography of fellow flickr member, Wilson Loo, who is originally from Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, but currently lives in Singapore.  You can see Wilson's Chinese photos on his photostream.  Thanks Wilson for sharing these photos with us, using the Creative commons license. 

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