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Guangdong

Guangdong (formerly spelled "Kwangtung") is a province on the southern coast of the People's Republic of China. It is bordered to the west by Guangxi, to the northwest by Hunan, to the northeast by Jiangxi, and to the east by Fujian. In addition, the island of Hong Kong is located directly below the province, and the island province of Hainan is located further southwest, a short distance away in the South China Sea.

Guangdong, located remote from the centers of power in Chinese civilization, enjoyed a measure of independence that attracted European colonialists and bred Chinese revolutionaries. Prior to the modernization program inaugurated with the "rich is beautiful" movement in China during the early 1990s, Guangdong catapulted into the number one economy among the China provinces. The birth place of the Republic of China, along with its proximity to the economic powerhouse Hong Kong, places Guangdong in an excellent position to lead the democratization and free enterprise movement sweeping across China.

Geography

Guangdong faces the South China Sea to the south and has a total of 4,300 km of coastline. Leizhou Peninsula is on the southwestern end of the province, and is home to a few inactive volcanoes.

Lake in Zhaoqing, Guangdong
Lake in Zhaoqing, Guangdong

The province is geographically separated from the rest of northern China by a few mountain ranges collectively called the Southern Mountain Range (). The highest point in the province is about 1,600 meters above sea level.

The Pearl River Delta is the convergent point of three upstream rivers: the Dongjiang River, the Beijiang River, and the Xijiang River, and the delta is also filled with hundreds of small islands.

Guangdong has a humid subtropical climate (tropical in the far south), with short, mild, dry, winters and long, hot, wet summers. Average daily highs in Guangzhou in January and July are 18C (64F) and 33C (91F) respectively, although the humidity makes it feel much hotter in summer. Frost is rare on the coast but may happen a few days each winter well inland.

Shun Hing Square, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China

Shun Hing Square, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China

Economy

After the communist takeover and up until the start of the Deng Xiaoping reforms in 1978, Guangdong was an economic backwater, although a large underground, service-based economy has always existed. Economic development policies encouraged industrial development in the interior provinces, which were weakly linked to Guangdong via existing transportation links. The government's policy of economic autarchy made Guangdong's access to the ocean irrelevant, because all of the economic development was taking place within the interior.

Flower market, Chencun, Foshan, Guangdong, China
Flower market, Chencun, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Deng Xiaoping's open-door economic policy radically changed the economy of the province, as it enabled it to take advantage of its access to the ocean, proximity to Hong Kong, and historical link to the overseas Chinese population. In addition, until the 1990s, when the Chinese taxation system was reformed, the province benefited from the relatively low rate of taxation placed on it by the central government due to its historical status of being economically backward.

Although Shanghai is often cited as evidence of China's success, Guangdong's economic boom exemplifies the reality of the vast labor-intensive manufacturing powerhouse China has become, and all the rewards and shortcomings that come with it. Guangdong's economic boom began in the early 1990s and has since spread to neighboring provinces, while also pulling their populations inward.

In terms of agriculture, rice is the leading crop in the province, occupying roughly 76 percent of the total cultivated area and accounting for over 80 percent of Guangdong's total food production. Besides rice, the other main crops are fruits and vegetables. Among the 200 varieties of fruit grown in Guangdong are pineapples, bananas, lychees, longans, and oranges.

In addition to agriculture, the province also utilizes its access to the sea through an extensive network of interconnected waterways that houses numerous reservoirs and fish ponds. Guangdong's marine breeding areas cover 780,000 hectares and it also has 430,000 additional hectares of freshwater breeding areas.

Besides agriculture and marine products, the provincial economy is largely based on its light and heavy industries. Apart from handicrafts, some of Guangdong's light industry includes food processing, textiles, sugar refining, silk filature, (the reeling of silk from cocoons) and weaving. Guangdong's heavy industry sectors include mining, metal processing, machinery, shipbuilding and ship repair, and the production of hydroelectricity.

Guangdong is now one of the richest provinces in the nation, with the highest GDP among all the provinces. However, wage growth has only recently begun to rise, due to a large influx of migrant workers from neighboring provinces. Its nominal GDP for 2005 was 2.17 trillion yuan (US$267.6 billion), a rise of 12.5 percent on a year-to-year basis and is expected to reach 2.58 trillion yuan (US$329.67 billion) by the end of 2006, a rise of 14 percent from 2005. Guangdong's primary, secondary, and tertiary industries were worth 137.46 billion yuan, 1.08 trillion yuan, and 957.94 billion yuan respectively.

Currently, Guangdong is also home to three of the six Special Economic Zones in China: Shenzhen, Shantou and Zhuhai. While the increased affluence of Guangdong has been a remarkable story, the wealth has not been distributed evenly across the entire province, and still remains very much concentrated near the Pearl River Delta. Like in other parts of China, the rural inland areas in Guangdong have not benefited as strongly from the economic boom of the past few decades, and the disparity between the rich and poor throughout the province has increased, following a nation-wide trend.

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