Guangzhou: China's maritime gateway to the world since ancient times
Cao Chufeng

Editor's note: CGTN is running an "Along China's Great Rivers" series, which introduces the country's seven major waterways – the Yellow, Yangtze, Songhua, Haihe, Huaihe, Pearl and Lancang rivers – from the perspectives of the natural geography, local customs and significance to socioeconomic development. The following piece is about Guangzhou, the ancient trade hub at the Pearl River.

Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, was known as Canton in the old days. It lies at the estuary where the Pearl River flows into the South China Sea. Rated as a large port megacity, it plays an important role in China's foreign trade.

Blessed with a favorable geographical position, the city has been one of the country's major maritime gateways to the world since ancient times. It was a terminus of the maritime Silk Road, a historical sea trade route that began over 2,000 years ago.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the city was the only Chinese port accessible to most foreign traders for 85 years, and a village named Whampoa witnessed the prosperity of the trade at the time.

"In 1757, when Emperor Qianlong issued the imperial decree of 'Sole port for trade,' most ships from the West had to stop at Whampoa. According to statistics, from 1757 to 1838, 5,107 merchant ships stopped here," said Huo Cuifen, a docent from the Whampoa Anchorage Museum at the village.

Art pieces that were created as a result of foreign trade can be found at Whampoa Anchorage Museum. One such example is Canton Enamel.

"Canton Enamel was developed at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty as a result of foreign trade. Craftsmen used Western techniques to paint on the white porcelain," said Huo.

The venue for the China Import and Export Fair or the Canton Fair is also located along the Pearl River. First held in Guangzhou in 1957, it's China's oldest and largest trade fair.

"Choosing Guangzhou as the place to hold the Canton Fair shows the wisdom of our officials. Guangzhou has been a trade hub for thousands of years. The city is itself a brand when it comes to foreign trade," said Ding Shaodan, deputy director of the Secretariat of China Import and Export Fair.

Decades ago, most of the products at the Canton Fair were related to agriculture, and buyers were mostly from Hong Kong and Macao, which are now China's special administrative regions. Today, various kinds of products are seen at the fair, attracting hundreds of thousands of buyers from across the world every year.

Ding said changes at the Canton Fair also show the development of China's economic and international relations.

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