City of Pearls, and Dim Sum
Famously known as Canton in the past, Guangzhou is one of China's largest metropolises and the center of Cantonese culture on the Chinese mainland. While it lacks the great historical sights of Beijing and the glamour of Shanghai, Guangzhou boasts fascinating buildings, an impressive skyline and strong historical heritage.
Situated along the Pearl River, the massive city of over 13 million is the capital of Guangdong Province and a key part of a vast regional metropolitan area that also includes Foshan, Dongguan and Shenzhen. For centuries, Guangzhou was a key trading port that did business with Western, Asian and Arabian traders, and after the Opium War (1840 – 1842), one of several treaty ports. As such, it is no surprise that the city remains a strong commercial center that hosts China's largest trade fair, the Canton Fair, twice a year.
Most of this commercial power can be seen in the soaring skyscrapers in Zhujiang New Town, on the northern bank of the Pearl River. But travelers have cultural and architectural reasons to start their visits in Zhujiang, because this is where several fantastic examples of modern architecture are located like the Opera House, the city library and the provincial history museum. Designed by the late, great Iraqi-british architect Zaha Hadid and flanked by skyscrapers, the gray, irregular-shaped Opera House resembles a sleek starship from Star Trek.
Nearby, the Guangdong Museum is a boxshaped building meant to resemble an ancient Chinese treasure box while the Guangzhou Library is an attractive white building with slanted walls and a glass center. The museum features exhibits of Guangdong's various peoples and cultures, Chaozhou woodcarving, ceramics, and Duan inkstones. The museum's collection is decent but not as vast or interesting as its counterparts in Shanghai and Beijing.
Right across the river is the remarkable Canton Tower which rises 604 meters into the sky. As one of the tallest towers in the world, the needle-topped tower is a symbol of the city and is probably its most recognized structure. At night, it is lit up like a multicolored canvas.
Moving on from the new to the old, Guangzhou's oldest archeological site is the mausoleum of the Nanyue King, a ruler of the ancient kingdom that ruled Guangzhou in the Qin and Han dynasties between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Inside the mausoleum are a multitude of Nanyue artifacts, the centerpiece of which is the jade burial suit of a Nanyue King. While the museum is built upon the site of the tomb of a Nanyue King, you do not actually see the king. And to be honest, the museum could be improved with more English information and more attractive signs and layout.
Near the mausoleum is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, which commemorates the famous revolutionary who helped overthrow the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and is considered the “Father of the Nation.” Yuexiu Park lies above the hall, where the most well-known landmark is a statue of five goats, which refers to a legend of five deities that visited the city riding goats during a time of famine in ancient times, and then left rice, blessings and the goats behind to help the people. The park is the largest in Guangzhou and features gardens and artificial lakes.
But the most significant historical remnant of Guangzhou's past is Shamian Island. After the