City of Pearls, and Dim Sum

NewsChina - - CONTENTS - By Hil­ton Yip

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

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