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From the series Cities of China

My first trip to China was in 1979, on a summer internship. That year, China was in the beginning stages of the “opening and reform” movement, launched by Deng Xiaoping to bring economic development to China and to begin the process of reintegrating China into the global economic system. As part of that opening, the country began allowing American tourists into the country.

While I was in Hong Kong that summer, I had the opportunity to join a group of American students and teachers on a three-day guided tour into Guangzhou. It was my first foray into the People’s Republic of China; I had no idea it would be the spark that would kindle a life-long love for the country and decades of service there.

Here are a couple of photos from that trip:

As China continued to open and reform, Guangzhou, and its neighbor Shenzhen, became the center of China’s economic development. As you can see in this funky time-lapse video produced by the Guangzhou Tourism Office, the city has changed a lot in 40 years! 

Guangzhou’s role as a gateway to the outside world is not new. During the Qing Dynasty, foreigners were allowed in the city once per year for the purpose of conducting trade. They could not live there; once the allotted trading season was over, they had to return to their enclaves in Hong Kong and Macau. Interestingly, this model was copied during the early days of the People’s Republic, with the annual Canton Trade Fair. (The city was formerly known, in English, as Canton).

Guangzhou was the entry point for both Protestant and Catholic Christianity into China. Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci visited in the 1580s, and Robert Morrison in 1807. Morrison lived part-time in the city, not as a missionary per-se, but as a translator for the British East India Company, using the opportunity to learn the language.

Elijah and Eliza Bridgeman arrived from the United Sates in 1830. They learned the language, established printing presses, and worked on Bible translation.

Subsequent missionaries established schools and hospitals in the city.

A list of the registered Protestant and Catholic churches can be found here.

Guangzhou was also home to Rongguili Church, one of the country’s most prominent house churches, founded and led by the late Pastor Samuel Lamb. In December of 2018, the government closed down the church.

Getting to Guangzhou is extremely convenient, with high-speed train access from Hong Kong and Macau, as well as numerous non-stop flights from cities all over the world.

Guangzhou is worth a visit because it offers glimpses of not only China’s past and present, but its future as well.

Header image credit: Guangzhou, by Sergei Gussev, via Flickr
Text images credits: Joann Pittman: Guangzhou 1, Guangzhou 2.
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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