The city of Dongguan is located about 60 kilometers east-southeast of the capital city, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, which places the city on the eastern side of the Pearl River, along with the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, while the city of Zhongshan, across the Pearl River Estuary from the city of Shenzhen, lies on the western side of the Pearl River. In fact, the cities of Dongguan, Zhongshan and Shenzhen form an almost perfect triangle, with Dongguan at its apex, albeit, displaced slightly eastward of the apex of the perfect traingle formed by these three cities. The city of Dongguan has a history stretching back some 1700 years to the first large migration of Han Chinese people to present-day Guangdong Province, as the next section explains.
A Brief History
Dongguan can trace its origins back to the year CE 331 during the Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty when, as part of a large migration of Han Chinese people from the north to the south, due to warring in the north (both internal feuding as well as frequent raids from the "barbaric" west, which was the raison d'être of the Great Wall), a large influx of newcomers to Guangdong Province caused the area's small, unnamed villages to swell, becoming large towns and small cities, including the small village that would become Dongguan. (Note that the Western (CE 265-316) and Eastern Jin Dynasties were ruled by the Han Chinese, while the Jin Dynasty of the 12th - 13th century was ruled by the Jürchen - who would later change their name to the Manchu - a Turkic tribe from the west, as were the Mongols, who would eventually topple the Jin Dynasty.)
When the Han Chinese migrants from the north arrived, the area of present-day Guangdong Province was occupied by the so-called Hundred Yue people, a collection of ancient tribes of the Yue ethnic group, though most of these have since become assimilated into mainstream Han Chinese society. How long the Yue had lived here and from whence they arrived is not certain, but archeologists have determined that there were Neolithic Age human settlements in the area belonging to the prehistoric dune culture (ca. 4500 BCE) of coastal southeastern China, especially along the Pearl River Estuary and the adjacent South China Sea coast before the Yue culture established itself in South East Asia.
In more recent times, Humen Town, a part of Greater Dongguan and whose original name was Taiping, is the site of the outbreak of the First Opium War (1839-1842), when Chinese forces under the command of Lin Zexu seized the cargo of British ships carrying opium and burned it. In spite of first impressions, the Opium Wars (the Second Opium War was fought during the period 1856 to 1860) were not about opium per se, but were about a drastic effort on the part of British authorities to redress the problem of the trade imbalance that was accruing in the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty government's favor, where the latter government doggedly refused to recognize the growing problem (the Qing government was happy to export its goods but was not interested in permitting the import of British goods, therefore the British resorted to transporting opium from neighboring countries into China as a way to resolve the issue).
The sale of this perhaps odious item quickly redressed the trade problem from Britain's standpoint, though it outraged the Qing government not only for slyly redressing the trade imbalance, but for the way it redressed that problem, since it created many opium addicts in China, including, however, many Westerners (the Opium den - invariably run by a Chinaman, whether in Hong Kong or in Amsterdam - is a phenomenon that figures famously in literature, from the writings of Rudyard Kipling (The Gate Of A Hundred Sorrows) to Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray) to Jules Verne (Around the World in Eighty Days). Opium was used by all social classes during the period, a period when the use of drugs was seen in a completely different and more accepting light than it is today, where it is considered abuse.
Curiously, the outrage felt by the majority Han Chinese people at the minority-led Qing Dynasty government (it was led by the Jürchen cum Manchu minority), especially the way that the Qing government mismanaged China's affairs vis-à-vis foreign powers, is what hastened the demise of Imperial China and gave birth to first the Republic of China, then the People's Republic of China, though neither of the latter two would be inclined to thank the British for trafficking opium into China :). To read more about Guangdong Province's history, click here.
Dongguan comprises some 2500 square kilometers (250,000 hectares, or 617,800 acres) distributed over mountainous terrain and low-lying delta, or alluvial plains. Most of the area within Greater Dongguan is highly built up, though the lower-lying areas are reserved either for agriculture (ordinary farming) and aquaculture (fish farming, including the "farming" of non-fish seafood and aquatic plants). The land mass on which the city of Dongguan rests slopes, not suprisingly, from east to west, thus channeling streams and run-off into the Pearl River/ the Pearl River Estuary.
Hills and mesas (so-called tablelands, an expression derived from their appearance, i.e., an elevated block of land with sheer sides, or cliffs) characterize the eastern part of the city, while the western part of the city, including its non-urban, western perimeter is in the form of a low-lying alluvial plain. Thanks to its location within the Pearl River Delta and the area's low latitude, which is synonymous with a long growing season, Dongguan is one of China's richest, high-yield traditional agriculture areas, abundant in rice paddies, bananas and litchi-nut (Litchi chinensis) trees (a kind of nut with fruit inside), as well as both salt- and freshwater "seafood" products (i.e., aquacultural products).
Besides its contribution to the country's aqua- and agriculture, the city of Dongguan boasts a highly developed high-tech industrial sector specializing in the manufacture of computers and other IT-related products, a sector that is in rapid expansion in the city of Dongguan.
With its relative importance as both an agricultural and a manufacturing base, Dongguan, not surprisingly, also has a well-developed road- and waterway infrastructure. Regarding the highway network, Dongguan is connected to Guangzhou to the north and to Shenzhen to the south by National highway G107. In addition, the city is served by an extensive network of other routes, some regional and others more local, including 4 regional highways designed expressly for heavy truck traffic.
As even a cursory look at a map of the Pearl River Estuary will reveal, Dongguan is rich in waterways. These waterways connect to 11 ports in the Greater Dongguan area, two of which are major shipping ports. The city also has a well-developed railway network, and is served by Guangzhou International Airport (CAN), only about an hour's drive from Dongguan. Hong Kong itself lies only about an hour and fifteen minutes' drive south-southeast of Dongguan.
The city of Dongguan has been transformed over the past three decades from a rural and fishing-village setting into a major metropolis replete with glass-steel-&-concrete skyscrapers, modern apartment blocks, shopping malls, and of course all of the other "accoutrements" that one expects of a large, modern metropolis such as world class hotels, cinemas, libraries, museums (including a museum devoted to the Opium Wars) and lush green parks. Dongguan boasts the world's largest shopping mall, South China Mall. Some of the major international retailers that one finds here include America's Wal-Mart, France's Carrefour, Japan's Jusco and Hong Kong's own Parka.
The city of Dongguan is hometown to more than 200,000 Chinese people spread over the four corners of the earth, many of them successful businessmen. Like most other rapidly expanding coastal cities of southern China, Dongguan is also home to a large expat community, including some 700,000 Hongkong and Macao "expats".