The Rise of Guangdong

Part of the Studies on the Chinese Economy book series (STCE)


In the eyes of many observers Guangdong has been the cutting edge of China’s economic reform process and its rise as an exporter and new dragon economy has become synonymous with China’s emergence as a potential economic superpower. In many ways China’s ‘export miracle’ could more properly have been called ‘Guangdong’s export miracle’. Guangdong, to quote one famous observer, Ezra Vogel, had always seemed ‘one step ahead in China’ as it responded to the opportunities created by the reform process. Despite its relative backwardness when economic reform was announced in 1978, by the late 1980s it had firmly established itself as China’s leader in export-oriented industrialization and controlled more than 30 per cent of China’ foreign trade. It was also a measure of the dominant position that Guangdong had established in China’s export performance that when for the first time in a decade its rate of export growth fell below that of China as a whole in 1995 (10.8 per cent as against 22.9 per cent) that the province was instantly seen as being in serious difficulties and its reign as China’s leading economic province as on the wane. While we would not want to deny that Guangdong faces some severe difficulties and overcoming these may not be remediable even by substantial adjustments in its industrial and trade policies, it is important to put these difficulties in perspective.


Foreign Trade Domestic Market Pearl River Delta Foreign Capital Yangtze Delta 
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  1. 2.
    In 1978 Shanghai contributed 12.1 per cent of Chin—a Industrial Output Value and Guangdong 4.7 per cent, see Yeung and Sung, Shanghai, Chinese University Press, 1996, pp 42–3.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Zhu Wenhui, ‘The Development of Foreign Investment in China’, Wide Angle, May 1996 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Overholt, China: The Next Economic Superpower, p 124.Google Scholar
  4. 32.
    A very interesting perspective on Hong Kong’s alternative route to late development is provided by Tai-lok Lui and Stephen Chiu, ‘Merchants, Small Employers and a Non-Interventionist State: Hong Kong as a Case of Unorganised Late Industrialisation’, in John Borrego et al. (eds), Capital, the State and Late Industrialisation: Comparative Perspectives on the Pacific Rim, Boulder, Westview, 1996, pp 221–46; supply side analyses also tend to overlook the fact that there is often far greater profit in financing and distribution than in production. In this respect Hong Kong’s distribution technologies are probably unequalled.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Thomas Chan, Noel Tracy and Zhu Wenhui 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hong Kong Polytechnic UniversityHong Kong
  2. 2.International Relations and Political EconomyFlinders University of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.China Business CentreHong Kong Polytechnic UniversityHong Kong

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