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Asia > East Asia > China > Southeast China

Southeast China

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Southeast China has always been outward-looking. Many of China's mariners and traders have come from this region and most overseas Chinese can trace their ancestry to the Southeast.

Over a thousand years ago, this area was the main terminus of the Maritime Silk Road, and traded extensively with Japan and Southeast Asia. Today, it is again a major center for trade; Guangdong alone produces a third of China's exports, and the other provinces of the region are also very much open for business. Five of China's six Special Economic Zones — areas with tax breaks and other government measures to encourage trade and development — are in this region.


Two former colonies, Portuguese Macau and British Hong Kong, are now Special Administrative Regions of China. Economically, linguistically and culturally, they are part of the Pearl River Delta area and very much a part of this region. They were administered as parts of Guangdong province before being colonised by the Western powers. However, they are not covered in this article because they are now administered quite differently under the slogan "One country, two systems". They have their own entry requirements, visas, and currencies.

In some ways, Taiwan could also be considered part of this region — it has had much immigration from Fujian, with which it continues to share a high degree of cultural similarity. Fujian dialects are commonly spoken, and it was once administered as part of that province. However, it is economically and politically distinct with its own visas and currency, so it is also not treated here.


Map of Southeast China

  • 1 Fuzhou, capital of Fujian
  • 2 Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, historically Southern China's greatest city, and the third largest city in China
  • 3 Haikou, capital of Hainan
  • 4 Quanzhou, historic port, formerly a major terminus for the Maritime Silk Road
  • 5 Sanya, Hainan's tourist center
  • 6 Shantou, Special Economic Zone, Guangdong
  • 7 Shenzhen Guangdong megacity, Special Economic Zone, next to Hong Kong
  • 8 Xiamen, Special Economic Zone, Fujian
  • 9 Zhuhai, Special Economic Zone, Guangdong, next to Macau

The Special Economic Zones have various government measures to encourage trade and investment. In addition to the cities indicated above, the entire island province of Hainan is such a zone, mainly for tourism-oriented development. For a more detailed explanation of the term, see Chinese provinces and regions.

Other destinations[edit]

Several attractions in the are are on the UNESCO World Heritage List:

  • Wu Yi Mountain is a scenic and historic area in Fujian
  • Hakka earth roundhouses (tulou) in Western Fujian
  • The "castles" (diaolou) built by overseas Chinese in Kaiping, Guangdong, mainly in the early 20th century
  • 1 Gulangyu is a quiet (no cars or motorcycles) island in Xiamen with interesting colonial-period buildings.



Gardens of banana plants and dragon-fruit-producing cactus can be seen in coastal counties from Fujian to Guangxi

This area has been a center of international trade for centuries. Quanzhou in Fujian and Guangzhou in Guangdong were the main Chinese ports on the Maritime Silk Road, starting a few hundred BCE or a few hundred CE according to different historians. Shorter-range trade — especially from Fujian to Taiwan, Okinawa and the main islands of Japan, and from Hainan to Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia — has also been going on for a very long time.

Along with neighboring East China, this area was the "China Coast" of the 19th century, the region where tea clippers loaded and other trade (including opium) boomed. Both Chinese and Western traders made and lost fortunes, and wars were fought over trading rights. A host of "missionaries, mercenaries and misfits" from all over the world poured in while education, production, modernisation, corruption, consumption, and seduction all went on at a furious pace. Today the area is far less wild, but it is still booming and still attracts many foreign residents.

The region has also been the source of much migration. The vast majority of overseas Chinese can trace their ancestry to one of these three provinces, and all three have descendants more-or-less everywhere. In any Western country, most people of Chinese descent can trace their roots to Guangdong, and the commonest style of Chinese food in the West is Cantonese (Guangdong) food. Nearly all Taiwanese trace their ancestry to Fujian. In Southeast Asia, most Chinese immigrants came from either Fujian or Guangdong, with Hainanese a substantial minority.


This area of China is linguistically very rich, with many mutually unintelligible Chinese "dialects" spoken. The language with the most speakers is Cantonese, spoken in Guangdong and nearby Hong Kong and Macau. Other languages spoken include Hakka, various members of the Min (Fujian) group, notably Minnan Hua and Fuzhou Hua, as well as Teochew (spoken in northern coastal Guangdong, near the Fujian border) and Hainanese. The area is also home to several ethnic minorities, such as the Li people in Hainan, who speak various non-Chinese languages.

As elsewhere in China, Mandarin is the lingua franca. As Mandarin is the only language used in schools, most people are bilingual in Mandarin and their local tongue.

Get in[edit]

Guangzhou is one of China's main aviation hubs, and is served by flights from all over China, as well as from major cities all over the world. It is also common to fly into the area through nearby cities which are also international hubs: Hong Kong, Macau or Shanghai.

Shenzhen and Xiamen also have a fairly large number of international flights, while there are also much smaller numbers of international flights into Fuzhou, Quanzhou, Shantou, Haikou, Sanya and Meizhou.

Because so many people from this region have immigrated there, the region is particularly well-connected to Southeast Asia. See Discount airlines in Asia for more information.

Get around[edit]

As elsewhere in China, there is an extensive rail network. Rail is the main means of inter-city travel for the Chinese themselves, and many visitors travel that way as well. The system now includes fast bullet trains on some routes; unless your budget is very tight, these are the best way to go — fast, clean and comfortable.

All the major cities have airports with good domestic connections; some have international connections as well. See the individual city articles for details.

There is also an extensive highway network, and much of it very good. Busses go almost anywhere, somewhat cheaper than the trains. See the China article for more. Driving yourself is also possible, but often problematic; see Driving in China.



On the beach in Chongwu, Fujian

The whole coast, and especially Hainan, is well provided with beaches and many areas have facilities for kite surfing, diving or other water-based activities.

This is warm tropical water, though, and dangerous species such as sharks and jellyfish are present in some areas; consult a knowledgeable local before swimming anywhere except on busy beaches. Also, check any rented equipment very carefully before doing any inherently dangerous activities such as SCUBA or hang-gliding; government inspections are non-existent or lax and not all vendors are conscientious.


Cantonese (Guangdong) and Fujian cuisine are two of the 'eight famous cuisines' in China. Cantonese food is widespread around the world, the basic style of most Chinese restaurants anywhere. Though true Guangdong cuisine, or Yue (粵) as it is known in China, may contain a few surprises, the essence of the style of cooking will be familiar to most visitors. Fujian cuisine (Min 闽) is known for its seafood. One famous dish is "Buddha jumps over a wall", a complex chowder that supposedly smells good enough to make a vegetarian monk forget his vows and hop a fence. Hainan is also known for its seafood. Hainan food tends to be lightly seasoned and not as heavy as other regions.


As anywhere in China, beer, wine, brandy and bai jiu (the local white lightning) are very widely available. See China#Alcohol for discussion.

Some brands are common in this region that are much less so elsewhere in China. The Filipino company San Miguel has breweries in Hong Kong and Guangdong, and their beer is popular among expats and travellers in that region. The Singapore-based firm Asia Pacific Breweries have a brewery on Hainan and their brands of beer, Tiger and Anchor, are common all over the island. Hainan also has a number of locally-brewed pineapple-based beers, odd but worth a try.

Stay safe[edit]

Humidity is often very high in the summer. Typhoons are possible any time between May and November, with the highest risk in July and August.

Go next[edit]

China's relatively new and quite extensive system of fast bullet trains provides connections from this region to the rest of China.

  • One major line runs from Guangzhou all the way to Beijing on a inland route, via Nanning, Wuhan and Zhengzhou.
    • Branches off this line connect to all the main cities of Eastern and Central China.
    • Beyond Beijing, there is a high-speed line into the Northeast.
  • Another line runs along the coast all the way from Shenzhen to Shanghai, via Shantou, Xiamen and Hangzhou.
    • The link further South to Zhanjiang and Hainan is due in 2016.
  • A line from Guangzhou to Chengdu, via Guilin (a major tourist area) and Guiyang is due to go into service in 2014

Once those are all in service, they will be the most convenient way to leave the region. There are also good connections by regular train, by road or by air from this region to anywhere in China.

See Discount airlines in Asia for flights to Southeast Asia. There are also overland routes to Southeast Asia; the main ones are via Nanning to Hanoi or from Kunming into Northern Laos.

This region travel guide to Southeast China is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!