Cantonese people

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Gwóng dūng Yàhn
The mystic flowery land; a personal narrative (1896) (14775236851).jpg
Cantonese women in traditional Qing-era attire, 1896.
Total population
c. 66 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
China (Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Hong Kong and Macau), Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), Western world (United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand)
Cantonese, Taishanese and other Yue languages (parent languages), Southwestern Mandarin, Vietnamese, Malay (both Malaysian and Indonesian), Hong Kong English, Macau Portuguese
Predominantly Chinese folk religions (which include Taoism, Confucianism, ancestral worship) and Mahayana Buddhism. Minorities: Christianity, Atheism, Freethought; others.
Related ethnic groups
Hong Kong people, Macau people, Taishanese people, other Han Chinese subgroups

some population totals are based on speaker counts and may not reflect the total population with ancestry
Cantonese people
Traditional Chinese 廣東人
Simplified Chinese 广东人
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 廣府人
Simplified Chinese 广府人
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 粵人
Simplified Chinese 粤人

The Cantonese people (simplified Chinese: 广东人; traditional Chinese: 廣東人; Jyutping: gwong2 dung1 jan4; Cantonese Yale: Gwóngdūng Yàhn) are Han Chinese people originating from or residing in the provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi (together known as Liangguang), in southern mainland China. The term "Cantonese people" is often synonymous with the Punti people (本地人; bún déi yàhn). They are also referred to as "Hoa" in Vietnam, "Kongfu" in Malaysia and "Konghu" in Indonesia.[2]".

Historically centred on the Pearl River Delta region in central Guangdong, the Cantonese people were also responsible for establishing the Cantonese language's usage in Hong Kong during the early migration to the British colonial era. Today, Hong Kong and Macau are the only regions in the world where Cantonese is the official spoken language, with the mixed influences of English and Portuguese respectively. Cantonese is traditionally and remains today a majority language in Guangdong and Guangxi, despite the increasing influence of Mandarin. There are currently around 9 million Cantonese speakers overseas.[3]

Taishanese people (四邑粵人; sei yāp yuht yàhn) may also be considered as Cantonese, but speak Taishanese (台山話), a different variant of Yue Chinese with low intelligibility to Standard Cantonese.

There have been a number of influential Cantonese figures throughout history, such as Yuan Chonghuan, Bruce Lee, Liang Qichao, Sun Yat-Sen, Lee Shau-kee, Ho Ching and Flossie Wong-Staal.


Pre-19th century: History of Liangguang

Nanyue (Nàhm Yuht) Kingdom.

Until the 19th century, Cantonese history was largely the history of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces. What is now Guangdong, and later Guangxi, was first brought under Qin influence by a general named Zhao Tuo, who later founded the kingdom of Nanyue in 204 BC.[4][5][6][7][8] The Nanyue kingdom went on to become the strongest Baiyue state in China, with many neighboring kingdoms declaring their allegiance to Nanyue rule. Zhao Tuo took the Han territory of Hunan and defeated the Han dynasty's first attack on Nanyue, later annexing the kingdom of Minyue in the East and conquering Âu Lạc, Northern Vietnam, in the West in 179 BC.[9]

The greatly expanded Nanyue kingdom included the territories of modern-day Guangdong, Guangxi and Northern Vietnam (Annam), with the capital situated at modern-day Guangzhou. The native peoples of Liangguang remained under Baiyue control until the Han dynasty in 111 BC, following the Han–Nanyue War. However, it was not until subsequent dynasties such as the Jin Dynasty, the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty that major waves of Han Chinese began to migrate south into Guangdong and Guangxi. Waves of migration and subsequent intermarriage meant that existing populations of both provinces were displaced, but some native groups like the Zhuangs still remained. The Cantonese often call themselves "people of Tang" (唐人; tòhng yàhn). This is because of the inter-mixture between native and Han immigrants in Guangdong and Guangxi reached a critical mass of acculturation during the Tang dynasty, creating a new local identity among the Liangguang peoples.[10]

During the 4th–12th centuries, Han Chinese people from North China's Yellow River delta migrated and settled in the South of China. This gave rise to peoples including the Cantonese themselves, Hakkas and Hoklos, whose ancestors migrated from Henan and Shandong, to areas of southeastern coastal China such as Chaozhou, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou and other parts of Guangdong during the Tang dynasty.[11] There have been multiple migrations of Han people into Southeastern and Southern China throughout history.[12]

The origin of the Cantonese people is thus said to be Northern Chinese peoples that migrated to Guangdong and Guangxi while it was still inhabited by Baiyue peoples.[13] During Wang Mang's reign in the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD), there were influxes of Han Chinese migrants into Guangdong and Guangxi, western coast of Hainan, Annam (now Northern Vietnam) and eastern Yunnan.[14]

19th–20th century: Turmoil and migration

Cantonese bazaar during Chinese New Year at the Grant Avenue, San Francisco, circa 1914. Names of shops are in Cantonese and there are 4 daily newspapers printed in the Cantonese language at that time, as there is already significant number of Cantonese peoples who have been there for generations.

During the early 1800s, conflict occurred between Cantonese and Portuguese pirates in the form of the Ningpo massacre after the defeat of Portuguese pirates.[15] The First (1839–1842) and Second Opium Wars (1856–1860) led to the loss of China's control over Hong Kong and Kowloon, which were ceded to the British Empire. Macau also became a Portuguese settlement. Between 1855 and 1867, the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars caused further discord in Guangdong and Guangxi. The third plague pandemic of 1855 broke out in Yunnan and spread to the Liangguang region via Guangxi, killing thousands and spreading via water traffic to nearby Hong Kong and Macau.

The turmoil of the 19th century, followed by the political upheaval of the early 20th century, compelled many residents of Guangdong to migrate overseas in search of a better future. Up until the second half of the 20th century, the majority of overseas Chinese emigrated from two provinces of China; Guangdong and Fujian. As a result, there are today many Cantonese communities throughout the world, including in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa the United Kingdom, and the Pacific Islands, with Chinatowns commonly being established by Cantonese communities. There have been a large number of interracial marriages between Cantonese men and women from other nations, as most of the migrants from Guangdong were men. Resultantly, there are many Eurasians with Cantonese ancestry,[16] for example Nancy Kwan, born to a Cantonese father and Scottish mother is a well-known Hollywood actress in the 1960s; and influential martial artist Bruce Lee, who was born to a Cantonese father and a half-Chinese, half-Caucasian mother.

Unlike the migrants from Fujian, who mostly settled in Southeast Asia, many Cantonese emigrants also migrated to the Western Hemisphere, particularly the United States, Canada and Australia. Many Cantonese immigrants into the United States became railroad labourers, while many in South America were brought in as coolies. Cantonese immigrants in California participated in the California Gold Rush and the Australian gold rushes of 1854 onwards, while Chinese in Hawaii found employment in sugar plantations as contract labourers. These early immigrants variously faced hostility and a variety of discriminatory laws, including the prohibition of Chinese female immigrants. The relaxation of immigration laws after World War II allowed for subsequent waves of migration to the United States from both mainland China and Hong Kong. As a result, Cantonese continues to be widely used by Chinese communities of Guangdong and Hong Kong origin in the Western hemisphere, and has not been supplanted by Standard Chinese. A large proportion of the early migrants also came from the Siyi region of Guangdong and spoke Taishanese. The Taishanese variant is still spoken in American-Chinese communities, by the older population as well as by more recent immigrants from Taishan, in Jiangmen, Guangdong.

Cantonese influence on the Xinhai Revolution

The Xinhai Revolution of 1911 was a revolution that overthrew the last imperial dynasty of China, the Qing dynasty, and established the Republic of China. Guangdong's uprising against the Qing dynasty in 1895 let to its naming as the "cradle of the Xinhai Revolution".[17][18][19] Revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen was born in Zhongshan, Guangdong.[20][21] Hong Kong was where he developed his thoughts of revolution and was the base of subsequent uprisings, as well as the first revolutionary newspaper.[22][23] Sun Yat-sen's revolutionary army was largely made up of Cantonese, and many of the early revolutionary leaders were also Cantonese.[24]

Cultural hub

A Cantonese gentleman in Qing-era traditional attire, circa 1873–1874.

Cantonese people and their culture are centered in Guangdong, eastern Guangxi, Hong Kong and Macau.

Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton), the capital city of Guangdong, has been one of China's international trading ports since the Tang dynasty. During the 18th century, it became an important centre of the emerging trade between China and the Western world, as part of the Canton System. The privilege during this period made Guangzhou one of the top three cities in the world.[25] Operating from the Thirteen Factories located on the banks of the Pearl River outside Canton, merchants traded goods such as silk, porcelain ("fine china"), and tea, allowing Guangzhou to become a prosperous city. Links to overseas contacts and beneficial tax reforms in the 1990s have also contributed to the city's ongoing growth. Guangzhou was named a global city in 2008. The migrant population from other provinces of China in Guangzhou was 40 percent of the city's total population in 2008. Most of them are rural migrants and they speak only Mandarin.[26]

Hong Kong and Macau are two of the richest cities in the world in terms of GDP per capita and are autonomous SARs (Special Administrative Regions) that are under independent governance from China. Historically governed by the British and Portuguese empires respectively, colonial Hong Kong and Macau were increasingly populated by migrant influxes from mainland China, particularly the nearby Guangdong Province. For that reason, the culture of Hong Kong and Macau became a mixture of Cantonese and Western influences, sometimes described as "East meets West".

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Island was first colonised by the British Empire in 1842 with a population of only 7,450; however, it was in 1898 that Hong Kong truly became a British colony, when the British also colonised the New Territories (which constitute 86.2% of Hong Kong's modern territory). It was during this period that migrants from China entered, mainly speaking Cantonese (the prestige variety of Yue Chinese) as a common language. During the following century of British rule, Hong Kong grew into a hub of Cantonese culture, and has remained as such since the handover in 1997.

Today Hong Kong is one of the world's leading financial centres, and the Hong Kong dollar is the thirteenth most-traded currency in the world.


Macau native people are known as the Tanka. A dialect similar to Shiqi (石岐話), originating from Zhongshan (中山) in Guangdong, is also spoken in the region.

Parts of Macau were first loaned to the Portuguese by China as a trading centre in the 16th century, with the Portuguese required to administrate the city under Chinese authority. In 1851 and 1864, the Portuguese Empire occupied the two nearest offshore islands Taipa and Coloane respectively, and Macau officially became a colony of the Portuguese Empire in 1887. Macau was returned to China in 1999.

By 2002, Macau had become one of the world's richest cities,[27] and by 2006, it had surpassed Las Vegas to become the world's biggest gambling centre.[28] Macau is also a world cultural heritage site due to its Portuguese colonial architecture.


The term "Cantonese" is used to refer to the native culture, language and people of Guangdong and Guangxi.[29]

There are cultural, economic, political, generational and geographical differences in making "Cantonese-ness" in and beyond Guangdong and Guangxi, with the interacting dynamics of migration, education, social developments and cultural representations.[30]


The term "Cantonese language" is sometimes used to refer to the broader group of Yue Chinese languages and dialects spoken in Guangdong and Guangxi, although it is used more specifically to describe Gwóngjāu wah (廣州話), the prestige variant of Cantonese spoken in the city of Guangzhou (historically known as Canton). Gwóngjāu wah is the main language used for education, literature and media in Hong Kong and Macau. It is still widely used in Guangzhou, despite the fact that a considerable proportion of the city's population is made up by migrant workers from elsewhere in China that speak non-Cantonese variants of Chinese and Standard Mandarin.[31]

Because of its tradition of usage in music, cinema, literature and newspapers, this form of Cantonese is a cultural mark of identity that distinguishes Cantonese people from the Mainland Chinese. The pronunciation and vocabulary of Cantonese has preserved many features of the official language of the Tang dynasty with elements of the ancient Yue language.[32] Written Cantonese is very common in manhua, books, articles, magazines, newspapers, online chat, instant messaging, internet blogs and social networking websites. Anime, cartoons and foreign films are also dubbed in Cantonese. Some videogames such as Sleeping Dogs, Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto III and Resident Evil 6 have substantial Cantonese dialogues.


A bronze statue on a pedestal, with the Hong Kong skyline in the background. The pedestal is designed in the image of four clapperboards forming a box. The statue is of a woman wrapped in photographic film, looking straight up, with her left hand stretched upwards and holding a glass sphere containing a light.
A statue on the Avenue of Stars, a tribute to Hong Kong Cantonese cinema.
Statue of the famed cultural Cantonese martial artist Bruce Lee at the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong

Cantopop during its early glory had spread to Mainland China, Taiwan, (South) Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Well-known Cantopop singers include Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok, Joey Yung, Alan Tam, Roman Tam, Anita Mui, Danny Chan, Kelly Chen, Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, Sammi Cheng and Coco Lee, many of whom are of Cantonese or Taishanese origin.

The Hong Kong movie industry was the third-largest movie industry in the world (after Hollywood and Bollywood) for decades throughout the 20th century, with Cantonese-language films viewed and acclaimed around the world. Recent films include Kung Fu Hustle, Infernal Affairs and Ip Man 3.

Cantonese people are also known to create various schools or styles of arts, with the more prominent being Lingnan architecture, Lingnan school of painting, Canton porcelain, Cantonese opera, Cantonese music, among many others.


Cantonese dim-sum.

Cantonese cuisine has become one of the most renowned types of cuisine around the world, characterised by its variety of cooking methods and use of fresh ingredients, particularly seafood.[33] One of the most famous examples of Cantonese cuisine is dim sum, a variety of small and light dishes such as har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), siu mai (steamed pork dumplings), and cha siu bao (barbecued pork buns).


According to research, Cantonese peoples' paternal lineage is mostly Han, while their maternal lineage is mostly Nanyue aboriginals.[34][35] Speakers of Pinghua and Tanka, however, lack Han ancestry and are "truly, mostly pureblood Baiyue".[36][37] These genetic differences have contributed to Cantonese differing from other Han Chinese groups in terms of physical appearance[38] and proneness to certain diseases.[39]

Notable figures

See also


  1. ^ David P Brown (31 August 2011). "Top 100 Languages by Population". Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  2. ^ Chinese Overseas: Comparative Cultural Issues. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 92–93. 
  3. ^ Yangchen Wanbao 2008
  4. ^ Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, section 112.
  5. ^ Huai Nan Zi, section 18
  6. ^ Zhang & Huang, pp. 26–31.
  7. ^ Zhang and Huang, pp. 196–200; also Shi Ji 130
  8. ^ Records of the Grand Historian, section 97 《《史記·酈生陸賈列傳》
  9. ^ Chapuis, Oscar (1995). A History of Vietnam: From Hong Bang to Tu Duc. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 13–14. ISBN 0-313-29622-7. 
  10. ^ Ramsey, S. Robert (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press. pp. 98–99. ISBN 0-691-06694-9. 
  11. ^ Sow-Theng Leong; Tim Wright; George William Skinner (1997). Migration and Ethnicity in Chinese History: Hakkas, Pengmin, and Their Neighbors. Stanford University Press. pp. 78–. ISBN 978-0-8047-2857-7. 
  12. ^ Jacques Gernet (31 May 1996). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge University Press. pp. 8–. ISBN 978-0-521-49781-7. 
  13. ^ Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt; Wolfgang Schluchter; Björn Wittrock. Public Spheres and Collective Identities. Transaction Publishers. pp. 213–4. ISBN 978-1-4128-3248-9. 
  14. ^ Jacques Gernet (31 May 1996). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge University Press. pp. 126–. ISBN 978-0-521-49781-7. 
  15. ^ Zhidong Hao (2011). Macau History and Society (illustrated ed.). Hong Kong University Press. p. 67. ISBN 988-8028-54-5. Retrieved 4 November 2011. There was indeed a group of Portuguese who became pirates, called "Macau ruffians," or policemen who turned bad, along with "Manila-men" from the Philippines and escaped African slaves. Their fleet attacked "the Cantonese ships when they could get them at an advantage, and murdered their crews with circumstances of great atrocity."55 They were destroyed in Ningbo by a fleet of Chinese pirates with the support of the local Chinese government and other Europeans. 
  16. ^ "UK Chinese". Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  17. ^ "Nation, Governance, and Modernity in China". Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  18. ^ Langmead, Donald. [2011] (2011). Maya Lin: A Biography. ABC-CLIO publishing. ISBN 0313378533, 9780313378539. pg 5–6.
  19. ^ 1010. "辛亥革命研究專家章開沅:"廣東是革命搖籃"". Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  20. ^ Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver By Paul Yee [1]
  21. ^ F_467. "Chinese community in Houston marks centenary of 1911 Revolution". Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  22. ^ "Hong Kong public libraries Leisure and Cultural Services Department". 
  23. ^ "香港为何成辛亥革命摇篮_时政频道_新华网". Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  24. ^ Shanghai on Strike: The Politics of Chinese Labor By Elizabeth J. Perry [2]
  25. ^ "Top 10 Cities of the Year 1800". Retrieved 2008-08-28. 
  26. ^ Branigan, Tania (2010-07-25). "Protesters gather in Guangzhou to protect Cantonese language". The Guardian. London. 
  27. ^ Macau has become known as the 'Las Vegas of the Far East'. Papers by Cindia Ching-Chi [3]
  28. ^ Barboza, David (2007-01-23). "Macao Surpasses Las Vegas as Gambling Center". The New York Times. 
  29. ^ Unity and diversity: local cultures and identities in China By David Faure [4]
  30. ^ Xiao, Y. (2017). "Who needs Cantonese, who speaks? Whispers across mountains, delta, and waterfronts". Cultural Studies. 31 (4): 489–522. doi:10.1080/09502386.2016.1236394. 
  31. ^ "Migrants In Guangzhou". Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  32. ^ South China Morning Post. [2009] (2009). 11, October. "Linguistic heritage in peril". By Chloe Lai.
  33. ^ Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People. p. 281. 
  34. ^ Wen, B.; Li, H.; Lu, D.; Song, X.; Zhang, F.; He, Y.; Li, F.; Gao, Y.; 等. Genetic evidence supports demic diffusion of Han culture (PDF). Nature. Sep 2004, 431 (7006): 302–5. PMID 15372031. doi:10.1038/nature02878. (原始内容 (PDF)存档于2009-03-24.
  35. ^ Xue, Fuzhong; Wang, Yi; Xu, Shuhua; Zhang, Feng; Wen, Bo; Wu, Xuesen; Lu, Ming; Deka, Ranjan; Qian, Ji; 等. A spatial analysis of genetic structure of human populations in China reveals distinct difference between maternal and paternal lineages. European Journal of Human Genetics. 2008, 16 (6): 705–17.
  36. ^ Gan, R. J., Pan, S. L., Mustavich, L. F., Qin, Z. D., Cai, X. Y., Qian, J., ... & Jin, L. (2008). Pinghua population as an exception of Han Chinese’s coherent genetic structure. Journal of human genetics, 53(4), 303-313.
  37. ^ McFadzean, A. J. S., & Todd, D. (1971). Cooley's anaemia among the tanka of South China. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 65(1), 59-62.
  38. ^ Li, Y.-L & Lu, S.-H & Chen, C & Gao, G.-S & Cao, Y & Guo, H & Zheng, L.-B. (2012). Physical characteristics of cantonese han people in Guangdong. Acta Anatomica Sinica. 43. 837-845. 10.3969/j.issn.0529-1356.2012.06.023.
  39. ^ Wee, J. T., Ha, T. C., Loong, S. L., & Qian, C. N. (2010). Is nasopharyngeal cancer really a" Cantonese cancer"?. Chinese journal of cancer, 29(5), 517-526.

Further reading

  • David Faure; Helen F. Siu (1995). Down to earth: the territorial bond in South China. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-2435-7. 
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