Pearl River Delta

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Pearl River Delta
Map of Pearl River Delta in Green
Map of Pearl River Delta in Green
Provincial Guangdong
Hong Kong
Major Cities Guangzhou
Hong Kong
 • Governor of Guangdong Zhu Xiaodan
 • Chief Executive of Hong Kong CY Leung
 • Chief Executive of Macau Fernando Chui
 • Metro 39,380 km2 (15,200 sq mi)
 • Metro 63,724,157~120,000,000
Time zone CST, HKT, MST (UTC+8)
Pearl River Delta
Chinese 珠江三角洲
Cantonese Jyutping Zyu1gong1 Saam1gok3zau1
Cantonese Yale Jyūgōng Sāamgokjāu
Hanyu Pinyin Zhūjiāng Sānjiǎozhōu

The Pearl River Delta (PRD, Chinese: 珠江三角洲; pinyin: Zhūjiāng sānjiǎozhōu; Jyutping: zyu1 gong1 saam1 gok3 zau1; Portuguese: Delta do Rio das Pérolas), Zhujiang Delta or Zhusanjiao in Guangdong province, People's Republic of China is the low-lying area surrounding the Pearl River estuary where the Pearl River flows into the South China Sea. It is one of the most densely urbanised regions in the world and one of the main hubs of China's economic growth. This region is often considered an emerging megacity. The PRD is a megalopolis, with future development into a single mega metropolitan area, yet itself is at the southern end of a larger megalopolis running along the southern coast of China, which include large metropolises like Chaoshan, Zhangzhou-Xiamen, Quanzhou-Putian, and Fuzhou. The nine largest cities of PRD had a combined population of 57.15 million in at 2013 end, however, their population growth is modest at 0.45% year over year, comprising 53.69% of the provincial population.[1] This sharply contrasts with the previous decade's migrant population boom, and reflects the rising cost of migrant labor and changes to the value chain. According to the World Bank Group, the PRD has become the largest urban area in the world in both size and population.[2]

Historical background[edit]

Since economic liberalisation was adopted by the Chinese government in the late 1970s, the delta has become one of the leading economic regions and a major manufacturing center of China and the world. The Chinese government hopes that the manufacturing in Guangdong, combined with the financial and service economy and traditional capitalistic influence in Hong Kong, will create an economic gateway attracting foreign capital throughout mainland China.


River delta[edit]

The river delta, also known as the Golden Delta of Guangdong,[3] is formed by three major rivers, the Xi Jiang (West River), Bei Jiang (North River), and Dong Jiang (East River). The flat lands of the delta are criss-crossed by a network of tributaries and distributaries of the Pearl River. The Pearl River Delta is actually two alluvial deltas, separated by the core branch of the Pearl River. The Bei Jiang and Xi Jiang converge to flow into the South China Sea and Pearl River in the west, while the Dong Jiang only flows into the Pearl River proper in the east.

The Xi Jiang begins exhibiting delta-like characteristics as far west as Zhaoqing, although this city is not usually considered a part of the PRD region. After passing through the Lingyang Gorge and converging with the Bei Jiang, the Xi Jiang opens up and flows as far east as Nasha Qu and as far west as Xinhui. Major distributaries of the Xi include Donghui Shuidao, Jiya Shuidao, Hutiaomen Shuidao, Yinzhou Hu, and the main branch of the Xi Jiang. Jiangmen and Zhongshan are the major cities found in the western section of the delta.[citation needed]

The Bei Jiang enters the delta plains at Qingyuan but doesn't begin to split until near Sanshui. From here the two main distributaries are Tanzhou Shuidao and Shunde Shuidao which form multiple mouths along the west side of the Pearl River's estuary. Two other distributaries, Lubao Yong and Xinan Yong, split from the Bei further north and converge with the Liuxi He to form the main branch of the Pearl River just north of Guangzhou. The other major city in the north section of the delta is Foshan.[citation needed]

The Dong Jiang flows through Huizhou into the delta. It begins diverging northeast of Dongguan into many distributaries, including the Dongguan Shuidao. Distributuares enter the Pearl River as far north as Luogang and as far south as Hu Men (Tiger Gate).

Location and demographics[edit]

As well as the delta itself, the term Pearl River Delta refers to the dense network of cities that covers nine prefectures of the province of Guangdong, namely Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Foshan, Huizhou, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing, and the SARs of Hong Kong and Macau. The 2010/2011 State of the World Cities report, published by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, estimates the population of the delta region at 120 million people; it is rapidly urbanising.[4]

The eastern side of the PRD (Shenzhen, Dongguan), dominated by foreign capitals, is the most developed economically. The western areas (Foshan, Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Jiangmen), dominated by local private capitals, are open for development. New transport links between Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai in the PRD are expected to open up new areas for development, further integrate the cities, and facilitate trade within the region. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, currently under construction, and the proposed Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge, currently in the planning phase, will be amongst the longest bridges in the world with a total length of approximately 50 km each.

An 1888 map of the mouth of the Pearl River Delta, showing the locations of Macau and Hong Kong

Until c. 1985, the PRD had been mainly dominated by farms and small rural villages, but after the economy was reformed and opened, a flood of investment turned it into the land's economic powerhouse. The PRD's startling growth was fueled by foreign investment coming largely from Hong Kong manufacturers that moved their operations into the PRD. In 2003, Hong Kong companies employed 11 million workers in their PRD operations. Lately there have been extreme labour shortages in the region due to runaway economic growth which caused wages to rise by about 20 to 30 percent in the past two years.[5]


The Pearl River Delta has been one of most economically dynamic regions of the People's Republic of China since the launch of China’s reform programme in 1979. With annual gross domestic product growth of 13.45 percent over three decades since 1978, it is 3.5 percentage points higher than the national average. Since 1978, almost 30% of all foreign investment in China was in the PRD.[6] By 2007 its GDP rose to US$448 billion which makes its economy about the size of Taiwan's.[7] The abundance of employment opportunities created a pool of wealthy, middle-income, professional consumers with an annual per capita income that puts them among China's wealthiest.[8] Since the onset of China’s reform program, the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone has been the fastest growing portion of the fastest growing province in the fastest growing large economy in the world.[9]

According to the 2000 national Census, the Zone had a population of 40.8 million people. Per capita income has been growing substantially in recent years, as have consumer expenditures.

Although the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone encompasses only 0.4 percent of the land area and only 3.2 percent of the 2000 Census population of mainland China, it accounted for 8.7 percent of GDP, 35.8 percent of total trade, and 29.2 percent of utilised foreign capital in 2001. These figures show the remarkable level of economic development that the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone has achieved and the international orientation of the region’s economy. This orientation has attracted numerous investors from all over the world who use the Greater Pearl River Delta region as a platform for serving global and Chinese markets.

As of 2008, the Central Government has introduced new labor laws, environmental and new regulations to reduce pollution, industrial disputes, safer working conditions and protect the environment. The costs of producing low margin and commodity goods have increased. This is on top of the rising cost for energy, food, transport and the appreciation of the Renminbi against the falling US Dollar. Some manufacturers will need to cut costs by moving up the value chain or moving to more undeveloped regions.[10]

The industrial cities in the Pearl River Delta has been called the "Factory of the World" or the "World's Factory" due the presence of industrial parks populated with factories from foreign investments.[11][12]

Significance of manufacturing[edit]

Several streets in Guangzhou specialize in selling electronic components to the manufacturers of electric and electronic goods

The Pearl River Delta has become the world's workshop and is a major manufacturing base for products such as electronic products (such as watches and clocks), toys, garments and textiles, plastic products, and a range of other goods. Much of this output is invested by foreign entities and is geared for the export market. The Pearl River Delta Economic Zone accounts for approximately one third of China's trade value.

Private-owned enterprises have developed quickly in the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone and are playing an ever-growing role in the region's economy, particularly after year 2000 when the development environment for private-owned enterprises has been greatly relaxed.

Nearly five percent of the world's goods were produced in the Greater Pearl River Delta in 2001, with a total export value of US$289 billion. Over 70,000 Hong Kong companies have factory plants there.[10]

Map (with links)[edit]

City Romanization Population (2010) Image Information & Subdivisions City Map
Pinyin: Guǎngzhōu
Canton: Guong2zeo1
Yale: Gwóngjāu
Jyutping: Gwong2zau1
12,700,800 Guangzhou montage.png Also known to many English speakers as Canton, Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong province. It is a port on the Pearl River, navigable to the South China Sea, and is cultural and political center of the Pearl River Delta.

Districts: Yuexiu, Liwan, Haizhu, Tianhe, Baiyun, Huangpu, Panyu, Huadu, Nansha, Zengcheng, Conghua
New Area: Nansha

Administrative Division Guangzhou 2.png
Pinyin: Shēnzhèn
Canton: Sem1zen3
Yale: Sāmjan
Jyutping: Sam1zan3
10,357,938 Shenzhencity.jpg Shenzhen once was a small fishing village, singled out by Deng Xiaoping to become the first Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in China. Since the late 1970s it has been one of the fastest growing cities in the world due to its proximity to Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997. It is also the busiest port in China after Shanghai.

Districts: Futian, Luohu, Nanshan, Yantian, Bao'an, Longgang
New Districts: Guangming, Pingshan, Longhua, Dapeng

Administrative Divisions of Shenzhen City.svg
Hong Kong
Pinyin: Xiānggǎng
Canton: Hêng1gong2
Yale: Hēunggóng
Jyutping: Hoeng1gong2
7,061,200 TE-Collage Hong Kong.png Hong Kong Island was first occupied by British forces in 1841, and then formally ceded from China under the Treaty of Nanjing at the end of the war. Hong Kong remained a crown colony of the United Kingdom until 1997 when it was returned to China. Hong Kong is known as one of the world's leading financial capitals also a major business and cultural hub.

Districts: Central and Western, Eastern, Southern, Wan Chai, Kowloon City, Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Yau Tsim Mong, Islands, Kwai Tsing, North, Sai Kung, Sha Tin, Tai Po, Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, Yuen Long

Map of Hong Kong 18 Districts.svg
Pinyin: Dōngguǎn
Canton: Dung1gun2
Yale: Dūnggún
Jyutping: Dung1gun2
8,220,237 Dongguan montage.jpg Dongguan borders the provincial capital of Guangzhou to the north, Huizhou to the northeast, Shenzhen to the south, and the Pearl River to the west. It is also home to the world's largest shopping mall, South China Mall.

Subdistricts: Dongcheng, Guancheng, Nancheng, Wanjiang
Towns: Chang'an, Changping, Chashan, Dalang, Dalingshan, Daojiao, Dongkeng, Fenggang, Gaobu, Hengli, Hongmei, Houjie, Huangjiang, Humen, Liaobu, Machong, Qiaotou, Qingxi, Qishi, Shatian, Shijie, Shilong, Shipai, Tangxia, Wangniudun, Xiegang, Zhangmutou, Zhongtang

Administrative Division Dongguan.png
Pinyin: Fóshān
Canton: Fed1san1
Yale: Fātsāan
Jyutping: Fat1saan1
7,194,311 Foshan montage.jpg Foshan is an old town dated back many centuries. It was famous for its porcelain industry. It is now the third largest city in Guangdong'. The city is relatively affluent when compared to other Chinese cities, and it is home to many large private enterprises. Foshan recently has seen a transformation brought by China's booming economy. City administration is considered especially progressive in seeking foreign direct investment especially in Nanhai District which has closes ties with Guangzhou to form a Guangzhou-Foshan metro in the near future.

Districts: Chancheng, Nanhai, Shunde, Sanshui, Gaoming

Administrative Division Foshan.png
Pinyin: Jiāngmén
Canton: Gong1mun4
Yale: Gōngmùhn
Jyutping: Gong1mun4
4,448,871 Jiangmen montage.jpg Jiangmen Port is the second largest river port in Guangdong province. The local government plans to develop a harbour industrial zone with heavy industries such as petrochemical and machinery industries. The port of Jiangmen was known as Kong-Moon when it was forced to open to western trade in 1902. One legacy of this period is a historic waterfront district lined with buildings in the treaty port style. The city has an ongoing renewal project which has restored many of these buildings.

Districts: Jianghai, Pengjiang, Xinhui
County-level Cities: Enping, Taishan, Kaiping, Heshan

Administrative Division Jiangmen.png
Pinyin: Hùizhōu
Canton: Wei6zeo1
Yale: Waihjāu
Jyutping: Wai6zau1
4,597,002 Westlakeinhuizhou.JPG Huizhou is the most eastern city in the Pearl River Delta region. Huizhou is known for its West Lake scenery. Huizhou gained benefit from the Chinese economic reform of the late 1980s. The blossoming real estate market attracted capital investment from Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the provincial economic development strategy, Huizhou is regarded as a site for a world-class petrochemical industry, as well as a hub for developing information technology, and expanding exports and trade.

Districts: Huicheng, Huiyang
Counties: Boluo, Huidong, Longmen

Administrative Division Huizhou.png
Pinyin: Zhàoqìng
Canton: Xiu6 hing3
Yale: Siuhhing
Jyutping: Siu6 hing3
3,918,085 Zhaoqing-7stars.JPG Zhaoqing is the most western city in the Pearl River Delta region. It is well known for being a regional tourist hub, a medium-sized provincial "college town" as well as an up-and-coming manufacturing center. Residents from Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other nearby cities, as well as people from Hong Kong and Macau, are known to visit the city on weekend getaways and excursions.

Districts: Duanzhou, Dinghu
Counties: Guangning, Huaiji, Fengkai, Deqing
County-level Cities: Gaoyao, Sihui

Administrative Division Zhaoqing.png
Pinyin: Zhōngshān
Canton: Zung1san1
Yale: Jūngsāan
Jyutping: Zung1saan1
3,120,884 Zhongshan Photos.jpg Zhongshan is a mid-size city named after Dr. Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) and considered by many to be the "Father of modern China". Zhongshan serves as a midway point between Guangzhou and Macau. Zhongshan is known in China for making lamps.

Subdistricts: Dong, Nan, Shiqi, Xi, Wuguishan, ZTHIDZ (Zhongshangang)
Towns: Banfu, Dachong, Dongfeng, Dongsheng, Fusha, Gangkou, Guzhen, Henglan,l Huangpu, Nanlang, Nantou, Minzong, Sanjiao, Sanxiang, Shaxi, Shenwan, Tanzhou, Xiaolan
New Area: Cuiheng

Administrative Division Zhongshan.png
Pinyin: Zhūhǎi
Canton: Ju6oi2
Yale: Jyūhói
Jyutping: Zyu1hoi2
1,560,229 Zhuhai montage.jpg Zhuhai plays a similar role to Shenzhen and became the first of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in China. Since the late 1970s it has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the Pearl River Delta due to its proximity to Macau.

Districts: Xiangzhou, Doumen, Jinwan
New Area: Hengqin

Administrative Division Zhuhai.png
Pinyin: Àomén
Canton: Ou3mun4
Yale: Oumùhn
Jyutping: Ou3mun4
544,600 Macau montage.png Macau was first Portuguese settlement in China on 1557. Macau remained a colony of Portugal until 1999 when it was returned to China. Macau has developed into a notable tourist industry that boasts a wide range of hotels, resorts, stadiums, restaurants and casinos. This makes it one of the richest cities in the world.

Freguesia: Nossa Senhora de Fátima, Santo António, São Lázaro, , São Lourenço, Nossa Senhora do Carmo, São Francisco Xavier
Zone: Cotai


Pearl River mega-city[edit]

A 2011 article in British newspaper The Telegraph reported on a "Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One" project. The stated goal was to "mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together."[13] (Hong Kong and Macau were not included.) However, the Chinese government denied that such a project existed.[14]


Removal of floating trash from the surface of the Pearl River in Guangzhou

The Pearl River Delta is notoriously polluted,[citation needed] with sewage and industrial waste treatment facilities failing to keep pace with the growth in population and industry in the area. A large portion of the pollution is brought about by factories run by Hong Kong manufacturers in the area. Much of the area is frequently covered with a brown smog. This has a strong effect on the pollution levels in the delta.[citation needed]

Pollution is a great risk to the Chinese white dolphins that inhabit the area.

On March 22, 2007 the World Bank approved a $96 million loan to the PRC government to reduce water pollution in the Pearl River Delta.[15] On December 23, 2008 it was announced that ¥48.6 billion (about $7.1 billion) will be spent on the river by mid-2010 to clean up the river's sewage problems quoted by Zhang Hu, the director of Guangzhou municipal bureau of water affairs. The city will build about 30 water treatment plants, which will treat 2.25 million tonnes of water per day. The program hopes to cut down the amount of sewage in the area by 85%, and was also of fundamental importance for the 2010 Asian Games held in Guangzhou from November 12, 2010 to November 27, 2010.[16]

In October 2009, Greenpeace East Asia released a report, "Poisoning the Pearl River" that detailed the results of a study it conducted in which 25 samples were collected from five manufacturing facilities in the Greater Pearl River Delta. The study concluded that all the facilities sampled were discharging waste-water containing chemicals with proven or suspected hazardous properties including heavy metals such as beryllium, copper and manganese as well as high levels of organic chemicals (Although Beryllium isn't a heavy metal, its compounds are highly toxic, which is likely why it was included in the report).[17] These substances are associated with a long list of health problems such as cancer, endocrine disruption, renal failure and damage to the nervous system as well being known to harm the environment. Three of the five facilities sampled (Qingyuan Top Dragon Co. Ltd, Wing Fung P.C. Board Co. Ltd. and Techwise Qingyuan Circuit Co. Ltd. ) contained concentrations of chemicals which exceeded the limits set by Guangdong provincial effluent standards. These companies were then subjected to a Clean Production Audit according to Article 28 of China's Cleaner Production Promotion Law.[18] Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau took a stance against the companies by blacklisting them.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ World Bank Report Provides New Data to Help Ensure Urban Growth Benefits the Poor, The World Bank Group, 26 Jan 2015
  3. ^ Atlas of China, page 123. SinoMaps Press, 2007.
  4. ^ Vidal, John (March 22, 2010). "UN report: World's biggest cities merging into 'mega-regions'". Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  5. ^ "Labor shortage to affect Pearl River Delta hardest". 
  6. ^ "A Stronger Pearl River Delta". 
  7. ^ "Achievements, challenges in China's Pearl River Delta plan". 
  8. ^ "Economic Backdrop of the PRD". 
  9. ^ "Introducing the Pearl River Delta". 
  10. ^ a b China's low costs are on the rise 2008-08-19 Retrieved 2010-01-09
  11. ^ Can China keep its workers happy as strikes and protests rise?,Mukul Devichand, BBC Radio 4, Crossing Continents,, 15 December 2011
  12. ^ Rahul Jacob, 30 November 2011, Talk is cheap in the world’s factory,
  13. ^ China to create largest mega city in the world with 42 million people 2011-01-29 Retrieved 2011-01-29
  14. ^ Guandong denies ambitious megacity plan CCTV News English 2011-01-30
  15. ^ World Bank loans China $96 mln for delta environment Reuters 2007-03-22 Retrieved 2010-01-09
  16. ^ Guangzhou contributes 48.6 bln yuan to clean up Pearl River 2008-12-24 Retrieved 2010-01-09
  17. ^
  18. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Ma, Xiangming (S: 马向明, T: 馬向明, P: Mǎ Xiàngmíng). The integration of the city-region of the Pearl River Delta (S: 珠江三角洲城市区域的一体化, T: 珠江三角洲城市區域的一體化, P: Zhūjiāngsānjiǎozhōu Chéngshìqūyù de Yītǐhuà). Asia Pacific Viewpoint. Special Issue: China's Changing Regional Development: Trends, Strategies and Challenges in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) Period, Guest editor: Peter T.Y. Cheung. Volume 53, Issue 1, pages 97–104, April 2012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8373.2012.01478.x. First published online on 4 April 2012. Full document in English, with abstracts in English and Mandarin Chinese.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 22°32′N 113°44′E / 22.533°N 113.733°E / 22.533; 113.733