Canton has can-do: Vibrant culture and shopping found in today's Guangzhou

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, January 24, 2011
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Liwan is a great place to pick up antiques. Photo: Chen Jieying 

Last year was an unforgettable one for Guangzhou. The successful hosting of the 16th Asian Games and Asian Para Games increased the city's profile around the continent, if not the world, while the iconic new Canton Tower opened and was an enduring image of both the opening and closing ceremonies.

But 2011 offers fresh challenges for the capital of Guangdong Province – can it build on the legacy of the Games and become the world-hub it so wants to be? Let us take a cultural and commercial look at the city.

Art zones and bar streets

Guangzhou is not known as one of China's hipper cities. It lacks both the glamour of Shanghai and Beijing's cultural depth, and although not as hectic as nearby Hong Kong, it isn't nearly as relaxed a place as Chengdu or Kunming – but any suggestion that the City of Rams is a cultural desert is wide of the mark. Iconic new buildings such as Zaha Hadid's Guangzhou Opera House are part of an official drive to promote Guangdong's capital as a more cosmopolitan, creative place, but really this is just official recognition of something that's been happening on a smaller scale for quite some time.

One obvious example of a cooler Canton can be seen in the evolution of the city's nightlife. Small, stylish restaurants have started to appear in its backstreet and converted houses, and bars and coffee shops are blooming. An increasing number of such places are giving people the option to eat, drink and be merry in the open air.

Even better for Guangzhou's creative credentials is the fact that a number of local nightspots are actively promoting live music – and not the kind that involves cover bands playing "Hotel California." Tianhe's C:Union and its younger sibling T:Union, which is located inside Guangzhou's Sculpture Park, are known for an eclectic and ever-changing roster of live acts, and they are not alone. Venues 191 Space and Tekkwunn Livehouse in downtown Guangzhou, and Iron Age Space down at Panyu's University City, are luring more independent and international acts to South China, as well as providing a home for an increasingly diverse and multicultural group of locally based performers. Be it European electro-pop or Chinese metal, Cantonese hip-hop or Kazakh folk, musicians are not short of places to play, nor punters keen to listen to them.

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