This is Dongguan’s own little piece of the Qing Dynasty. Designed and built during the 1850s, it is one of the Four Great Gardens of Guangdong Province. It was first signed to the vice governor of Guangxi and Jiangsu, who used it to show off his cultural side throwing impromptu parties centred around calligraphy, tea drinking, Chinese chess, literature, the discussion of philosophy, and the appreciation of women. With some of the best preserved Qing Dynasty architecture of its genre, not to mention a serene lake, this place is arguably No.1 on the DG tourist map.
China has long had a love affair with the public square, whether it is groups of dama dancing, impromptu sing-songs people, or old folk just rocking out the tai chi, the public square has long been a peaceful place and just, occasionally, a place for a bit of a riotous party. Dongguan’s Central Square has long been one of the nation’s finest, whether it is taking in Swan Lake at the Yulan Theater, dozing at the library, or just gazing at the city’s iconic red twisted, ‘three represents’ sculpture that has long become a symbol of Dongguan. Rumour has it that even the bigwigs in Beijing themselves are also impressed by Dongguan’s most impressive public space. Move over Tiananmen!
A two-bedroom apartment, kitchen with granite worktops and a sweet balcony overlooking a new garden all for 2,000 RMB, yeah right I hear you say—well, in Dongguan, you really can have it all. Not to mention an awesome Chinese lunch for 20 RMB. Oh and taxis start eight RMB a pop. Sure, you might get your ear chewed off by a grumpy driver but at those prices, who’s really complaining? The city has plenty of high rollers, plenty, but for those that aren’t coining the big bucks, Dongguan still works. Try living in Hong Kong on 8,000 kuai a month. Yeah, we thought not!
There are few things more satisfying than ripping off the rich red scabrous skin of a ripe lychee before sinking your teeth into is sweet, squishy perfumed flesh. And for the best part of 4,000 years Dongguan has been producing some of the finest examples of the fruit on the globe. The best time to eat them is in mid-July; if you are lucky, try hitting up the hillsides of Changping, Dalang, Liaobu and Hengli midsummer, you might just be on time to pick these badass little fruits native to Guangdong in the wild. Pure heaven!
Of its eight million-odd people, less than two million in the city are actually Dongguan natives, the vast majority actually being migrants from other parts of China—the city has residents from Qinghai, Xinjiang, Guizhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Israel, Morroco, Ireland, Romania and god knows where else, hell, there is even a dude from Oregon who lives here. This very Dongguanese melting pot is reflected in the food and the culture: you can drink anything from a traditional cup of pu’er to a gingerbread latte. You can eat anything from dim sum and Peking Duck, right through to Clams Casino or a Homemade British Scotch Egg. Dongguan’s brilliant diversity is the type that has muppets like Donald Trump waking up in the dead of night with a bad case of the fear.
The Chinese love their tea and few more than those in Dongguan, which has become widely known as the “capital of pu’er tea collection”. There are over 12 huge tea markets scattered throughout the city and over 8,000 tea shops. Up to 300,000 tons of tea are stored in the city. In 2013 and 2014, the price of pu’er tea soared to over 3,800 RMB per kg, although now the price has stabilized to around 2,000 per kg. The vast majority of these obsessive tea-hoarders are Dongguan locals, who love to invest in the tea. If you get it right, profits from investing can be lucrative, and few natives like to miss the chance to make a little bit of extra cash. Aside from investing, there is the pure pleasure of drinking tea itself, and it is common to see groups of elderly Cantonese men idly passing the day with impromptu gong fu cha tea ceremonies. Pure heaven!
This one is truly iconic; throughout history Qifeng Mountain had long been seen as a land of treasure, luck, and with supreme feng shui. Dongguan people have often been known to think that the city’s economic achievements of the last few decades has been due to the good luck bestowed by this symbolic mountain. Ok, so in a technical sense it is a merely hill and not a mountain, but who is going to dare argue with the gods and goddesses of good fortune?
Since this hipster hangout exploded in popularity in 2012, it has quickly become one of the must-see-tourist-attraction for visitors new to the town. It all kicked-off with Rano Book Bar, a stylish Soviet-style building rented by an interior design studio, and now the village plays host to hundreds of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and tea shops, all keeping the traditional architecture. You can’t find any other place in Dongguan that quite combines modern culture and ancient architecture in the same way. And for guys and gals looking to go on a romantic date, Batou village must surely come near the top of the list.
A Basketball City
Before November 2015, the city hosts two major professional basketball teams from the CBA, the Guangdong Southern Tigers and the Dongguan Leopards. Eight-time CBA title winner Southern Tigers and regular play-off team the Dongguan Leopards have an exceptionally wide fan base in Dongguan. The games between the two Dongguan have always been one of the hottest of topics of the city, not to mention a fierce rivalry. Dongguan has long retained the honour of “city of basketball”. And though one of the teams, the Dongguan Leopards has technically left the city, basketball is as popular as it ever was. Every year, official or grass-root basketball competitions are held throughout the towns. Basketball is truly Dongguan’s favored sport.
While Dongguan is great, sometimes, just sometimes we fancy a day, a weekend, or even a week away. And when it comes to location Dongguan is simply hard to beat, whether it’s a secluded beach on Shenzhen, frenzied shopping in Hong Kong, or simply taking in the vast culture and history of Guangzhou, all of these things are only a couple of hours away from Dongguan. For those of a more intrepid nature, overnight buses lead to a range of destinations all over China (quiet mountain town, Yangshou in Guangxi Province is often cited as the best). All the major cities surrounding Dongguan have international airports, making travelling in Asia easy as pie.
It’s easy to think of our fair city that has just sprung up in the last 30 years, but in truth Dongguan was established in 757 A.D. in what is now known as Guancheng. From 757 to 1152, Dongguan’s jurisdiction spread from Hong Kong and Macau, through to Shenzhen, Zhuahai, Zhongshan and even parts of Guangzhou. It’s a history that hasn’t been forgotten. Although not a whole lot is left from even 200 years ago, there are some exceptional historic sites, including relics of the Opium War fought by governor Lin Zexu against the British navy in Humen; Nanshe Ancient Village in Chashan, which is an exceptionally well preserved village of old houses and temples, over 400 years ago; the Hengli Centennial Bull Market, the biggest bull market in Guangdong originated over 600 years ago and still exists today; the Labor-selling Festival in Dongkeng, the traditional labor market has formed a massive town-wide water fight. If you are willing to look for it, Dongguan has a lot more history than you think.
Dongguan Overseas Scholars Association (DGOSA)
Dongguan has one of the most successful groups of hai gui, or sea turtles (those that lived or studied abroad only to return) from across the entire nation. Technically affiliated to a local government department, their motto: ‘To Join, To Serve’, reflects their intent to deliver and work on behalf of the wider Dongguan community, and it has over 1,600 registered members. Go DGOSA!
Established in 2001, Songshan Lake Hi-tech Industrial Development Zone is located on the borders of Dalang, Dalingshan and Liaobu and is more than 72 sq.km in area. Over its decade-plus development, it has become the city’s name card in the hi-tech, electronic, communication and education industries. Walking around Songshan Lake and its beautiful waters with so many trees, it is easy to forget you are in Dongguan. The eight-square-km lake brings a tranquil atmosphere to the area. There are no low-end manufacturing factories here, and the population is far fewer when compared to many other areas in Dongguan.
Not many people know that from the 1950s to 1980s, weightlifters from Dongguan broke world weightlifting records over 20 times, starting with muscular athlete Chen Jingkai. In 1956, Chen broke his first world record at 133 kg and won his first world champion title, also the first for the PRC. By 1964, he had broken the world record a further nine times, finishing by lifting a monster 151.5 kgs. His younger brother Chen Manlin, and nephew Chen Weiqiang were later trained by him and both went on to break world records. The three of them created 16 new world records from 1956 to 1979, which was the golden time of Dongguan weightlifting. Put short, Dongguan has some serious muscle men.
One of the most brilliant and vibrant communities in DG surely has to be the Brazilians. No one is quite sure but it is estimated that there are up to 5,000 living in the city, making up the biggest Brazilian community in China. Mostly gauchos from southern Brazil, the vast majority originated from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, famous for its beef, leather and shoes. Constantly putting on parties, events and entertainment throughout Dongguan, they are a real boon to the city. On occasion, Brazilian World Cup Manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari is even known to hang out in the city.
Dongguan is home to over a dozen international schools, some of them with reputations as being amongst the best in the Pearl River Delta, having a wealth of students from the China, Korea, Brazil, the UK, the US, and throughout the world. All of these schools put on numerous events, be they charity auctions, epic sports days, or wonderful music concerts, all for the wider community to enjoy. Many of the children that grew up here even decide to stay here, adding to the city’s brain pool.
Labor Selling Festival
Every year tens of thousands of people from afar afield as Hong Kong and Macao flock to Dongkeng for the Mai Shen festival, which is basically southern China’s biggest water fight. The festival is widely seen as one of the first local folk festivals that is truly native to Dongguan. Ancient records suggest the Mai Shen Festival started during the Ming Dynasty, when a local landlord Dongkeng, advertised for skilled peasants on the second day of the second month of lunar year. Poor peasants arrived in huge numbers, desperate for work. Soon other landlords followed, putting up notices. Over time workers from the surrounding areas came to work on the same day every year. Since then, the day has developed into the mother of all water fights—the only advice we can give, if you are going, make sure you bring a huge water gun, as those with smaller pistols may as well prepare to be destroyed.
This man-made island has easily proven its tough shell, with an amazing capacity for survival. Built between 1628 and 1644 by an imperial official named Zheng Yu, Turtle Village (the locals call it Shuiwei Village) is surrounded by a moat with one visible exit, a bridge that was, up until sometime in the 80’s at least, a simple wooden drawbridge. Five towers make up the shape of the head and feet of a giant turtle, while the bridge makes up its tail. Inside was originally made up of two cannons, 72 houses, and nine wells, one of them with a hidden escape tunnel. Village residents include Zheng Guochen, 78, a descendent of the first official and custodian of the village. Other than two or three houses that have been totally torn down and rebuilt in a modern way, most of the houses remain with the same structure they have always had. For those that haven’t made the trip, it is truly a wonder to behold.
Bringing baseball to China, or at least to Dongguan, the Dongguan Dragons, a local baseball group which caters to all children in the training city is headed-up by former baseball professional, Jim Mann. The Dragon’s offer a baseball program which is divided into three skill sets, from beginners to the high school level, the most skilled of which compete with other teams around China. The Major League Baseball program meets once a week all-year round. Every year, the club organizes a fundraiser, a now-famous “chili cook-off” to raise funds for the club, enabling every kid to join for free, regardless of resources.
Small Community, Big City
Though a city a touch shy of eight million people, and as such it should feel like a busy behemoth where it is all-too-easy to lose your head, Dongguan simply doesn’t feel like that. Amongst the expat community in particular, it feels like everybody knows everybody. It’s the sort of place you bump into your neighbour walking the dogs, or your best mate when buying a pint of milk (ok, so let’s be honest, probably a pint of something else). It’s this huge city, but with a relaxed community vibe, that makes it so appealing, especially to those of a laidback, take-things-as-they-come nature.
A National Forest City
People are fast to assume Dongguan is a vast concrete jungle, but actually the city has almost 1,000 km of green beltways, bike trails and networks connecting the city’s parks, river banks, mountains, and other green attractions throughout. This is not to mention Dongguan’s latest heavyweight title, it is now a “National Forest City”, covered by over 37 percent of forest. The major green areas are focused on the south and southeast of the city, ranging from Chang’an Lotus Mountain and Dalingshan Forest, through to Qingxi and Zhangmutou Forest Park. Take a stroll out in these parts and you will find there is more to Dongguan than you thought possible.