Guangzhou is at the heart of the most-populous built-up metropolitan area in mainland China, which extends into the neighboring cities of Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan and Shenzhen, forming one of the largest urban agglomerations on Earth, the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone. Administratively, the city holds sub-provincial status and is one of China’s nine National Central Cities. At the end of 2018, the population of the city’s expansive administrative area was estimated at 14,904,400 by city authorities, up 3.8% from the previous year. Guangzhou is ranked as an Alpha global city. There is a rapidly increasing number of foreign temporary residents and immigrants from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. This has led to it being dubbed the « Capital of the Third World ».
The domestic migrant population from other provinces of China in Guangzhou was 40% of the city’s total population in 2008. Together with Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, Guangzhou has one of the most expensive real estate markets in China. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, nationals of sub-Saharan Africa who had initially settled in the Middle East and other parts of Southeast Asia moved in unprecedented numbers to Guangzhou in response to the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.
Long the only Chinese port accessible to most foreign traders, Guangzhou fell to the British during the First Opium War. No longer enjoying a monopoly after the war, it lost trade to other ports such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, but continued to serve as a major entrepôt. In modern commerce, Guangzhou is best known for its annual Canton Fair, the oldest and largest trade fair in China. For three consecutive years (2013–2015), Forbes ranked Guangzhou as the best commercial city in mainland China.