The Taishan Project documents contemporary life in Taishan, China, the ancestral homeland for millions of Cantonese-speaking overseas Chinese living in 92 countries around the world.
Taishan is one of 98 counties in Guangdong Province, a region comprised of 20 towns and a population of 941,000. Home to the Sze Yup Cantonese, Taishan calls itself, “The First Overseas Chinese Hometown in China.”
Significant Chinese migration abroad began during a period of civil unrest during the Qing Dynasty in the mid-19th century. Drawn by the promise of economic opportunity, most migrants came from Taishan because of its proximity to the open ports in Guangzhou, Macau and Hong Kong.
As the Taishanese immigrants spread abroad, they established communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the nations of Western Europe and throughout Southeast Asia. It’s for this reason that the world’s Chinatowns predominantly speak Cantonese to this day, even though China adopted Mandarin as its official language in 1955.
Though the composition of Chinese immigration has changed following World War II to include more Mandarin speakers and people from other regions of China, most people in the West first interact with Chinese culture by visiting a Chinatown and experiencing southern Chinese cuisine and the Cantonese dialect.
Today, Taishan sits at the crossroads of many influences in modern China. Buildings, monuments and museums stand testament to the remittances sent home from overseas Chinese as far back as the American Gold Rush era. Meanwhile, many residences sit abandoned by those who have joined the millions engaged in a new race toward prosperity in China’s nearby special economic zones.
The Taishan Project opens a window on contemporary life in a place sacred to the first Chinese who traveled abroad to establish new lives in the West. If you have family from Taishan or simply want to learn more about the Chinese community in your country, you are welcome here.
Please enjoy the photographs and contact me to share your story.
Richard ‘S’ Lee