Guangxi's scenic landscapes are so famous that if you've not encountered them in postcards, you've probably come across them in prints of Chinese paintings hanging in somebody's grandmother's kitchen. They're the quintessential "China" images — towering limestone karsts, rice terraces, waterfalls and winding rivers. And, even if Guilin and Yangshuo get a little flack from experienced China travelers for overcrowding and commercial hype, the exceptional Guangxi scenery will continue to ensure that the province remains on the top of even the most jaded traveler's hit list.
Situated in southern China adjacent to the provinces of Yunnan to the west, Guizhou to the north, Hunan to the northeast and Guangdong to the southeast, Guangxi shares a 1,020-kilometer border with Vietnam. Guangxi's 1,595-kilometer Gulf of Tonkin coastline also provides excellent access to the beaches in the vicinity of Beihai, which itself serves as a gateway to tropical Hainan Island.
Guangxi highlights include: exploring Reed Flute Cave, Elephant Trunk Hilland Fubo Shan in Guilin, cruising the picturesque Li River, trekking the steepest rice terraces in the world at Dragon's Backbone (Longji) near Longsheng, bicycling beneath karst peaks outside Yangshuo after a cafe breakfast on West Street, visiting the quiet ancient town of Xingping, exploring the Dong minority hill villages of Sajiang, lounging on Beihai's Silver Beach, hopping on a boat from Beihai to Weizhou Island or Xieyang Island and splashing around in Detian waterfall as it flows from China into Vietnam.
Besides the majority Han ethnicity, one-third of Guangxi's 45 million-strong population is made up of Zhuang,Yao, Miao, Tong, Maonan, Yi and Shui peoples, each with their own distinctive customs, languages and numerous annual festivals, cuisines and colorful traditions of song and dance. Favorites include the Miao Reed Flute Festival, the Dong Firecracker Festival during Lunar New Year and the Zhuang Dragon Boat and Song Festival.
Guangxi's ups and downs over the centuries have included infamous warlords, ethnic rebellions, switching capital cities, switching from provincial statusto an Autonomous Region, Sino-French battles, Sino-Japanese battles and, now, the occasional Sino-tourist battle. Indeed, this mountainous subtropical territory has a long history of keeping things interesting. The Guangxi Provincial Museum is a good place to learn more about Guangxi's tumultuous history.
Prior to its absorption by an expanding Chinese empire, the area's history extended far back into prehistory. Rock paintings along the Zuo River bordering Vietnam provide archeological evidence linking the present-day Zhuang minority people to a Bronze-Age culture that prevailed in much of Southeast Asia, and today over 13 million Zhuang live in Guangxi, making up one third of the population. There are also significant numbers of both Dong and Miao minority peoples. Guangxi's people have traditionally had close ties with Cantonese culture and language, thanks in large part to the Xi River valley connecting Guangxi to neighboring Guangdong. Today, Cantonese is still one of the four dialects spoken in the Guangxi capital of Nanning, along with Pinghua, Zhuang and Mandarin.
Guangxi first became a part of China in 214 BC, when Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC)forces seized most of southern China. Guangxi was first given provincial status during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)and remained a province for six centuries until 1958 when it was formally recognized as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region because of its large minority populations.
A rugged land remote from traditional centers of power, Guangxi remained for centuries something of a frontier province, and as such, has seen more than its share of rebelliousness. In 1851, for example, during the late Qing Dynasty, Guangxi was the site of the Jintian Uprising. The massively disruptive Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) also originated in Guangxi, and a decisive engagement in the Franco-Chinese War (1884-1885), the Battle of Zhennan Pass, saw the French routed by Chinese forces under Feng Zicai.
The 20th century did not bring an end to turmoil in Guangxi. With the fall of the Qing in 1912, the Zhuang sent representatives to Beijing to campaign for Guangxi autonomy. When this bid was unsuccessful, the Old Guangxi Clique turned to open rebellion in 1927. For the next two years, Zhuang leaders Li Tsung-jen and Li Chi-shen maintained a defiant self-rule while modernizing Guangxi, but Chiang Kai-shek ruthlessly crushed their revolt in 1929. Despite the Clique's failure, Chiang could not put Guangxi under direct provincial rule, and he was almost immediately challenged by another uprising, this one led by a young communist leader named Deng Xiaoping, whose Baise Uprising foreshadowed the eventual communist victory in 1949. It wouldn't be until 1950 that wild and unruly Guangxi was brought under the control of the new government.
During World War II, Guangxi was a target of Japanese attacks on the coast starting in 1939. In 1944, the Japanese launched a major offensive to take the western half of Guangxi and successfully seized the Hunan-Guangxi railway line with the intent of opening a land link to French Indochina. Although relentless Zhuang guerrillas and Chinese communist insurgents inflicted heavy damage on Japanese forces in the countryside, most major cities in Guangxi came under Japanese occupation. During this period, one million refugees hid in and around Guilin.
Post-war and post-revolution, Guangxi saw some industrial development, but most areas of the province still lag far behind the economic development in neighboring Guangdong.
Guangxi can be traveled in comfort year round, thanks to its combination of a cooler mountainous north and warmer subtropical Gulf of Tonkin coastline in the south. Overall, average annual temperatures range from 17 to 23°C, with the best time to visit Guangxi falling between April and October. Note, however, that that period is also when 80 percent of the rain occurs, and quite a bit can fall, so be prepared for wet weather. Summers are generally humid and hot (averaging 28°C/83 °F). Expect frequent afternoon showers. Winter brings moderate temperatures (averaging 8°C/46 °F) and rain. About every ten years, the northern mountains get a bit of snow.
Visit our Guangxi destination pages for local Guangxi climate information and local weather reports cities including Guilin and Yangshuo.