Guangzhou is situated at the heart of the most-populous built-up metropolitan area in mainland China, an area that extends into the neighboring cities of Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan and Shenzhen, forming one of the largest urban agglomerations on the planet. Administratively, the city holds sub-provincial status; and is one of China's five National Central Cities. In 2015 the city's administrative area was estimated to have a population of 13,501,100. Guangzhou is ranked as an Alpha- Global city. In recent years, there has been a rapidly increasing number of foreign residents and immigrants from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and especially from Africa. This has led to it being dubbed the "Capital of the Third World". The migrant population from other provinces of China in Guangzhou was 40 percent 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.
Guangzhou has a comparatively recent history of two centuries related to its importance for foreign trade. Long the only Chinese port accessible to most foreign traders, the city 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 (which is close by) 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 the three consecutive years 2013–2015, Forbes ranked Guangzhou as the best commercial city on the Chinese mainland.
Guǎngzhōu is the pinyin romanisation of the Chinese name 廣州, which was simplified in mainland China to 广州 in the 1950s. The name of the city is taken from the ancient Guang Province (Guang Zhou), after it had become the prefecture's seat of government, which is how some other Chinese cities, including Hangzhou, Suzhou and Fuzhou got their names. The character 廣 or 广—which also appears in the names of the provinces Guangdong and Guangxi, together called the Liangguang—means "broad" or "expansive" and refers to the intention to dispense imperial grace broadly in the region with the founding of county of Guangxin in Han Dynasty.
Before acquiring its current name, the town was known as Panyu, a name still borne by one of Guangzhou's districts not far from the main city. The origin of the name is still uncertain, with 11 various explanations being offered, including that it may have referred to two local mountains. The city has also sometimes been known as Guangzhou Fu or Guangfu after its status as the capital of a prefecture. From this latter name, Guangzhou was known to medieval Persians such as Al-Masudi and Ibn Khordadbeh as Khanfu (خانفو). Under the Southern Han, the city was renamed Xingwang.