Zhang Guangning, former mayor of Guangzhou, China

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Zhang Guangning
Former mayor of Guangzhou, China
By Andrew Stevens

12 January 2008: An alumnus of the one party state’s elite cadre school, Zhang Guangning’s progression to lead one of China’s largest and most growing cities is of little surprise. As host of the next Asian Games however, he has placed great emphasis on its international links and secured election to the presidency of the United Cities and Local Governments organisation. Zhang Guangning has been short-listed for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

Zhang was born in 1953 in Jiangsu province. In terms of his education, he holds a Masters in the Philosophy of Law and an MBA. Aged 20 he joined the Communist Party (CPC) and graduated from the elite party school of the central committee. His posts include secretary of the Communist Youth League branch in the Guangzhou Steel Works, deputy secretary and secretary of its CPC Committee, and director of the training centre of the steel works. He then joined the Guangzhou city government in Guangdong Province, most recently serving as executive vice mayor (1996-2003) before being elected mayor of the city in 2003 and again in 2007.

The city is one of the largest municipalities in China (the fourth most populous after Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong) and one of 15 designated sub-provincial cities. Guangzhou is better known outside of China by its Romanised name of Canton. At the peak of global empire-based trading, Canton was one of the world’s largest trading zones and one of the country’s five treaty ports under which it regulated trade with the outside world. As such, Canton was the subject of competing national interests in the Far East during the 19th century, with each trading company exercising jurisdiction over its nationals in the city. The city secured local autonomy as Guangzhou in 1918, serving as the temporary capital of the nationalist Republic of China in 1949 during the Chinese civil war until communist forces of the People’s Republic of China entered the city that year.

Guangzhou has long been the beneficiary of proximity to Hong Kong, with the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping during the 1970s increasing the city’s economic output also, followed by firms relocating from the British colony to take advantage of lower labour costs, which continue today with by attracting great numbers of the country’s rural poor. As a port on the strategically important and ever-expanding Pearl River Delta Region, it continues to reap this particular reward, though substantial environmental degradation has followed as a price. Zhang is the lead mayor for pan-regional cooperation among Pearl River Delta municipalities. Guangzhou will also host the 16th Asian Games in 2010, for which Zhang is the secretary-general. Since becoming mayor, Zhang has placed elevated importance to the city’s international links and has signed sister city agreements with Birmingham in England and Dubai.

Elected deputy to the 10th National People's Congress, deputy to the 7th and 8th People's Congress of Guangdong province, and deputy to the 11th and 12th People's Congress of Guangzhou Municipality, Zhang serves as Vice President of the China Association of Mayors. In 2007 he became co-president of the United Cities and Local Governments organisation.

World Mayor 2023