At the end of the Ming Dynasty—that was more than 300 years ago—there was a beach on which local fishermen commonly dried their nets. In their dialect, a fishing net was called Gu bu. That was until Gu, thought unsophisticated in its spelling by a village scholar, was changed to its dialectal homophone Gao bu, and that, it has remained since. Over time, a town was built as the population increased.
The town that resides by a fork in the East River has been a traditional agricultural town that relies heavily on crop production, poultry farming and fishing. Not until the opening-up in the late 1970’s did they begin to develop a manufacturing industry with the aid of foreign investment.
In addition to its traditional industries, which make up the majority of its economy, it’s striving for a more industrial future that will match its ambitions, like most of the towns in Dongguan. Although it’s not among the top list in terms of foreign investment, it has achieved some notable victories in developing an international, export-oriented economy. Today it is home to some very successful international companies, including the Yue Yuen Group, which set up the world’s biggest sport shoes factory exporting sport shoes brands like Nike and Adidas. It is also home to Lee and Man Holding Company and the world’s largest eyewear company, Luxottica, which opened two manufacturing facilities here in 1998, the year it started its operations in China.
WHAT CAN I DO?
There has been a custom of racing dragon boats in Gaobu for nearly 300 years. All of its 19 village communities have dragon boats and hold annual races. Just imagine that while thousands of oars are rowing, tens of thousands of people are crowding to watch. When the annual Dragon Boat Festival approaches, people select the best fish, shrimps and rice to cook the fragrant and sweet dragon boat rice and dragon boat festival glutinous rice dumplings. They invite people in the neighborhood to “play with the Dragon in the water of luck,” their way of saying row the dragon boat.¬ The town joins other towns and districts in a series of dragon boat races lasting for nearly a month, making it one of the unique scenes of Dongguan. This is common among the towns in watery areas like Wanjiang, Wangniudun, Zhongtang, Machong, Shijie and Hongmei.
In Gaobu, probably unknown to many, there’s a Chinese Architectural Ceramic Museum. The museum was first funded and built by Weimei Group, a leading ceramics-making company in China. The museum was so sophisticated that it was later upgraded to a national level museum. Inside, eight exhibition halls display a collection of more than 80,000 pieces from different categories. Although the museum also helps promote the company’s image, you will still get an eye opening experience taking a tour there.
It seems almost every town in Dongguan has its local food or something that delivers pride to the town and its traditions, like goose meat in Dalingshan and basketball in Dalang. In Gaobu, it’s fish balls, especially the ones from Xiansha Village. It’s unique in a way that the cooks are said to choose only the tenderest parts of the dace fish as the key ingredient. The proper approach is to assure a pure flavor by raising the fish in ponds free of ducks or geese. After being filleted, the meat is beaten with metal rods for more than six hours and shaped into balls. Xiansha fish balls taste chewy and springy. Villagers joke that when dropped onto a hard surface, they can bounce like a ping pong ball several feet into the air.
Gaobu is across a river from Wanjiang, so it’s very close to the city area, just a 20-minute drive. There are buses that travel to Gaobu Town at the three main bus stations. You can also take Bus No. 4, which goes through Dongcheng to get there.
Location: northern Dongguan
Area: 30 square kilometers
Journey time: 20 minutes by taxi, one hour by bus from downtown
Local attractions: Dragon Boat Festival, China Architectural Ceramic Museum, Xiansha Fish balls