Prosperity Revives Cantonese Culture Guangdong Province ON THE FAST TRACK Series: POINTS OF THE COMPASS. Third of Three Articles Appearing Today

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SHA DONGXUN recalls the embarrassment of being snubbed as a lowly native of Guangdong Province while at a university in Beijing in the 1960s.

"Guangdong was considered a terrible, backward place, a place of exile," says Professor Sha, a historian at the Guangdong Academy of Social Science.

"We were called 'little Guangdong.' After graduation, everyone who came from the province tried to find a way to stay in Beijing," he says.

Guangdong's image as a poor, ends-of-the-earth outpost was made worse by its political ostracism. Under the regime of Mao Zedong, the province's mercantilist past and extensive links with overseas Chinese were easy targets for criticism, Chinese and Western scholars say.

But today disdain for Guangdong has melted into envy. Many skilled professionals, including Mr. Sha's former classmates, are scrambling to find jobs in the province's flourishing coastal cities. And in recent years millions of peasant migrants have flooded into Guangdong from other parts of China seeking work.

"Now people here are saying: 'We're something special," says Sha, dressed in a dark Western suit and tie.

No longer ashamed of their heritage, Guangdong's Cantonese-speaking natives are unabashedly proud of their cosmopolitan character and distinct culture. …