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Travel - China Quartet (Provinces) 3

Updated on February 12, 2016

Quartet that plays well together, plus links to the West

Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi.

These four provinces, three of which are coastal provinces, are connected to each other not only physically, but in a more interesting sense.

Many, possibly most, of the Chinese who poured out of China in search of gold in California in the mid 19th century came from and through these provinces. Many also went to Europe, so there is a link there, too.

Quite a few of the tourists who make their way here will be looking for or at least wondering about ancestors. But all the other tourists will find things to absorb them here as well.

Guangdong province

My own personal experience with Guangdong is confined to its two huge cities, capital Guangzhou and wunderkind Shenzhen, a sort of instant Hong Kong -- just add money and watch it grow. But there is plenty to see elsewhere, like the interesting forts, one of which is pictured above, abandoned at Kaiping.

The province is very different from other Chinese provinces in many ways, including in its main language, Cantonese -- named after the city which is now called Guangzhou.

Its size also sets it apart from all but a few others. The size is around 100 million, maybe 110, but that is only during certain parts of the year. That total include over 30 million temporary migratory workers from other provinces who come and work in Guangdong for over six months each year.

Nearly one third of the people are on the move. That says something interesting about this province. And the two prime movers are two: first, the new giant city of Shenzhen, across from Hong Kong; and second, Guangzhou, the giant capital on the Pearl River. They are all swimming around in the huge manufacturing zone that the province has become.

Guangdong has not always stood alone, having ometimes been combined with Guangxi, sometimes with Jiangxi. But in the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644) it was separated from the others and even begun. developing trade links with the rest of the world. Ultimately the opium trade developed during the succeeding Qing dynasty, with such devastating effects that the Qing dynasty actually tried to stop it, despite the great revenues involved. Europe, particularly Britain had gotten the trade started in the first place and got the trade flowing again -- and did so by warfare, the Opium Wars in fact. Europe, and again particularly Britain was buying Chinese silks and porcelain and other goods in such abundance, while the Chinese were buying nothing made outside China, that there was a very serious balance of payments problem. The one thing Britain could sell was opium, grown in its colony, India. This was the only way it could keep trade flowing, never mind addiction.

The Opium Wars, in which advanced European weaponry overwhelmed outmoded China, had other benefits as well. Hong Kong, a barren island, but one with potential, was leased to the British, and Kwang-Chou-Wan to the French.

Then there is manpower. In the 19th century, Guangdong was the major exporter of laborers to the West, so that every country in Europe and North America, and many in the rest of the world, have citizens whose families originally came from Guangdong.

As if war brought in from outside were not enough, the first events of the titanic 1850-1864 Taiping Rebellion (one historian calls it "the most destructive civil war of world history") took place in Guangdong. Twenty million people died in this rebellion.

On a more positive note, the province is proud that Sun Yat-sen, the founder of republican China, was born in Guangdong, even though he became an American citizen, having left for Honolulu at age 13. Guangdong's pride is legitimate, however, because four years later Sun was sent home by his older brother, who feared Sun was becoming a Christian. But shortly thereafter, Sun left the province again, this time to study medicine in Hong Kong, where he transformed himself into more into a doctor of political ills, a revolutionary. rather than a medical doctor. This transformation later included establishing Whampoa Military Academy in Guangdong. Some prominent figures in the history of China, Chiang Kai-shek, Zhou Enlai, and Lin Biao, among others, trained there.

Guangdong has an important history, clearly, but one that has left little for a tourist to see. For example, the Jesuit scholar Matteo Ricci spent six years in Zhaoqing, starting in 1582, but perhaps the only thing to see of that is a plaque on a building built in the 1860s.

There are some scenic sites worth the trip: The following are on everybody's list:

* the limestone peaks at Seven Star Crags

* Star Lake;

* Dinghu Mountain;

* Danxia Mountain

* the Pearl River

Guangzhou, in addition to 13 million people, has many famous tourist sites, including eight (eight is a lucky number in China) that are so well-known they are grouped together into the Eight Sights of Guangzhou. Wikipedia has an excellent article on these. Shenzhen, a tiny village in 1979, now has over 10 million people, and the main attraction is how something so new could grow so large so fast.

Fujian province

To Guangdong's north, along the coast, Fujian has a mere 37 million people. That makes it as large as some countries in Europe, but small compared to its neighbor.

Now as to sights and sites a tourist might see that are of interest. The main tourist sites are two cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou . There is also Wuyi Mountain, interesting not only scenically but because of its conservation history. Conservation of Wuyi began in the 8th century AD. The Tang dynasty, the dynasty which ruled over more territory in Asia than any other, declared Wuy a "celebrated mountain.." An edict controlling forestry operations was issued. The Tang went so far as to appoint an imperial supervisor to ensure conservation. An imperial tea plantation, moreover, occupied part of its slope two hundred years later, further ensuring protection.

Scenic attractions in Fujian include the well-named Nine Bend River, flowing through the province's peaks, iand was itself no doubt a reason for royal favor. Rafting trips are easily arranged. If you are a spelunker, there are caves to explore as well.

Fujian has numerous religious and related structures, many in ruins. There are also archaeological sites which are in many ways more interesting, Chengcun ancient town site, being primary among them.

Then there are the tulous in the mountains of SE Fujian. These distinctive structures are large rectangular or circular communal houses with very thick walls made of rammed earth. Each house is from three to five stories high and can house as many as 80 families

Zhejiang Province

Here the parts are greater than the sum of the parts. Here it is the cities within the provnice that are famous, more than the province itself -- in a sense.

The five famous cities are: Shaoxing, Quzhou, Linhai, Ningbo -- and, most famous, Hangzhou, which is the capital of the province. Hangzhou has magnificent history, being one of the seven ancient capital cities of China. Hangzhou's West Lake is perhaps the single most famous place in the four provinces grouped together here in this quartet.

The province is sizable, in terms of population. It is bigger than most European countries. About 50 million live here. That's 4 million more than in Spain.

Famous sites, in addition to West Lake, include:a number of mountains: Xuedou, Yandang, Tianmu, Xiandu,and Tianta (Zen), all much visited by Chinese tourists. There are also other famous lakes, in addition to the one in Hangzhou: East Lake in Shaoxing, South Lake in Jiaxing, and (to round things out) the North-South Lake in Haiyan. Incidentally, Zejiang claims to be the province with the most islands in China, among which the largest is Zhoushan Archipelago.

Silk -- that most Chinese of all Chinese products, was invented here. Jade runs silk a pretty close second, and the carving of jade originates in Zhejiang. The province also claims to be the origin of celadon, chinaware with a translucent, pale green glaze, often associated with Korea as well as Zhejiang.

Here is a partial list of the principal tourist site within Zhejiang province:

* in the southern part of the Yangzi delta on the coast is Guoqing Temple .

* near Ningbo is Baoguo Temple, the oldest wooden structure in South China

* Qita Temple (also in Ningbo).

* there are famous waterway towns, including Shaoxing and Wuzhen (pictured).

Start by explorihg Huangzhou's West Lake, then branch out in this very interesting province.

Jiangxi Province

Sort of a linebacker to the other three in this quartet, it stands behind them, almost as if it were ready to come forward should the others fail. Geographically this southeastern province occupies a position from the banks of the Yangzi (Yangtze) River in the north into the hillier and mountainous areas in the south.

It is also as if the province were a buffer between the coastal trio and the H provinces right at the heart of China: Henan, Hubei, and Hunan.

Such a valuable piece of property has a long and complicated history, with many twists and turns. Notably, Jiangxi Province was established for the first time iin the dynasty founded by none other than Jenghiz Khan. At that time it also included the majority of modern Guangdong Province, which means that it was very large indeed. During the Ming dynasty, the last true Chinese dynasty (the successor dynasty, the Qing or Ching, can also be called the Manchu dynasty, and the Manchu were foreigners),Guangdong was separated from Jiangxi. When the whole dynastic system was swept away in 1911, civil war ensued. Jiangxi became one of the earliest bases for the Communists; many of its peasants were recruited to join the forces under Mao's command.

Things did not go well for those peasants. The Communist leadership was forced to hide in the mountains of southern and western Jiangxi, hiding from Guomindang (Kuomintang) forces. In 1931, the Chinese Soviet Republic's government was established in Ruijin, sometimes called the "Former Red Capital". In 1935, after complete encirclement by Guomindang forces, Mao and his followers broke through and began the famous Long March which ended up in the caves of Yanan province..

Two interesting temples survive from an earlier period, near the northern port city of Jiujiang: Donglin Temple (East Wood Temple) and Tiefo Temple (Iron Buddha Temple). Mount Lushan, a well-known resort area nearby, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 -- for good, or for ill.

Considered by many to be the best-kept secret of Jiangxi tourism is Yingtan and surroundings. .Near this small city is the resort area of Longhushan which purports to be the birthplace of Taoism. The region has many interesting temples, caves, mountains, villages.

Some consider that the province's most significant feature is the Gan River Valley which is historically important. This valley was the main north-south corridor in south China, one of the few in fact easily traveled in what is otherwise rugged mountainous terrain. This open corridor was the primary trade route between both, in the north, the North China Plain and the Yangzi River valley and, in the south, Guangdong province and its ports open to the outside world.

By the way, the world's first example of pottery has just been found in Jiangxi, in the Xianrendong cave. It dates back 20,000 years.

Lots to see in this landlocked province.

Part of a series

Pictures, pictures, pictures

Series within series, actually. Food & Cooking, for example, then -- within that -- series on vegetables, fruits, seafood, meat, etc. Books, too. Ideas, too. Travel, too. Click on "featured lenses" at the top of the right-hand column, under my profile, for the complete list. Key virtues:. pictures, clear step-by-step text. Delicious -- whether foods or ideas! All items in all of the series can be found, organized by floor, at Lee White's Department Store. Happy shopping! -- everything is for free!

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