ZHEJIANG PROVINCE is the coastal province located south of Shanghai. The northern part of the province is occupied by the Yangtze Delta. The southern terminus of the Grand Canal and many charming water and canal towns can be found here. The southern part of the province is more mountainous and contains several religionly-important mountains. Han Chinese make up the vast majority of the population of Zhejiang province. The Hui and She are the two largest minorities.Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces are known as yu mi zhi xiang (“land of fish and rice”) after its good soil, water and climate.

Zhejiang Province is one of the smallest but most densely-packed provinces in China. It covers 101,800 square kilometers (39,300 square miles)and has a population density of about 600 people per square kilometer. According to the 2020 Chinese census the population was around 64.5 million. About 69 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Hangzhou is the capital and largest city, with about 9 million people in the city and 22.6 million in the metro area. Maps of Zhejiang: chinamaps.org

The population of Zhejiang was 64,567,588 in 2020; 54,426,891 in 2010; 45,930,651 in 2000; 41,445,930 in 1990; 38,884,603 in 1982; 28,318,573 in 1964; 22,865,747 in 1954; 19,959,000 in 1947; 21,231,000 in 1936-37; 20,643,000 in 1928; 21,440,000 in 1912. [Source: Wikipedia, China Census]

Zhejiang (pinyin: Zhèjiāng) was formerly romanized as Chekiang, The word Zhejiang means zigzagging river and was the old name of the Qiantang River, which passes through Hangzhou, The name of the province is often abbreviated to its first character. The Qiantang River is the largest river in Zhejiang and was known as the Zhejiang River in ancient times. Hangzhou is one of the seven ancient capitals in Chinese history. Zhejiang has 17national scenic and historic interest areas and 44 provincial ones. Among them, the most famous are beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou; the Yandang Mountain in Wenzhou; Putuo Mountain in Zhoushan, Tiantai Mountain in Taizhou, a mountain important to Zen Buddhism, Guoqing Temple, founded in the Sui Dynasty, the founding location of Tiantai Buddhism

Mount Mogan, a scenic mountain an hour from Hangzhou with many pre-World War II villas built by foreigners, along with one of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang compounds

Zhejiang People and Their Entrepreneurial Spirit

Zhejiang is China’s second richest province (after Beijing, Shanghai and Jiangsu) with a per capita GDP of over US$30,000. It used to be China's richest province, with both its rural residents and urban residents having the highest per capita income of any province in China. There are specific areas in Zhejiang province that specialize in certain products such as electric plugs, hinges, electric switches, faucets and florescent light bulbs. Wuyi produces 1 billion decks of playing cards a year. Forty percent of the world's neckties are made in Shengzhou. Xiaxie specializes in jungle gyms. Shangguan churns out ping pong paddles. Fenshuo makes millions of pens. There are also places that specialize in razors and eyeglass frames.

The people of Zhejiang have long been known for their entrepreneurship and resourcefulness. Contrary to traditional Confucian ideas, intellectuals in Zhejiang, such as Shi Ye of the Yongjia School, promoted commercial activity. Because it surrounded by mountains it has traditionally been neglected by the central government. The coastal areas in particular were neglected because the government thought they might be attacked so why waste money on them .This left the people of Zhejiang with little choice but to take care of themselves and become self-reliant, which they did this by pooling money in their families and community organizations known as a meng and starting businesses.

Over the years, Zhejiang has developed a tradition of commercial activity and entrepreneurship. About 80 percent of all Zhejiang entrepreneurs have eight years or less of formal education. Many of their enterprises are financed through the regions famed informal network of private lending that allows them to bypass state-owned financial institutions. Much of the money is borrowed from friends, relatives and business associates at higher interest rates than those charged by banks. Many deals are sealed with only a handshake yet defaults are rare. Some link the entrepreneurial inclination so the Zhejiang people to high number of Christians that live there and the development of a work ethic not unlike the Protestant work ethic in the United States.

Geography and Climate of Zhejiang

Zhejiang Province
Zhejiang borders Jiangsu province and Shanghai municipality to the north, Anhui province to the northwest, Jiangxi province to the west, and Fujian province to the south; to the east is the East China Sea. There are over three thousand islands along the rugged coastline of Zhejiang. The largest, Zhoushan Island, is Mainland China's third largest island, after Hainan and Chongming. There are also many bays, of which Hangzhou Bay is the largest.

Zhejiang consists mostly of hills, which account for about 70 percent of its total area. Altitudes tend to be the highest to the south and west, and the highest peak of the province, Huangmaojian Peak (1,929 meters (6,329 feet), is located in the southwest. Mountains and mountain ranges in the province include the Yandang Mountains, Tianmu Mountain, Mount Tiantai, and Mount Mogan, which reach altitudes of 700 to 1,500 meters (2,300 to 4,900 feet).

Valleys and plains are found along the coastline and rivers. The north of the province lies just south of the Yangtze Delta, and consists of plains around the cities of Hangzhou, Jiaxing, and Huzhou, where the Grand Canal of China enters from the northern border to end at Hangzhou. Another relatively flat area is found along the Qujiang River around the cities of Quzhou and Jinhua. Major rivers include the Qiangtang and Oujiang Rivers. Most rivers carve out valleys in the highlands, with plenty of rapids and other features associated with such topography. Well-known lakes include the West Lake of Hangzhou and the South Lake of Jiaxing.

Zhejiang has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons. Spring starts in March and is rainy with changeable weather. Summer, from June to September is long, hot, rainy, and humid. Fall is generally dry, warm and sunny. Winters are short but cold except in the far south. Average annual temperature is around 15 to 19 degrees Celsius (59 to 66 °F), average January temperature is around 2 to 8 °C (36 to 46 °F), and average July temperature is around 27 to 30 °C (81 to 86 °F). Annual precipitation is about 1,000 to 1,900 millimeters (39 to 75 inches). There is plenty of rainfall in early summer, and by late summer Zhejiang is directly threatened by typhoons forming in the Pacific.

Yangtze Delta

Yangtze Delta is 320 kilometers (200 miles) wide and covers an area of 358,000 square kilometers). It is laced with canals, streams and rivers and dotted with lakes and reservoirs. Shanghai is on the southern side of it and Nanjing is on the west side and kind of marks its beginning. The delta was originally a wetland then a rich agricultural area and now is being developed very quickly and is heavily industrialized. Some Chinese geographers claim that the Yangtze River Delta is the most productive agricultural land in the world, and getting more productive all the time as new paddy soil is created — or at least it was like that before the Three Gorges Dam deprived it of silt and causing it to shrink .

The Yangtze Delta — which is located primarily in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces and Shanghai — is one of China's primary economic and industrial engines. People here are known for working hard, producing all kinds of products and making money. In recent years prosperity has begun to spread up river. On businessman in Chongqing, told the Wall Street Journal that "The Yangtze River area can be Asia's next dragon." The Yangtze corridor now has China's largest concentration of industry, accounting for more than a quarter of the country growth. Incomes are increasing at a rate of 20 percent a year.

Shanghai, the southern part of Jiangsu Province, the northern part of Zhejiang Province, the eastern part of Anhui Province, Nanjing, Wuxi, Changzhou, Suzhou, Nantong, Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Yancheng, Taizhou, Jiangsu, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Wenzhou, Huzhou, Jiaxing, Shaoxing, Jinhua, Zhoushan, Taizhou, Hefei and Wuhu all lie within the Yangtze Delta. Since the fourth century, when the national capital was moved to Jiankang (present-day Nanjing) at the start of the Eastern Jin dynasty (A.D. 317–420), the Yangtze Delta has been a major cultural, economic, and political centre of China. Hangzhou served as the Chinese capital during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), and Nanjing was the early capital of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) before the Yongle Emperor moved the capital to Beijing in 1421.

The Yangtze delta has few protected areas left. In some places there are cities, In others there are factories. Places that have been urbanized or industrialized are full of fish farms and vegetable fields. Areas that are filled with reeds also have roads and trucks that are used to carry the reeds out. Since 2003, when the Three Gorges Dam began operating, the Yangtze River delta front has experienced severe erosion and significant sediment coarsening. Yangtze-River-derived sediments do not really disperse across the East China Sea continental shelf; rather they form elongated distal subaqueous mud wedge (up to 60 meters thick and about 800 kilometers long that extends from the Yangtze River mouth southward off the Zhejiang and Fujian coasts into the Taiwan Strait. Yancheng Reserve in the Yangtze Delta is home to red-crowned cranes, reed parrotbills. Oriental storks and the world's last 2,000 or so black-faced spoonbills. Website: Wikipedia Wikipedia

Early History of Zhejiang

The area of modern Zhejiang was outside the major sphere of influence of early Chinese civilization during the Shang Dynasty (16th to 11th century B.C.). Instead, this area was populated by peoples collectively known as the Yue, such as the Dongyue and the Ouyue. In the Spring and Autumn Period, the state of Yue emerged in northern Zhejiang. The Yue state was heavily influenced by the Chinese civilization further north. Under King Goujian of Yue, Yue reached its zenith and was able to wipe out the powerful state of Wu to its immediate north, in 473 B.C. Then, in 333 B.C., Yue was in turn conquered by the state of Chu, which was to the west. In 221 B.C., the state of Qin completed the conquest of the last of the formerly independent states of China, including the state of Chu. This conquest made what is now Zhejiang part of a unified Chinese empire.

Throughout the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 B.C.) and Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.), Zhejiang was under the control of a unified Chinese state. However, the area of today's Zhejiang was still on the fringe of the empire, at best. Southern Zhejiang was under no more than nominal control. Its Yue inhabitants largely retained their own political and social structures. Near the end of the Han Dynasty, Zhejiang was home to the minor warlords Yan Baihu and Wang Lang. These two were defeated by Sun Ce and Sun Quan, who established the Kingdom of Wu (222–280), one of the three kingdoms of the Three Kingdoms era.

From the 4th century onwards, China experienced invasions from the north by nomadic peoples, who succeeded in conquering much of the territory of North China. This ushered in the era of the Sixteen Kingdoms and the Southern and Northern Dynasties. As part of this process, massive numbers of refugees fled the north and arrived in South China. The large numbers of refugees from the north accelerated the sinicization of South China, including Zhejiang, as people from the northern areas became incorporated into the kingdom of the Eastern Jin Dynasty or the other Southern Dynasties states of the time. Though the capital of the Southern Dynasties kingdoms was (almost by definition) Jiankang, in the location of modern Nanjing, in the province of Jiangsu; nevertheless, the Zhejiang area was home to the major metropolis and cultural center of Hangzhou, formerly known as Qiantang, but renamed in 589. Jiankang and Hangzhou together with Chengdu were the three major cities of southern China in this period, and Hangzhou was the main city of what is now Zhejiang.

Zhejiang During the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties

The Sui Dynasty reestablished unity and rebuilt and expanded the Grand Canal of China, which linked Hangzhou to the North China Plain, providing Zhejiang with a vital link to the other centers of Chinese civilization. The Tang Dynasty (618–907) presided over a golden age of China. Zhejiang was, at this time, part of the Jiangnan East Circuit, and there began to appear references to its prosperity. Later on, as the Tang Dynasty disintegrated, Zhejiang constituted most of the territory of the regional kingdom of Wuyue.

The Northern Song Dynasty re-established unity in around 960. Under the Song Dynasty, the prosperity of South China began to overtake that of North China. After the north was lost to the Jurchens in 1127, Zhejiang had its heyday. The modern provincial capital, Hangzhou, was the capital of the Han Chinese Southern Song Dynasty which remained in power in South China. Renowned for its prosperity and beauty, it may have been the largest city in the world at the time. Ever since then, north Zhejiang has, together with neighboring south Jiangsu, been synonymous with luxury and opulence in Chinese culture. The Mongol conquest and the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty in 1279 ended Hangzhou's political clout, though Hangzhou continued to prosper. Marco Polo visited the city, which he called "Kinsay"; he called it the "finest and noblest city" in the world".

The Zhejiang province, particularly the Longquan district, became renowned during the Southern Song and Yuan dynasty for its production of a particular celadon (greenware) ceramic. The Southern Song Longquan celadon is characterized by a thick unctuous glaze of a particular bluish-green tint over an otherwise undecorated light-grey porcellaneous body that is delicately potted. Yuan Longquan celadons feature a thinner, greener glaze on increasingly large vessels with decoration and shapes derived from Middle Eastern ceramic and metalwares. These were produced in large quantities for the Chinese export trade to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and during the Ming Dynasty, Europe. Ming wares are mainly noted for a decrease in quality. It is in this period that the Longquan kilns declined, to be eventually replaced in popularity and ceramic production by the kilns of Jingdezhen, in neighboring Jiangxi province.

The Ming Dynasty, which drove out the Mongols in 1368, created the province of Zhejiang. The borders of the province have changed little since it was founded. Under the late Ming dynasty and the Qing dynasty that followed it, Zhejiang's ports were important centers of international trade. In 1727 the to-min or "idle people " of Cheh Kiang province (a Ningpo name still existing), the yoh-hu or " music people " of Shan Si province, the si-min or "small people " of Kiang Su province, and the tan-ka or "egg-people" of Canton (to this day the boat population there), were all freed from their social disabilities, and allowed to count as free men." "Cheh Kiang" is another romanization for Zhejiang.

Later History of Zhejiang

During the First Opium War, the British navy defeated Eight Banners forces at Ningbo and Dinghai. Under the terms of the Treaty of Nanjing, signed in 1843, Ningbo became one of the five Chinese treaty ports opened to virtually unrestricted foreign trade. Much of Zhejiang came under the control of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom during the Taiping Rebellion, which resulted in a considerable loss of life in the province. In 1876, Wenzhou became Zhejiang's second treaty port.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, which led into World War II, much of Zhejiang was occupied by Japan and placed under the control of the Japanese puppet state known as the Reorganized National Government of China. Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 American crews that came down in China eventually made it to safety with the help of Chinese civilians and soldiers. The Chinese people who helped them, however, paid dearly for sheltering the Americans. The Imperial Japanese Army began the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign to intimidate the Chinese out of helping downed American airmen. The Japanese killed an estimated 250,000 civilians while searching for Doolittle’s men.

After the People's Republic of China took control of Mainland China in 1949, the Republic of China government based in Taiwan continued to control the Dachen Islands off the coast of Zhejiang until 1955, even establishing a rival Zhejiang provincial government there, creating a situation similar to Fujian province today. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), Zhejiang was in chaos and disunity, and its economy was stagnant, especially during the high tide (1966–69) of the revolution. The agricultural policy favoring grain production at the expense of industrial and cash crops intensified economic hardships in the province. Mao’s self-reliance policy and the reduction in maritime trade cut off the lifelines of the port cities of Ningbo and Wenzhou. While Mao invested heavily in railroads in interior China, no major railroads were built in South Zhejiang, where transportation remained poor.

Zhejiang benefited less from central government investment than some other provinces due to its lack of natural resources, a location vulnerable to potential flooding from the sea, and an economic base at the national average. Zhejiang, however, has been an epicenter of capitalist development in China, and has led the nation in the development of a market economy and private enterprises. Northeast Zhejiang, as part of the Yangtze Delta, is flat, more developed, and industral.South Zhejiang is mountainous and largely ill-suited for farming and has traditionally been poor and underdeveloped. The economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping, however, have brought change to that region unparalleled across the rest of China. Driven by hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, low labor costs, and an eye for the world market, south Zhejiang (especially cities such as Wenzhou and Yiwu) has become a major center of export. This, together with the traditional prosperity of north Zhejiang, has allowed Zhejiang to leapfrog over several other provinces and become one of the richest provinces of China.

Grand Canal

The Grand Canal is largest ancient artificial waterway in the world and an engineering marvel on the scale of the Great Wall of China. Begun in 540 B.C. and completed in A.D. 1327, it is 1,107 miles long and has largely been dug by hand by a work force described as a "million people with teaspoons." At its peak the Grand Canal extended from Tianjin in the north to Hangzhou in the south. It connected Beijing and Xian in the north with Shanghai in the south, and linked four great rivers—the Yellow, the Yangtze, Huai and Qiantang. The world's longest modern canal, the Belomorsko-Baltiyskiy Canal in Russia, is 1,410 miles long. The still-functioning parts of the Grand Canal are still in use mainly as water-diversion conduits.

According to Columbia University's Asia for Educators: In the Ming and Qing eras, the “Grand Canal was a major conduit for grain, salt, and other important commodities. Any taxes that were paid in kind were paid in grain, which was shipped along the Grand Canal. Thus, control of the Grand Canal was of critical importance to the government. To a certain extent, the state itself facilitated the movement of goods to market by locating Beijing, its capital, far to the north, away from the rich and prosperous rice growing areas of Southern China. This resulted in a natural market for the demand of goods in the North, if for no other reason than to feed the imperial household and court. This was one of the reasons why it was so important to keep the Grand Canal working. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant, learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

The Grand Canal was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. According to UNESCO: “The Grand Canal forms a vast inland waterway system in the northeastern and central eastern plains of China, passing through eight of the country's present-day provinces. It runs from the capital Beijing in the north to Zhejiang Province in the south. Constructed in sections from the 5th century B.C. onwards, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Empire for the first time in the 7th century AD (Sui Dynasty). This led to a series of gigantic worksites, creating the world's largest and most extensive civil engineering project ensemble prior to the Industrial Revolution."Source: UNESCO ==]

“Completed and maintained by successive dynasties, it formed the backbone of the Empire's inland communications system. Its management was made possible over a long period by means of the Caoyun system, the imperial monopoly for the transport of grain and strategic raw materials, and for the taxation and control of traffic. The system enabled the supply of rice to feed the population, the unified administration of the territory, and the transport of troops. The Grand Canal reached a new peak in the 13th century (Yuan Dynasty), providing a unified inland navigation network consisting of more than 2,000 kilometers of artificial waterways, linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze. Still a major means of internal communication today, it has played an important role in ensuring the economic prosperity and stability of China over the ages." ==

“The canal sections, the remains of hydraulic facilities, and the associated complementary and urban facilities satisfactorily and comprehensibly embody the route of the Grand Canal, its hydraulic functioning in conjunction with the natural rivers and lakes, the operation of its management system and the context of its historic uses. The geographic distribution of these attributes is sufficient to indicate the dimensions, geographic distribution of the routes, and the major historic role played by the Grand Canal in the domestic history of China. Of the 85 individual elements forming the serial property, 71 are considered to be appropriately preserved and in a state of complete integrity, with 14 in a state of lesser integrity. However, the inclusion of recently excavated archaeological elements means that it is not always possible to properly judge their contribution to the overall understanding of the Grand Canal, particularly in terms of technical operation.

Languages of Zhejiang

Zhejiang is mountainous and has therefore fostered the development of many distinct local cultures. Linguistically speaking, Zhejiang is extremely diverse. Most inhabitants of Zhejiang speak Wu, one of the Chinese languages, but the Wu dialects are very diverse, especially in the south, where one valley may speak a dialect completely unintelligible to the next valley a few kilometers away. Non-Wu dialects are spoken as well, mostly along the borders; Mandarin and Huizhou dialects are spoken on the border with Anhui, while Min dialects are spoken on the border with Fujian. (See Hangzhou dialect, Shaoxing dialect, Ningbo dialect, Wenzhou dialect, Taizhou dialect, Jinhua dialect, and Quzhou dialect for more information).

Throughout history there have been a series of lingua francas in the area to allow for better communication. The dialects spoken in Hangzhou, Shaoxing, and Ningbo have taken on this role historically. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Mandarin, which is not mutually intelligible with any of the local dialects, has been promoted as the standard language of communication throughout China. As a result, most of the population now can, to some degree, speak and comprehend Mandarin and can code-switch when necessary. A majority of the population educated since 1978 can speak Mandarin. Urban residents tend to be more fluent in Mandarin than rural people. Nevertheless, a Zhejiang accent is detectable in almost everyone from the area communicating in Mandarin, and the home dialect remains an important part of the everyday lives and cultural identities of most Zhejiang residents.

Since ancient times, north Zhejiang and neighbouring south Jiangsu have been famed for their prosperity and opulence, and simply inserting north Zhejiang place names (Hangzhou, Jiaxing, etc.) into poetry gave an effect of dreaminess, as was indeed done by many famous poets. In particular, the fame of Hangzhou (as well as Suzhou in neighbouring Jiangsu province) has led to the popular saying: ("Above there is heaven; below there is Suzhou and Hangzhou"), a saying that continues to be a source of pride for the people of these two still prosperous cities.

Culture of Zhejiang

Zhejiang is the home of Yueju., one of the most prominent forms of Chinese opera. Yueju originated in Shengzhou and is traditionally performed by actresses only, in both male and female roles. Other important opera traditions include Yongju (of Ningbo), Shaoju (of Shaoxing), Ouju (of Wenzhou), Wuju (of Jinhua), Taizhou Luantan (of Taizhou) and Zhuji Luantan (of Zhuji).

Traditional design and practices for building Chinese wooden arch bridges in Zhejiang and Fujian Provinces was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009. According to UNESCO: “Wooden arch bridges are found in Fujian Province and Zhejiang Province, along China’s southeast coast. The traditional design and practices for building these bridges combine the use of wood, traditional architectural tools, craftsmanship, the core technologies of ‘beam-weaving’ and mortise and tenon joints, and an experienced woodworker’s understanding of different environments and the necessary structural mechanics. The carpentry is directed by a woodworking master and implemented by other woodworkers.

The craftsmanship is passed on orally and through personal demonstration, or from one generation to another by masters teaching apprentices or relatives within a clan in accordance with strict procedures. These clans play an irreplaceable role in building, maintaining and protecting the bridges. As carriers of traditional craftsmanship the arch bridges function as both communication tools and venues. They are important gathering places for local residents to exchange information, entertain, worship and deepen relationships and cultural identity. The cultural space created by traditional Chinese arch bridges has provided an environment for encouraging communication, understanding and respect among human beings. The tradition has declined however in recent years due to rapid urbanization, scarcity of timber and lack of available construction space, all of which combine to threaten its transmission and survival.” [Source: UNESCO]

Zhejiang Cuisine and Tea

Zhejiang Cuisine is known for its light-tasting, delicately-seasoned seafood and vegetable soups and dishes. Among the important ingredients are sugar, rice wine, bamboo shoots and distiller's grain vinegars. Zhenjiang favorites include Sour West Lake fish, steam-fried yellow croaker and wild mushroom casserole in a fragrant broth, Longjing shelled shrimps, spring bamboo shoots braised in oil, Yangzhou fried rice, and glutinous rice balls.

Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces — known as yu mi zhi xiang (“land of fish and rice”) for their soil, water and climate — are famous in China for their regional cuisine. Zhejiang and Jiangsu dishes use little oil, salt sugar or starch and not surprisingly are regarded as very healthy. One Hangzhou chef told The New Yorker, “Our flavors are as varied as the Sichuanese, but they tend to be light and bright, without the heavy spiciness. We emphasize regional produce, and the essential tastes of raw materials."

Longjing tea (also called dragon well tea), originating in Hangzhou, is one of the most prestigious, if not the most prestigious Chinese tea. Hangzhou is also renowned for its silk umbrellas and hand fans. Zhejiang cuisine (itself subdivided into many traditions, including Hangzhou cuisine) is one of the eight great traditions of Chinese cuisine.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Updated in July 2021

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