HUNAN PROVINCE is a land-locked inland province in central-southern China known for its spicy food and being the birthplace of Mao Zedong. It is located on the middle sections of the Yangtze River and has varied terrain. It has traditionally been regarded as one of China’s a poorer provinces, but now ranks in the middle in terms of per capita GDP (US$8,300) thanks in part its location on the Yangtze and the development of its capital Changsha as part of a national effort to develop the inland areas

Hunan Province covers 210,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles)and has a population density of 320 people per square kilometer. According to the 2020 Chinese census the population was around 66.5 million. About 56 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Changsha is the capital and largest city, with about 5.3 million people. In the 2000 census, about 90 percent of the people in Hunan identified themselves as Han Chinese and 10 percent as minority groups, which include Tujia, Miao, Dong, Yao, Bai, Hui, Zhuang, Uyghurs and others. Many Tujia and Miao live in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture.

The population of Hunan was 66,444,864 in 2020; 65,683,722 in 2010; 63,274,173 in 2000; 60,659,754 in 1990; 54,008,851 in 1982; 37,182,286 in 1964; 33,226,954 in 1954; 25,558,000 in 1947; 28,294,000 in 1936-37; 31,501,000 in 1928; 27,617,000 in 1912. [Source: Wikipedia, China Census]

Hunan is located south of Lake Dongting (hence the name Hunan, which means "south of the lake"). Hunan is sometimes called and officially abbreviated as "Xiāng" after the Xiang River which runs through the province. Among the main tourist sights are 1) Shaoshan, the village where Mao Zedong was born; 2) Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; 3) Yueyang Tower in Yueyang; 4) Mount Heng in Hengyang; 5) Zhangjiajie; 6) Fenghuang County in Xiangxi Prefecture; and 7) Hong Jiang. In ancient times, the area drained by the Xiangjiang River teemed with lotus, and thus Hunan has been called the “Lotus State”.

Xiang Chinese is a variety of Chinese spoken in Hunan. Other dialects and languages spoken there include Southwestern Mandarin, Hakka, Waxiang, and Xiangnan Tuhua. Nü shu is a writing system that was used exclusively among women in Jiangyong County and neighboring areas in southern Hunan.

Huaguxi is a local form of Chinese opera that is very popular in Hunan province. Hunan's culture industry generated US$11.76 billion in 2007, and has been a major contributor to the province's economy. Hunan's cultural exports to the rest of China had a big impact in the late 2000s and early 2010. The Super Girl contest — a Chinese version of American Idol — was such a big hit that the Chinese Communist Party forced it off the air. The ground-breaking show featured live broadcasts, voting by mobile phones, and quirky characters and performances. Another popular television export was the television cartoon series Blue Cat. As a result of such programs, Golden Eagle Broadcasting System's Hunan satellite television channel was the most-watched regionally-produced channel in China.

Tourist Office: Hunan Tourism Bureau, Unity Rd, Wulipai, 410001 Changsha, Hunan, China. Tel. (0)-731-472-0346, fax: (0)-731-472-0348 Maps of Hunan:

Geography and Climate of Hunan

Hunan map
Hunan is located on the south bank of the Yangtze River, about half way along its length is the 10th largest provincial-level division in China. It borders Hubei to the north, Jiangxi to the east, Guangdong to the southeast, Guangxi to the southwest, Guizhou to the west, and Chongqing to the northwest.

The mountains and hills occupy more than 80 percent of the area of Hunan Province with plains covering less than 20 percent of it. The east, south and west sides of the province are surrounded by mountains and hills, such as the Wuling Mountains to the northwest, the Xuefeng Mountains to the west, the Nanling Mountains to the south, and the Luoxiao Mountains to the east.

The Xiang, the Zi, the Yuan and the Lishui Rivers converge on the Yangtze River at Lake Dongting in northern Hunan. The center and northern parts are somewhat low and a U-shaped basin, open in the north and with Lake Dongting as its center. Most of Hunan lies in the basins of four major tributaries of the Yangtze River. Lake Dongting is the largest lake in the province and the second largest freshwater lake in China. Due to the reclamation of land for agriculture, Lake Dongting has been subdivided into many smaller lakes, though there is now a trend to reverse some of the reclamation, which had damaged wetland habitats surrounding the lake.

Hunan's climate is humid subtropical, with short, cool, damp winters, very hot and humid summers, and lots of precipitation. The temperature in January average 3 to 8 °C (37 to 46 °F) and those in July average around 27 to 30 °C (81 to 86 °F). Average annual precipitation is 1,200 to 1,700 millimeters (47 to 67 inches).

History of Hunan

The forests of Hunan were first occupied by the ancestors of the Miao, Tujia, Dong and Yao peoples. The province became part of China around 350 B.C. when the kings of the Zhou dynasty claimed it and it became part of the State of Chu. After Qin conquered the Chu heartland in 278 BC, the region came under the control of Qin, and then the Changsha Kingdom during the Han dynasty. [Source: Wikipedia]

For centuries after that Hunan attracted many Han Chinese settlers from the north, who displaced and assimilated the original indigenous inhabitants, cleared forests and began farming rice in the valleys and plains. The agricultural colonization of the lowlands was carried out in part by the Han state, which managed river dikes to protect farmland from floods. To this day many of the small villages in Hunan are named after the Han families who settled there. Migration from the north was especially prevalent during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (A.D. 317-420) and the Northern and Southern Dynasties (A.D. 220-589), when nomadic invaders north of China pushed Han Chinese towards the south.

By the 18th and 19th century, Hunan had became overcrowded and was prone to peasant and ethnic uprisings such as the ten-year Miao Rebellion of 1795–1806. The Taiping Rebellion started in Guangxi Province to the south in 1850 and found fertile ground in Hunan and spread from there eastward along the Yangtze River valley. Ultimately, it was a Hunanese army under Zeng Guofan who marched into Nanjing to put down the uprising in 1864.

The Communist's Autumn Harvest Uprising of 1927 was led by Hunanese native Mao Zedong, and established a short-lived Hunan Soviet in 1927. The Communists maintained a guerrilla army in the mountains along the Hunan-Jiangxi border until 1934. As Mao Zedong's home province, Hunan supported the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976.. It was slower than most provinces in adopting the Deng Xiaoping economic reforms in the 1980s and 90s, Among the other first-generation communist leaders who hailed from Hunan were President Liu Shaoqi; General Secretaries Ren Bishi and Hu Yaobang; Marshals Peng Dehuai, He Long, and Luo Ronghuan; Wang Zhen, one of the Eight Elders; Xiang Jingyu, the first female member of the party's central committee; Senior General Huang Kecheng; and veteran diplomat Lin Boqu.Zhu Rongji, the Premier of China from 1998 to 2003 is from Hunan.

Hunan Cuisine

Hunan cuisine is noted for its use of chili peppers, garlic, and shallots and has a a distinctive dry-and-spicy taste found in dishes such as smoked cured ham, and stir-fried spicy beef. Mao liked spicy Hunan cooking with course ingredients. His favorite dishes reportedly were pork fat and hing shao roud (braised pork).

Hunan cuisine is considered to be the best and spiciest in China. Similar to Szechuan cuisine but oilier and richer, Hunan dishes are often spiced with garlic and scallions, and have a hot and sour, or sweet and sour taste. The original sweet and sour sauce is said to have come from Hunan. The Hunan region has traditionally been known for bountiful harvests and large numbers of wild animals.

Common spices include fresh star anise, fennel seed, coriander, chili bean paste, garlic and a wide variety of chilies and peppers that are used to enliven mundane things like mashed eggplant and smoked and cured meat. Many dishes have distinctive “two-layer” sauces and are prepared through steaming, pot roasting or “slow” cooking. Watch out for the “strange flavor” sauces. They can be quite intense and make a beer drunken after eating them taste like water.

Popular Hunan dishes include minced pork in cantaloupe (pork and scallions steamed in a half cantaloupe); honey ham (sliced raw ham steamed with honey and black dates; and steamed again with sugar and served with bread). Exotic Hunan dishes are made from frog's legs, turtle, duck, tripe, and sea cucumbers. One dish that doesn't sound very good but is said to be quite tasty is steamed fish heads in chili sauce. Soup and vegetables are usually served with meals, and often there is no rice or noodles.


Changsha (northeast Hunan about 1,000 kilometers southwest of Shanghai and 800 kilometers north of Hong Kong) is the capital and largest city of Hunan Province, with about 5.3 million people. It is where Mao was educated and worked briefly as a teacher. As a young man he gave speeches here and recruited members for the Communist Party. A 23-foot-high statue of Mao in the city square has recently been re-covered in pure gold.

Changsha is a sprawling, gritty city. Regarded as a place of learning, it has three major universities, a number of technical institutes, hospitals, medical schools and fireworks factories. In recent years it has become an unlikely hub of foreign business with a particular emphasis on attracting business from Britain. The city has had success attracting skilled workers tired of the coastal areas, wanting to work closer to home.

Home to a fair number of talented people, Changsha is regarded as something of media, Internet and cultural center for China. Much of the nations animation and television programming is based in Changsha. The immensely popular American-Idol-like Super Girl television show was created here. Changsha is also a hub for China's growing outsourcing market. It's universities have respected industrial design and software engineering departments. Changsha natives hold many positions in IT companies and the city has produced hackers sought after by the Chinese military. It has been experiencing a building boom for more than a decade.

Tourist Office: Hunan Tourism Bureau , Unity Rd, Wulipai, 410001 Changsa, Hunan, China. tel. (0)-731-472-0346, fax: (0)- 731-472-0348 Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Maps of Changsha: ; Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books;

Getting There: Changsa is accessible by air, train and bus. Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Changsha Transportation

Changsha is well connected by roads, river, rail, and air transportation modes, and is a regional hub for industrial, tourist, and service sectors. The city's public transportation system consists of an extensive bus network with over 100 lines.A super-fast maglev train running 16.5 kilometers (10.3 miles) between Changsha South station and Changsha airport opened in April 2016 and cost about US$600 million. Changsha is surrounded by major rivers, including the Xiang, and its tributaries the Liuyang, Jin, Wei, Longwanggang and Laodao. Ships mainly transport goods rather than passengers.

The Changsha Metro opened in 2014 and had 83.6 kilometers of track and 68 stations as of 2019. It currently consists of three lines with plans for three more. The three lines are:
Line 1 runs from Kaifu District Government (Kaifu) to Shangshuangtang (Yuhua). Opened in 2016 it has 23.5 kilometers of track and 20 stations.
Line 2 runs from West Meixi Lake (Yuelu) to Guangda (Changsha Co.). Opened in 2014 and extended in 2015, it has 26.6 kilometers of track and 23 stations.
Line 4 runs from Guanziling (Wangcheng) to Dujiaping (Changsha Co.). Opened in 2019, it has 33.5 kilometers of track and 25 stations. Changsha Subway Map: Urban Rail

There are three main bus terminals in Changsha: the South Station, East Station and West Station, where you can catch long-distance and short-haul buses to cities within and outside the province. Changsha Railway Station in the city center provides express and regular services to most Chinese cities via the Beijing–Guangzhou and Shimen–Changsha Railways. The Changsha South Railway Station is a new high-speed railway station in Yuhua district. From here you can catch fast trains to most major cities in China.

Changsha Beijing High Speed Trains run from Changsha South Station to Beijing West Station and cover the 1,591-kilometer (989-mile) in five and half to eight hours depending on the type of train and number of stops made. From Changsha to Beijing, there are about 16 daily G-trains starting running between 7:10am and 5:05pm every day, with roughly the same situation going the other direction. Trains running this route also generally stop in Wuhan, Zhengzhou and other destinations.

Changsha Shanghai High Speed Train run between Changsha South Station and Shanghai Hongqiao Station covering the 1,083-kilometers (673-mile) distance in between five and seven hours. About 27 G-trains run from Changsha South Station to Shanghai Hongqiao Station every day, departing from 7:06am to 6:12pm. These trains generally stop in Nanchang and Hangzhou.

Changsha Huanghua International Airport is a regional hub for China Southern Airlines. The airport has daily flights to major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei. The airport provides direct flights to 45 major international cities, including Los Angeles, Singapore, Seoul, Pusan, Osaka, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, London (Heathrow Airport), Frankfurt and Sydney. The super-fast maglev train connects the airport with Changsha South station, running 16.5 kilometers (10.3 miles) away.

Sights in Changsha

Changsha IFS Tower T1 is the 18th tallest building in the world. (as of 2020). Completed in 2017, it is 452.1 meters (1,483 feet) tall and has 88 floors.[Source: Wikipedia]

Yuela Academy of Classical Learning (eastern foot of the Yuela Mountains) is where Mao Zedong studied.. This 1000-year-old institution is one of the four most famous centers of classical learning in China. Tianxin Tower (in the southeast corner of Changsha) is built atop an old city wall. The three story structure has three roofs that dramatically point upward at their corners and is supported by 60 wood columns. On the top of the tower are 23 rising turtle heads and 32 bronze hanging bells.

Changsha Tombs (eastern suburbs of Changsha) are over 2,000 years old. Many of the 1000 or so tombs were plundered in the 1930s and 40s by grave robbers but two of the largest ones — immense tree covered mounds — proved to be too formidable a task and remained untouched until the 1970s when one of them was excavated by Chinese archaeologists, who found preserved corpse of woman, thought to be a consort of the Emperor. Her skin was still elastic and her organs intact after 2,100 years. Her mourners believed that her immortality depended on how well they preserved her body and at the Hunan Province Museum you can see for yourself what a good job they did.

Changsha park

Hunan Provincial Museum and Its 2,000-Year-Old Woman

The Hunan Provincial Museum contains numerous artifacts including wooden figurines, silk textiles, ancient manuscripts and exhibits from a 2000 year old tomb. The highlight of the museum is the body of the 2,100-year-old woman in a Lucite coffin filled with formaldehyde. Her face is white and decayed; her mouth is open; and her pickled organs are in jars. She was overweight and around 50 years old when she died of a heart attack after eating a melon (seeds of the fruit were found in her esophagus). She had gallstones, parasites, whipworms, pinworms and schistosomiasis in her internal organs; not to mention a poorly set broken right arm, tuberculosis scars and spinal problems caused by lumbago .With all of these problems it was miraculous that she survived as long as she did. [Source: National Geographic, May 1974]

It took archaeologists four months to dig a 52 foot deep tunnel to reach her grave. What they found first was a large box; and inside it were three plain coffins and three ornate caskets all placed within each other like a babushka doll. Around the large box was a layer of clay and charcoal that prevented any moisture from entering the caskets; and between it and the outer casket were 162 three foot-high funeral statuettes that included minor officials dressed in silk garments and a miniature chamber ensemble complete with zithers and mouth organs.

The innermost casket was draped in patterned silk that was decorated with lacquered feathers. The lady herself was bundled in silk and tied from head to toe with nine silk chords. By her side were several bamboo cases, one of which contained the remains of 40 eggs. The lacquered second casket was decorated with rearing unicorns. Painted on the outer casket were swirls of clouds and fantastic beasts riding on galloping horses.

Among the other treasures found in the grave were lacquered banquet settings; a bamboo case with neatly folded silk stockings, shoes and gowns inside; embroidered mitts which leave the fingers free; fifty lengths of silk, the most sumptuous cache of ancient fabric ever found in China; and the famous flying robe which depicts the woman journey to heaven through a jade circle protected by red panthers and winged dragons. Archaeologists were able to inventory the items using a Chinese "send off" book that often accompanies a person in the grave. The only thing missing were 100 clay sheep that a laborer maybe forgot to put in grave. Most of the items found in the grave can be seen in the Hunan Provincial Museum.

Shaoshan: Mao’s Birthplace and Hometown

20080218-Mao 1927-wuhan.jpg
Mao in Wuhan in 1927
Shaoshan (about 100 kilometers southwest of Changsha) is Mao Zedong's birthplace and hometown and is regarded as a Red Tourism Sight. During the Cultural Revolution people said, "The sun rises in Shaoshan". Some Chinese changed their name to Shaoshan, and three million visitors a year traveled to Mao's house, with many treating it as if were a pilgrimage sight. Some made the journey from Beijing to Shaoshan on foot.

After the Deng reforms and Mao's fall from grace, the number of visitors to Shaoshan fell off significantly. The train station — where there is a Mao portrait and a sign that says, "Mao Zedong was a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionary, great tactician and theorist" — was often empty but now the town is making a comeback. In 2009, the 60th anniversary of birth of the People’s Republic of China, 3.5 million visitors showed up to honor Mao.

Shaoshan is now one of the richest towns in Hunan Province. The town features a dozen hotels and a Mao museum and other museums, ancestral halls, schools and houses open to visitors. The town is full of busy restaurants and souvenir stands that sell bronze busts of Mao for US$85, Mao snow globes for US$7 and Mao key chains for US$4.25. Shaoshan only has a population of 1,387 people, with many claiming to be long lost Mao relatives, among them the founders of Mao's Family Restaurant chain.

Web Site: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Official Shaoshan Website: click Google translate.

Getting There: Shaoshan is about a two hour drive and four hour bus ride from Changsha. There are only a few trains each day.

Mao Museum

Mao Museum (in Shaoshan) contains Mao's straw hat, his slippers and ashtray as well as statues, flags and badges. Each of the 18 room displays a different period of his life: his school days, his travels, the death of his brother, the Long March, the war, his first marriage and the detonation of China's first atomic bomb in 1964. There are pictures of Mao playing ping pong and swimming and sitting with leaders like Nixon, Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia and Eric Hoeneker of East Germany.

There is no mention of the Cultural Revolution or Mao's second and third marriages. Jiang Qing and Lin Biao are airbrushed out of photographs. The souvenir shops sells more peanut brittle, cigarettes and key chains with Hong Kong actresses than it does Mao badges, Mao pictures or Little Red Books. [Source: "Riding the Iron Rooster" by Paul Theroux]

Mao's House

Mao's family house
Mao's House (in Shaoshan) is large, surprisingly spacious, yellow. Hunan-style villa set outside Shaoshan in a lovely mountainous area. Mao was born here to a wealthy family in December 1893 and brought up with his two younger brothers. There is a large bronze statue of Mao set among pine trees. Most visitors are students or the elderly.

A winding path leads to the neat 13-room villa farm house. You can see the canopy bed where Mao was born in 1893. Tourists are shown the Parents Bedroom, Kitchen, Brother's Room, and Pigsty. A placard near the stove read: “In 1921 Mao Zedong educated his family in revolution near this stove." In the sitting room another reads: “In 1927 meetings were held here to discuss revolutionary activities."

Near the front gate is a kind of strip mall with souvenir shops selling Mao memorabilia, “Mao Family Restaurants," serving the Helmsman's favorite food, fatty pork; and hawkers offering Mao swimsuits One the people who visit the home, one hawker told AP, “The old soldiers come, they go to the statue outside and weep. They say “You founded our country." Younger one grew up learning about him on the Internet. They want to see what all the fuss is about. The country has changed, but he's still thought of as father."


Yueyang (downriver on the Yangtze from Jinzhou, 75 kilometers north of Changsha) is an old-style Yangtze River town with markets selling straw sandals and Mao statues, and old men smoking foot-long pipes. Its main attraction is a temple honoring the Han Dynasty general, Zhang Fei, built in the A.D. third century to honor his battlefield victories. The temple has been dismantled and rebuilt on high ground to protect it when the waters behind the Three Gorges dam rise. Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Yueyang is accessible by air, bus train and Yangtze river boat. Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide

Yueyang Pagoda (Yueyang) is one of three most famous pagodas south of the Yangtze River. Over 60 feet tall and made of wood, the three-story structure contains orange tiled roofs that look like a helmets, huge namnu pillars and a huge red terrace that supports the entire building.

Dongting Lake

Dongting Lake (40 kilometers north of Changsha, between Hunan and Hubei province) is a 2,820-square-kilometer lake which lies on the Yangtze River. Over the centuries it has played a vital ecological role by absorbing the flood waters when the Yangtze River surges in the summer and providing wetlands for migrating birds. Hubei province’s name means "north of the lake", referring to its position north of Lake Dongting. Hunan province is located south of the lake. Its name means "south of the lake").

Lake Dongting is the largest lake in Hunan province and the second largest freshwater lake in China. The Xiang, the Zi, the Yuan and the Lishui Rivers converge on the Yangtze River at the lake The center and northern parts of Hunan are somewhat low and a U-shaped basin, with Lake Dongting as its center. Due to the reclamation of land for agriculture, Lake Dongting has been subdivided into many smaller lakes, though there is now a trend to reverse some of the reclamation, which had damaged wetland habitats surrounding the lake.

The Communists built huge dikes around the lake to reclaim fertile land for agriculture. The plan turned out to be a mistake. Farmers that lived below the dikes suffered through several floods. After 1998, when many people died and severe floods resulted after some of dikes broke, some of the dikes were removed and framers were resettled and the lake was freed to ebb and flow with Yangtze's waters.

Hengshan: One of the Five Sacred Mountains of China

Hengshan (120 kilometers south of Changsha) is one of the Five Great Mountains of China. Also known as Mount Heng, it is a granite mountain range 150 kilometers (93 miles) long with 72 peaks formed during the Yanshan Period, 180 million years ago. Huiyan Peak lies at the souther end of the peaks; Yuelu Mountain in Changsha City marks the north end. Zhurong Peak is the highest at 1,300 meters (4,300 feet) above sea level. At the foot of the mountain stands the largest temple in southern China, the Grand Temple of Mount Heng (Nanyue Damiao), which is the largest group of ancient buildings in Hunan Province. Other notable sites in the area include the Zhusheng Si Temple, an 8th-century Buddhist monastery and Zhurong Gong, a small stone temple.

The "Five Sacred Mountains of China” are: 1) Mt. Taishan" in Shandong Province; 2) the Southern Mt. Hengshan in Hunan Province; 3) the Western Mt. Huashan in Shaanxi Province; 4) Central Mt. Songshan in Henan Province; and 5) Northern Mt. Hengshan in Shanxi Province. There are several mountains in China with the names Huashan, Hengshan and Songshan, which is why there are referred to central, northern and western, Taishan was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The other four were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site called the “Four Sacred Mountains as an Extension of Mt. Taishan” in 2008, which collectively cover 547.69 square kilometers.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO:"The Five Sacred Mountains" has been worship for over three thousand years from Neolithic Age due to its unique geographical locations and majesty of relative altitude over a kilometer. In 219 B.C., Qin Shihuang (First Emperor of Qin Dynasty) held a ceremony of offering sacrifices on the top Mt. Taishan when special national sacrifice codes and systems originated, which was followed by later emperors to show their imperial power's validity and authority. Offering sacrifices to Five Sacred Mountains was held to make the emperors'' achievements informed to all the people and Five Sacred Mountains were regarded as boundaries of their reign. Therefore, as an integration which cannot be divided, Five Sacred Mountains symbolizes the unification and territory in the era of Chinese agricultural civilization. [Source: Ministry of Construction of the People’s Republic of China]

“The political position of Five Sacred Mountains makes them become the common target to which different nationalities worship and sacrifice and contributes to national fusion and unification. Meanwhile, Five Sacred Mountains have also gained their fame of cultural meanings. Five kinds of cultures are the most prominent ones. Firstly, the culture of "five elements". The "five elements" consisting of "water, fire, wood, gold and earth" are considered as the basic substances composing everything on the earth and are considered to promote the selection and formation of Five Sacred Mountains. Secondly, culture of "universal unity", a political concept which can be traced back to The Spring and Autumn Period and The Warring States Period, have been considered as the ideal state of dynasts. The "universal unity" has two major connotations: territorial and political unity, ritual and cultural unity. The "universal unity" has boosted formation and development of sacrifice culture and political position of Five Sacred Mountains.

“Thirdly, the culture of sacrifice. Systems of royal inspection, hunting on mountain, burning for sacrifice, distant sacrifice, fete and sacrifice with the representative of Five Sacred Mountains sacrifice have evolved in the feudal Chinese society and "fengshan" (offering sacrifice to gods) gradually evolved to be the most important national sacrifice ceremony of royal ones in feudal ancient China. Fourthly, the culture of religion. As sacred places of Buddhism, the Southern Mt. Hengshan and the Central Mt. Songshan, have witnessed the spread and development of Buddhism in China and imposed great influence on other countries especially Asian ones. Fifthly, the culture of landscape. A rich collection of stone inscription and literature works is precious fortune for both Chinese and world literature and arts. The five kinds of cultures are interrelated to each other, which advance the selection, formation, development and spread of Five Sacred Mountains.”

Wuling Yuan

Wulingyuan Geological Park: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Wulingyuan (330 kilometers northwest of Changsha) a region of karst limestone formations that are said to bigger and have better shapes than those in Guilin. It also has forests with rare animals and birds and colorful ethnic groups. Designated a a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, the Wulinyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area is made up of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the Tianzishan mountain ranges, Bao Feng Hu and the Suoxi Valley. It is a popular filming location and tourist destination.

Wulingyuan National Park is famous for its 3,100 quartzite sandstone pillars, some of which are over 800 meters tall. They are located in the southern part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area and particularly scenic when you can see them in the mist and clouds. Yellow Stone Stronghold (Huangshizhai) is often enveloped in fog, and is home to wild animals. Mount Tianzi offers four marvelous natural spectacles (clouds and mist, morning glow, moonlit night and winter snow). Suoxi Ravine, next to Mt. Tianzi, has many vertical crevasses, deep ravines and waterfalls.

Wulingyuan is an island of nature within a heavily populated agricultural region. According to UNESCO: “A spectacular area stretching over more than 26,000 hectares in China's Hunan Province, the site is dominated by more than 3,000 narrow sandstone pillars and peaks, many over 200 meters high. Between the peaks lie ravines and gorges with streams, pools and waterfalls, some 40 caves, and two large natural bridges. Impressive calcite deposits are a notable feature within the caves. In addition to the striking beauty of the landscape, the region is also noted for the fact that it is home to a number of endangered plant and animal species.

“The huge number of sandstone columns and peaks — more than 3,000 — are spectacular. These, coupled with other land forms (natural bridges, ravines, waterfalls, streams, pools and caves) and dense broadleaf forest, present an aesthetically beautiful landscape enhanced by the mists and clouds which frequently shroud the site. There are more than 40 caves and two huge natural stone bridges, one of which rises 357 meters above the valley floor...The site provides important habitat for a number of threatened plant and animal species such as dhole, Asiatic black bear and Chinese water deer.

“Integrity issues noted at time of inscription include human pressure from use of the reserve by people living in and around it, and the intense pressure from visitors. Numerous tourist facilities also have an aesthetic impact on the natural values of the property. However many measures have been and are still being undertaken to address these issues. In 1999, owing to the growing commercialization and loss of natural values, the local authorities declared the Decision of Protecting Wulingyuan World Natural Heritage Property, and began the demolition of houses in the scenic areas. The scenic area was expanded, settlement was reduced and ecological tourism was promoted. By the end of 2002, the adverse impacts on the aesthetic values of Wulingyuan scenic areas had been mitigated” The “Yangjiajie Scenic Area Offices and Protection Stations were established. In total, there are approximately 500 management staff. Museums and visitor centres have been created for research, education and interpretation of the property’s natural values.”

Travel Information: The best time to visit is in April or October; Tel. +86 744 561 8010. Hours Open: 6:30am-6:30pm Admission: 245 yuan (US$35); Getting There: By Bus: Buses rides departing from Zhangjiajie Bus Station bound for Wulingyuan Scenic Area take about 45 minutes and cost 10 yuan per person. Website: ; UNESCO World Heritage Site site: : UNESCO Web Site : Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide


Zhangjiajie (within Wulingyang) was the starting point of the Second Red Army's Long March. With its breathtaking rock formations, the area is one of the most popular tourist sites in China and was the setting for many scenes in the blockbuster “Avatar.” Zhangjia Jie is a densely forested area with sheer rock pinnacles. It was declared China's first national park in 1982 and is part of the Wulingyang UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the early 2000s an effort was made to clean up the park by forcing people and hotels inside the park to relocate. Around 5 million tourist visit the park every year.

Zhangjiajie is known for its beautiful forests, odd-shaped rock formations, exquisite canyons, limestone caves, and jaw-dropping panoramic views. The entire area is covered with towering cliffs of sandstone and quartz with dense unspoiled forests over limestone caves lying underneath. The hills present different views to visitors with the changes of seasons and the weather. The area ranges in altitude from 75 meters to 1890.4 meters and has a humid sub-tropical climate. Due to it special climate and topographical feature, Zhiangjiajie is also the home to rare species of birds and wild animals, and rich in plant diversity.

Zhangjiajie is also the name is a new-born city. In 1999 the city name was changed from Dayong to Zhangjiajie. The municipality covers 9,563 square kilometers and has a population of 1.5 million and consists of Yongding District, Wulingyuan District, Cili County and Sangzhi County. Generally Zhangjiajie is a tourism-driven city inhabited by Han Chinese, with some Miao, Tujia, Hui and other minorities.

Tourist Office: Zhangjiajie Tourism Bureau. 1/F Municipal Government Building, 427000 Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China, tel. (0)- 744-822-3095, fax: (0)- 744-823-7599 tel. Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: There are buses and trains. The train station is about 40 kilometers from Zhangjiajie. Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Sights in Zhangjiajie

Most scenic spots in the area are situated in the northern part of Zhangjiajie. city (more like a big county than a city) and includes spots such as Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area, which includes Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Tianzishan mountain range, Baofeng Lake, Suoxi Valley, and the newly opened Yangjiajie Scenic Area. The Xiuhua Mountain Museum is devoted to the Tujia minority. It contains Tujia crafts, a replica of a Tujia household and hosts performances of Tujia music.

The Tianmen Mountain range is just to the south of the city It contains a spectacular rock pinnacle called Mt. Tianmen. In June 2007, Alain “Spiderman” Robert climbed the rock pinnacle to attract tourists to the area. A few weeks earlier he had been arrested and banned from entering China for climbing the tallest building in China at the time — the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai — without permission.

The deepest and most spectacular gorge in Zhangjiajie is sometimes called the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. Stretching eight kilometers, the Golden Wipe stream is surrounded by cliffs, fantastic peaks and strange rock formations on both sides. Views change dramatically as you go along the stream. One sandstone landscapes is called the Golden Wipe Rock by the stream. Mother and Child Cliff is a scenic spot in the Golden Wipe Stream area. There are two high Cliffs with a low one in between. It looks like a mother holding her child before her chest. [Source: CRI April 21, 2009]

Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge opens to the public in 2016. Travel+Leisure reported: “The world's highest and longest glass bridge opened and 8,000 visitors turned up to see the architectural feat. The bridge was designed by Haim Dotan, an Israeli architect. It is 430 meters (1,410 feet) long, and 6 meters (20 feet) wide. The bridge, with its glass panels suspended 300 meters (984 feet) above Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon in the Hunan province, underwent testing before all those gawkers were allowed to jump on it...People posed for photographs on the vertigo-inducing bridge. Favorite poses included selfies against the glass, and mid-air jumping pics. A few weeks after it opened some cracks appeared but they were fixed. [Source: Travel+Leisure August 23, 2016]

Tusi Sites: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Tusi Sites were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. According to UNESCO: “Located in the mountainous areas of southwest China, this property encompasses remains of several tribal domains whose chiefs were appointed by the central government as ‘Tusi’, hereditary rulers from the 13th to the early 20thcentury. The Tusi system arose from the ethnic minorities’ dynastic systems of government dating back to the 3rd century B.C.. Its purpose was to unify national administration, while allowing ethnic minorities to retain their customs and way of life. The sites of Laosicheng (50 kilometers west-southwest of Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province ), Tangya (Xianfeng County, Hubei Province) and Hailongtun Fortress (Gaoping Town, Zunyi City, Guizhou Province) that make up the site bear exceptional testimony to this form of governance, which derived from the Chinese civilization of the Yuan and Ming periods. [Source: UNESCO]

Distributed around the mountainous areas of southwest China are the remains of tribal domains whose leaders were appointed by the central government as ‘Tusi’, hereditary rulers of their regions from the 13th to the early 20th century. This system of administrative government was aimed at unifying national administration while simultaneously allowing ethnic minorities to retain their customs and way of life. The three sites of Laosicheng, Tangya and the Hailongtun Fortress combine as a serial property to represent this system of governance. The archaeological sites and standing remains of Laosicheng Tusi Domain and Hailongtun Fortress represent domains of highest ranking Tusi; the Memorial Archway and remains of the Administration Area, boundary walls, drainage ditches and tombs at Tangya Tusi Domain represent the domain of a lower ranked Tusi. Their combinations of local ethnic and central Chinese features exhibit an interchange of values and testify to imperial Chinese administrative methods, while retaining their association with the living cultural traditions of the ethnic minority groups represented by the cultural traditions and practices of the Tujia communities at Laosicheng.

“ Tusi sites of Laosicheng, Tangya and the Hailongtun Fortress clearly exhibit the interchange of human values between local ethnic cultures of Southwest China, and national identity expressed through the structures of the central government.” They “ are evidence of the Tusi system of governance in the Southwestern region of China and thus bear exceptional testimony to this form of governance which derived from earlier systems of ethnic minority administration in China, and to the Chinese civilisation in the Yuan, Ming and Qing periods.”

Langshan Mountain

Langshan Mountain (500 kilometers southeast of Changsha) is famous for its unique Danxia landform and literally means "Crimson Glow." Huge rocks of dark red color with unusual shapes give tourists a marvelous sight. It is located in Xinning County, about 130 kilometers north of Guilin. Covering an area of 108 square kilometers, Langshan Mountain is filled with a rich natural scenery. There are more than 500 scenic spots. Among the most famous are Tianyi Lane, Chili Peak, Zixia Cave, Fuyi River, Innate Bridge, Octagonal Castle, Emperor Xun Forest Park and the Xicun Ancient Dwelling. The name of Langshan comes from an ancient legend. It is said that when Shun, a legendary monarch in ancient China, passed by the mountain, he felt the mountains and rivers here were so wonderful, so he entitled the mountain with a Chinese character-Lang, meaning "good mountains."

Langshan Mountain is one of the Danxia Landforms inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. According to UNESCO: “ China Danxia is the name given in China to landscapes developed on continental red terrigenous sedimentary beds influenced by endogenous forces (including uplift) and exogenous forces (including weathering and erosion). The inscribed site comprises six areas found in the sub-tropical zone of southwest China. They are characterized by spectacular red cliffs and a range of erosional landforms..These rugged landscapes have helped to conserve sub-tropical broad-leaved evergreen forests, and host many species of flora and fauna, about 400 of which are considered rare or threatened.

“China Danxia is an impressive and unique landscape of great natural beauty. The reddish conglomerate and sandstone that form this landscape of exceptional natural beauty have been shaped into spectacular peaks, pillars, cliffs and imposing gorges. Together with the contrasting forests, winding rivers and majestic waterfalls, China Danxia presents a significant natural phenomenon. China Danxia contains a wide variety of well developed red-beds landforms such as peaks, towers, mesas, cuestas, cliffs, valleys, caves and arches. Being shaped by both endogenous forces (including uplift) and exogenous forces (including weathering and erosion), China Danxia provides a range of different aspects of the phenomenon of physical landscape developed from continental (terrestrial) reddish conglomerate and sandstone in a warm, humid monsoon climate, illustrating both the range of landforms in relation to the forces and processes that formed them. The component parts represent the best examples of "least eroded" to "most eroded" Danxia landforms, displaying a clear landform sequence from "young" through "mature" to "old age", and with each component site displaying characteristic geomorphologic features of a given stage.

“China Danxia is a serial property comprising six component parts (Chishui, Taining, Langshan, Danxiashan, Longhushan, and Jianglangshan) found in the sub-tropical zone of southeastern China within approximately 1700 kilometers crescent shaped arc from Guizhou Province in the west to Zhejiang Province in the east. The process of its development is characterised by a particular rock sequence, tectonic background, climatic conditions, erosional processes and landforms and these processes have been presented as an interim model.

“Due to the combined endogenic (tectonic uplift) and exogenic (climatic, erosion, weathering) forces, and other factors, the Danxia landforms have been developed in red sedimentary sequences continuously from the Neogene until the present. The six component parts represent the most important examples of "least eroded" to "most eroded" Danxia landforms, providing a range of different aspects of the phenomenon, and illustrate both the range of landforms in relation to the forces and processes that formed them, together with a range of associated landscapes.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization),, 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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