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WuHan Introduction

  At the centre of the Long River's course to the sea and on the main rail line between north anYangtze Riverd south China sprawls the tripartite city of Wuhan. Wuhan is set in the vast Jianghan Plain, a region that is more water than land. Levees protect the city from the seasonal ravages of the Yangtze. Wulian serves as the capital of Hubei Province.It is comprised of three formerly separate cities Wichang, Hankou and Hanyang.

  On the north bank lies Hankou, the commercial centre and port complex, now gleaming with a new skyline sprouting along its broad avenues. Hankou has always been the most developed of the three cities, ever since treaty port days. It is still the businessand shopping heart of the city and contains the sites of former foreign concessions and the waterfront Bund. One may dock in summer flood season to walk down gangways onto the dykes and then down to street level. The passenger ship terminal in Hankou is shaped like a cartoon image of a ship, from where stream thousands of travellers from the sharp--prowed transport ships from Shanghai and Chongqing. Deluxe cruise ships--Chinese style--tie up with their flashing karaoke club lights and "welcome" maidens wearing silk qiPao on the gangway.

  The former British Customs House clock tower remains at water's edge, now topped with a Ted star. Its prominence is today eclipsed by mirrored nightclubs. Newcomers line the waterfront where clipper ships once loaded tea. The jumbled old neighbourhoods and alleyways where foreign sailors once entered at their own risk are being torn down for grander shopping malls. Many of the graceful European-style building of the early century are being replaced with glass-walled towers.

  One can still hop on bicycle pedicabs to wind through the neighborhood streetmarkets, which arc also being chased out by development. In the remaining old sections, the most interesting parts are too narrow for bikes, but good to walk. Watch your step! The local cuisine is rich in aquatic products including snails, frogs, eels and myriad pond and river fish. Rats are also trapped for culinary use.

   Across the Han River flowing from the north is Hanyang, known for the Turtle Hill (Gui Shan) overlooking the Wuhan ChangJiang Da Qiao (Bridge), the QingChuan Pavilion with its superb river views and the Gi Yuan Si, an active Buddhist temple. Upriver in Hanyang are vast steel plants and factories.

  On the south bank of the Yangtze are the administrative and educational campuses of Wuchang, the seat of the Hubei Provincial Government and Wuhan University. The Yellow Crane Tower (Huang He Lou), the famous symboI of Wuhan, rises above the Great River at Wuchang at the foot of the bridge. The Wuhan ChangJiang Er Qiao(Bridge) links Hankou with Wuchang downriver. The calm reaches of Wuchangs East Lake (Dong Hu) with its bonsai gardens and excellent museums are the best antidote to the smoggy hubbub of the downtown districts.
Wuchang was the site of the 1911 uprising that led to the overthrow of the QingDynasty. Mao Ze Dong enjoyed staying in this city and had his own villa on the shore of the Dong Hu.
The Tian He International Airport is just north of the city via a direct expressway. As the city economy continues to grow, much of the old city is being lost to redevelopment, and as in much of China, the new construction lacks the social web of the old neighborhoods, though many of the traditional fragrances remain.

  The area on which Wuhan stands was settled in the first century; Yangtze Riverin the third century it was part of the Kingdom of Wu. Wuchang is the oldest of the three cities. By the Yuan dynasty (1279--1368) it was the capital of the region and was enclosed by a city wall until the end of the 19th century.

  Hanyang was founded in the Sui dynasty (581--618) and remained a small walled city until a farsighted official of the Qing dynasty (1644--1911), Zhang Zhidong,estabished factories and an arsenal there in the 1890's.

  Hankou was only a fishing village until the l9th century. lt is, however, the city of Hankou which is best known to foreigners, for after it was declared a treaty port in 1861 it became a major centre of the tea trade and the focaI point of the annual China Tea Races.

  There were five Foreign Concessions--British, Russian, French, German and Japanese--situated side by side along the north embankment of the Yangtze. Ocean-.going steamers from New York, Odessa and London anchored at their docks. Until the foreign import of opium ceased in the first decade of this century, opium-Iadenships sailed up the river as far as Hankou.

  Life in the foreign concessions was similar to that in Shanghai. Horse-racing was popuIar, with Hankou boasting two racecourses, one for Chinese and one for foreigners. There was even a golf course, while the Recreation Club was considered by many to be the best in China at that time.

   In the 1911 Revolution, much of Hankou was burnt to the ground during clashes between revolutionaries and imperial troops.Yangtze River

   After the fall of the capital, Nanjing, in l937 to the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese War, the Guomindang government made Wuhan its capital for a year,before moving to Chongqing. In the 1938 assault on Wuhan, casualty figures were in the tens of thousands.

  The Communist Party was very active in Wuhan before l949, organizing railway strikes and peasant training programmes. lt was here that Chairman Mao, at the age of 73, took his famous 15-kilometre (nine-mile) swim in the Yangtze during the Cultural Revolution days of 1966.

• Wuhan and Its History

What to See in Wuhan

The Hankou Tea Race

A Hankou Flood

Old Man River: Chairman Mao and The Yangtze