Anhui Travel Guide
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Anhui Province lies in the heart of eastern China, and in the heart of what the Han Chinese consider the "cradle of Chinese civilization". It is surrounded by provinces that belong to this "cradle" heartland: Shandong to the north; Jiangsu and Zhejiang to the northeast and east, respectively (both being coastal provinces); Jiangxi to the south; Hubei to the west-southwest; and Henan to the west-northwest. Anhui also lies in the southern part of the Yellow River Valley, straddling the Huai River and the Yangtze River, stretching southward beyond the Yangtze River Valley and into the Huang ("Yellow") Mountain Range (oftentimes written as Huangshan Mountain Range, though this contains a redundancy, since shan itself means "mountain"). The province derives its name from two of its old southern cities, one located on the banks of the Yangtze River (Anqing) and one which lies farther southeast (Huizhou), about 20 kilometers north of the city of Huangshan.
Anhui is mountainous to the southeast and to the southwest, with a trough (the Yangtze River Valley) between the two mountain ranges that opens onto a river and lake-filled delta north of these two mountain ranges. The Dabie Mountains lie north and northwest of the Yangtze River Valley, while the Huangshan Mountain Range lies south and southeast of the Yangtze River Valley. Some of the more famous individual mountains are Mount Huangshan, Mount Jiuhua (one of the four mountains sacred to Chinese Buddhists), Mount Langya, Mount Qiyun and Mount Tianzhu. Mount Huangshan has been listed since 1990 as a UNESCO Natural and Cultural World Heritage Site.
Due especially to its mountainous terrain to the south, the province slopes in an overall southwesterly to a northeasterly direction. The province's three main rivers - the Huai, the Xin'an and the Yangtze - with their many tributaries (numbering over 2000!), were both a blessing (they provided a vital transportation link in a pre-railway and -highway era, and of course they contributed to Anhui's fertile plains) as well as a curse (they periodically flooded much of the province). The principal lakes are Chao (the province's largest), Bo, Caizi, Daguan, Nanyi, Taiping and Wabu. In all, Anhui's water-rich flood plain comprises over 110 lakes, both large and small. Lake Taiping deserves particular mention, not least because this remarkable manmade lake is second only to Mount Huang in terms of tourism importance for Anhui Province...
The depression in which the lake sits is not manmade - this is not a lake that has been excavated. It is a depression that sits in the middle of a mountain range - a small, elongated valley, if you will - that collects runoff water from the surrounding peaks, then leaks this water out via at least one river that runs northward, toward the open, alluvial plain north of the mountain range. The lake lies in the center of the triangle created by the cities of Anqing, Huangshan and Xuancheng. This can be seen by googling "Huangshan, Anhui, China", zooming out, and clicking on the "terrain" option, which will reveal the three cities and the lake in the middle. One can then zoom back in, with the lake in the center (look for "Taipinghu", where hu means "lake").
The lake was created by damning the rivers that drain this mountaintop valley, thus "creating" a lake. Moreover - and this is the surprising part, when one considers that this sort of project is one of the hallmarks of the PRC (People's Republic of China, i.e., the government of China) - Lake Taiping was originally begun in BCE 109, during the Western Han (BCE 206 - CE 009) Dynasty, though the PRC, in more recent times, may have made certain improvements that deepened the lake, and the PRC, in conjunction with the provincial government, are most certainly behind the development of the lake as a tourist attraction, by putting the necessary tourist infrastructure in place.
Anhui Province has many ancient cultural attractions of interest to the tourist, including the Xuguo and Tangyue Memorial Archways in Shexian County, and the unique residences of the (Han Chinese) Hui merchants (not to be confused with the Hui Muslim ethnic group) in the ancient villages of Yixian County - Hongcun and Xidi Ancient Villages, both of which have been listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since the year 2000. Bozhou, on the border with Henan Province to the north, as well as Shexian - located about 25 kilometers northeast of the city of Huangshan - and Shouxian, located about 100 kilometers north-northeast of the capital city of Hefei, in the central plain, are all ancient villages rich in cultural heritage, and enjoy state protection as such.
Anhui is in fact characterized by three distinct cultures that have continued to retain each its separate identity: a Yellow River Valley culture in the northern half of the province; a southern Anhui culture that shares traits with that of neighboring Hubei Province to the west and with southern Jiangsu Province to the east; and the Huizhou Culture of the aforementioned Hui merchants who migrated into the mountainous southeastern part of the province during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty and helped the local economy to prosper. Note that the ancient villages of Hongcun and Xidi, which lie on the edge of Qishu Reservoir about 50 kilometers, as the crow flies, northwest of the city of Huangshan, belong to the Huizhou Culture. Anhui Province, for all these reasons, has been called a microcosm of Oriental Civilization.
Anhui is also the birthplace of several distinguished Chinese personages, such as Bao Zheng (a famous Song Dynasty government official who was the epitome of a "clean" (non-corrupt) public official), Cao Cao (the famous - or perhaps infamous - Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period warlord), Chen Duxiu (a leading figure in the anti-Qing government Xinhai Revolution (learn more, on a separate page (near the bottom), about the Xinhai Revolution) and a co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party), Guan Zhong (an astute administrator of the Qi State during the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty who hired employees on the basis of merit, not on the basis of hereditary privilege, thus anticipating the civil service exam championed by Confucius (BCE 551-479)), Hua Tuo (a renowned physician during the Eastern Han (CE 25-220 ) Dynasty and Three Kingdoms Period, who is credited with being the first Chinese surgeon to make use of anesthesia), Hu Shi (a philosopher of the pragmatist school who was born near the close of the 19th century and who studied extensively - and taught - at universities in the US), Laozi (the father of Taoism), Wu Jingzi (a famous 18th century scholar and novelist), Zhuangzi (an influential philosopher of the Hundred Schools of Thought school of the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Periods of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty), and Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor, or the founder of the Ming Dynasty).
Anhui Province enjoys a semi-humid, subtropical monsoon climate, with four distinct seasons. Mount Huangshan gets plenty of snow, though it generally disappears by mid-summer. The average annual temperature is between 14-17 degrees Celsius. Thanks to its mild climate and its varied topography, Anhui Province is something of a backpacker and outdoor hiker's paradise, with trails aplenty. For those who fatigue more easily, there are always cable car lifts, which also offer some quite spectacular views.