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Zhejiang Travel Guide

Zhejiang [Zhè jiāng (浙江)] Province, whose name means "Crooked River", is a coastal province of east-central China located just south of the municipality of Shanghai, where the coastline turns from a southeasterly direction to a southwesterly direction (alternatively, where the Yellow Sea – a bay, albeit, an enormous one, hence the designation "sea" – merges with the East China Sea, or the open sea, i.e., the Pacific Ocean).

Zhejiang Province is bordered by the coastal province of Fujian to the south-southwest, Jiangxi Province to the west-southwest, Anhui Province to the west-northwest and by the coastal province of Jiangsu to the north-northwest, but with Shanghai sandwiched in between Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces. The capital of Zhejiang Province is the city of Hangzhou, site of the 2010 Asian Games and home to the historically famous West Lake, and also a city through which flows the "Crooked River", now renamed the Qiantang River.

Zhejiang Province has a relatively long Chinese history, as will be seen presently. It is also the site of numerous prehistoric cultures, being one of the cradles of ancient Chinese pre-civilization, if one may call it that, as the next section illustrates.

For roughly 7000 years, human beings have left their indelible footprints on this very richly endowed coastal province, developing its agriculture in the lowland areas while exploiting the province's many mountainous climes to grow tea, bamboo and jute. The bountiful sea nearby and the province's many inland lakes and rivers have provided fishes that nurtured generation upon generation of Zhejiangers. The prosperous Zhejiangers have used their material advantage to build wealthy cities and to embellish them with many works of art and other handicrafts that have added an invaluable, intangible dimension to the life of the province's inhabitants. With its mountains, lakes, rivers and coastal seascapes, with its mild climate and its diverse ethnic and cultural mix, Zhejiang Province has a lot to offer the tourist, both the active tourist as well as the more typical sightseeing tourist in search of the province's historical and cultural marvels, which can be found in cities, towns and villages throughout the province.

The use of silk was apparently first developed by the Neolithic Age Yangshao Culture in Shanxi Province. Artifacts pertaining to silk farming, including a silk cocoon (Bombyx mori) that had been neatly cut in half by a sharp knife, suggesting that the cocoon had been deliberately opened in order to obtain the silk thread inside, were unearthed in Xia County, Shanxi Province in 1921 by the Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson, and were dated to between BCE 4000 – 3000.

At almost the same Neolithic period, parts of a primitive silk loom belonging to the Hemuda Culture at Yuyao in Zhejiang Province were later uncovered, while actual scraps of silk from a Liangzhu Culture site near Qianshanyang, Zhejiang Province, were unearthed and dated to roughly BCE 2700, so there is little doubt that Neolithic Age Zhejiangers had mastered the art of making silk cloth, even if this art was discovered and developed by a different Neolithic Age culture in faraway Shanxi Province.

In itself, the discovery of Neolithic Age silk production related artifacts in two provinces located so far apart (Shanxi is an inland province located west of Hebei Province (by comparison, Beijing is a municipality encapsulated within Hebei Province) and just south of the border with Inner Mongolia, while Zhejiang is a coastal province located some 1300 kilometers south-southeast of Shanxi Province) suggests not only that the knowledge of the art and science of making silk cloth was passed down through the ages (a temporal spread of this knowledge), and from group to group (a spatial spread of this knowledge), but that it was surely begun at an even earlier period, since it would have taken quite a long period of time for this knowledge to have been passed from culture to culture across such a great geographical expanse. The most logical explanation for the geographical spread of the knowledge of silk making is that items made of silk (principally clothing) may well have been articles of trade among these early peoples (the earliest example of "Silk Road" trade?).

A Brief Prehistory

Zhejiang Province is the site of several ancient prehistoric cultures, the oldest of which is the Paleolithic ("Old Stone Age") site of Wuguidong in Jiande County, which belongs to the Upper (Late) Pleistocene era (note that the terms "upper" and "late" speak of the same phenomenon – albeit, the former being a spatial reference while the latter is a temporal reference – in the following sense: early hominids (think: the australopithecines of Olduvai Gorge of present-day Tanzania's Great Rift Valley) existed ages ago (about 4 million years ago), while late hominids (eg., homo sapiens) are our closest forefathers (from about 60,000-50,000 years ago) – they are in fact the first versions of us humans; "lower" (old, or deep down) strata correspond to age-old cultures (think: Olduvai Gorge), while "upper" (young, or near the surface, relatively speaking) strata belong to the culture of the first versions of us humans).

The "near the surface" human fossils at Wuguidong that were excavated in 1974 by a cross-disciplinary team of archeologists, anthropologists and other specialists from Zhejiang Museum and from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are dated to be roughly 50,000 years old and are sometimes referred to as Jiande Man (as in "Peking Man", "Java Man", etc.), after the Zhejiang county in which they were excavated.

More recent Neolithic ("New Stone Age") archeological/ anthropolgical finds have been unearthed in Zhejiang Province. These include: the Kuahuqiao Culture site in Xianghu Village, Xiaoshan District, on the outskirts of the city of Hangzhou, a culture that was formerly believed to be of a more recent period due to its sophisitication, yet which has since been dated to about 8000 years ago, a finding that is puzzling given the fact that even more recent cultures in the area appear to be less sophisticated, i.e., more primitive; the Majiabang Culture (aka Majiabin Culture) site of Xinchun Village in the South Lake area of the present-day city of Jiaxing, dated to some 7000 years ago; the Hemudu Culture site of the village of Yuyao, Hemuda Township, whose artifacts have been dated to between 7000-5300 years ago; the Liangzhu Culture site of Liangzhu Township, Hangzhou, dated to between 5300-4000 years ago.

The conundrum of the sophisticated Kuahuqiao Culture notwithstanding, the Hemudu Culture finds at Yuyao and the Liangzhu Culture finds at Liangzhu Township, Hangzhou are considered to be two of the most important milestones in understanding the cultural origins of the development of the agrarian-based Xia (BCE c.2000-1500) and Shang (BCE 1700-1027) Dynasty Chinese civilization that arose in the Yellow River drainage area. The consensus opinion is that the earlier, Neolithic cultures of the Yangtze River drainage area are the direct forerunners of what would later become the illustrious Yellow River drainage area 'Cradle of Chinese Civilization', as descendants of these earlier cultures moved farther inland (farther northward and westward) to the fertile delta of the Yellow River drainage area, where they then developed a more sedentary, agriculture-based way of life.

A Brief History

Zhejiang Province has a relatively long Chinese history, even though it was not part and parcel of the ancient cultural 'Cradle of Chinese Civilization' region, given that the province lay south of China proper during the first 2000-2400 years of Chinese history, though even here it would seem that there is some cultural linkage between ancient 'Cradle of Chinese Civilization' China and the lesser developed cultures of the many Yue tribes – aka Bai Yue, or "Hundred" Yue tribes – that inhabited the area south of the China of the Xia and Shang Dynasties, for Yu the Great, the legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty, apparently hailed from precisely this lesser developed region south of the China proper of the Xia and Shang Dynasty period (and as we have seen in the previous section, the Hemuda and Liangzhu Cultures of the Yangtze River drainage area are the forefathers of the Xia and Shang Dynasty peoples of the Yellow River drainage area). The Da Yu Mausoleum at the foot of Mount Huiji near Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, is claimed to be the tomb of Yu the Great.

By the time of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, parts of the region just below China proper had become vassal states (see the map below copied from Wikipedia). One such state, the Wu State (BCE 11th century – 473), had become a vassal state to China proper during the Western Zhou (BCE 1027-771) Dynasty. The Yue State (BCE ???-334, i.e., whose date of origin is uncertain, though it is reasonable to assume that the closest neighbor to China proper, i.e., the Wu State, would be the first of the two regions to coalesce into a state) would also appear (note that loosely affiliated groupings often coalesce around a leader when under sustained threat – viz. the many Frankish principalities that coalesced around a central figure, the King of France (at the time, the area that would later be called France was partitioned into many principalities, with, as the name suggests, a prince ruling each principality... the prince calling himself the King of France was at first considered something of a joke, since he ruled over the smallest of these principalities, but the prince apparently had great unification ambitions, which in fact panned out), during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between Britain and the Realm of the Franks (Francia) across the Channel that would become France – and it is similarly safe to assume that the presence of an organized and sometimes aggressive set of Chinese states on their border "inspired" the Bai Yue peoples to begin to form states similar to those of their neighbor to the north).

Spring and Autumn Period China

Wu State, ruled by people of "mainstream" Chinese ethnic origin (one is tempted to say "Han" Chinese instead of "mainstream" Chinese, but the "Han" ethnic majority of course stems from the later-to-emerge Han Dynasty, indicating already here that even the original Han Chinese were not a pure but instead an ethnically composite group – and they continued to become more and more "diluted" as the Han absorbed numerous other smaller and larger ethnic groups down through the centuries), occupied the area of present-day Jiangsu Province while Yue State, ruled by Hundred Yue people, occupied the area immediately below this, i.e., the area south of the Qiantang Estuary, or present-day Zhejiang Province.

Yue State conquered and annexed Wu State in BCE 473 (the combined state is sometimes referred to as the Wuyue State) but would itself be conquered and annexed a century and a half later, when the Chu State (BCE 1030-223) conquered Yue/ Wuyue in BCE 334. All of this turmoil would intensify during the latter half of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, aptly referred to by historians as the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period, even though much of it broke out already during the close of the first half of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, or the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period.

Toward the end of the Warring States Period, many of the smaller states had been conquered and annexed by other states, and the pace of this forced consolidation only accelerated as the process reached its climax with the Qin State (BCE 9th century-221) emerging as the Last State Standing, as it were, in BCE 221, whereupon the King of Qin declared himself the emperor of the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, the first in a long series of dynasties – albeit, interrupted by the occasional splintering into competing smaller states during various periods – that would rule China off and on for the next 2000 years.

Qin Dynasty

During the short-lived Qin Dynasty and the much longer-lived Han (BCE 206 – CE 220) Dynasty, Zhejiang remained a non-descript, frontier area within the unified Chinese dynasty. In reality, it was more of a vassal state than part of the unified Chinese system, simply because the central powers showed very little interest in the region, largely leaving it to its local Yue inhabitants.

Han Dynasty

The largest city and administrative center of the later-to-emerge Zhejiang Province, Huiji (the present-day city of Shaoxing), became a prefecture during the Qin Dynasty. An additional two prefectures, Zhang and Minzhong, would each share parts of what are present-day Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces. Zhang Province straddled part of the southern area of present-day Zhejiang Province and part of the northern area of Fujian Province, while Minzhong Province similarly straddled parts of the same two provinces. It was first during the disintegration phase of the Han Dynasty, when certain warlords began to jockey for power – a development that would lead directly to the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period – that Zhejiang eventually came into focus.

The warlord who would be renowned as the ruler of the Kingdom of Wu (CE 222–280), Sun Quan, was a native of the village of Fuyang, located about 25 kilometers southwest of the heart of present-day Hangzhou. Sun Quan's elder brother, Sun Ce, had been an influential warlord in the area, but fell in battle while his younger brother succeeded him – in fact, their father, Sun Jian, had been a military general and minor warlord who served more powerful warlords, thus warlordism was an integral part of the curriculum vitae of the Sun family. In laying seige to the area in question, Sun Ce had first conquered the lesser warlords, Yan Baihu and Wang Lang. The Three Kingdoms Period was one of the most colorful and most famous – or perhaps most infamous – periods in Chinese history, a history that was richly embellished in the 14th century historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Jin Dynasty

The influx of Han Chinese people into Zhejiang Province began in earnest during the Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty, itself a Han Chinese remnant of the Western Jin (CE 265-316) Dynasty that was toppled by encroaching Turkic tribes from the north (the capital of the Western Jin Dynasty was the city of Luoyang in Henan Province, while the refugee Eastern Jin Dynasty that fled southward established its capital in the city of Jiankang in Jiangsu Province (in the ancient Kingdom of Wu), or the present-day city of Nanjing, but earlier known to English speakers as Nanking – for example, the 1937 Japanese massacre of untold numbers of Chinese people at Nanjing is known as the Nanking Massacre, now also a film by the same name).

From this period onward, unrest in the north due to the encroaching Turkic tribes would cause massive numbers of Han Chinese people to flee southward. Part of this continuing exodus was due to the warring itself, while part of it was due to the new system of rule that was established by the invading Turkic tribes, who would often repudiate the existing Confucian-inspired civil service system, replacing it with a system that was instead linked to hereditary lineage, i.e., to a hereditary headman, which inspired loyalty but led to corruption and incompetence, a development that was a giant step backward, culturally and politically, in the eyes of the Han Chinese.

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

During the Five Dynasties (CE 907-960) and Ten Kingdoms (CE 907-979) Period, the Wuyue Kingdom (not to be confused with the enlarged Yue State of the Warring States Period that had conquered and swallowed up the Wu state, and sometimes referred to as the Wuyue State) was established in what would become Zhejiang Province by a certain Qian Liu (CE 852-932), with its seat situated in Lin'an County, about 30 kilometers west of present-day Hangzhou.

Sui Dynasty

The most important thing to occur in what would become Zhejiang Province during the Sui Dynasty was that the Grand Canal was dug, linking Hangzhou to the Capital, Beijing, and thus providing a waterway across the entire breadth of the Central China Plain, a landmark achievement that would have a profound influence on the development of China, as many other rivers and tributaries farther south and west were eventually linked, via subsidiary canals, with the Grand Canal.

Tang Dynasty

During the Tang Dynasty, a provincial administration began to take shape in the form of Jiangnandong Circuit (note that almost all of the new regions of southern China that emerged as Han Chinese regions in response to the influx of peoples fleeing from conflict in the north were organized initially as "circuits", not prefectures or provinces, since the circuit was an appropriately loose form of administrative organization for the region in question... curiously, China expanded as a result of the encroachment of the Turkic tribes from the north, who, after a time, became Chinese, while the areas to the south that were inhabited by the indigenous Hundred Yue and other tribes to which the Han Chinese fled became Sinicized due to the massive numbers of Han Chinese refugees, so here again is a silver lining to an otherwise troubled historical period).

On the positive side, the Turkic invaders, once things began to settle down, were quick to adopt Chinese ways, leading to a process of Sinicization. In fact, during this long period of turmoil, all was not utter turmoil, for the indigenous Han Chinese and the invading Turkic peoples would periodically unite under a single dynasty. Such was the case for the Sui (CE 581-617) and Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasties as well as for the first period of the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty.

During the Northern Song Dynasty, the southern part of neighboring Jiangsu Province as well as Zhejiang Province were organized under the Liangzhe Circuit. The capital of the Northern Song Dynasty was the city of Bianjing (present-day Kaifeng in Henan Province). The capital of the refugee Southern Song (CE 1127-1279) Dynasty, however, was the city of Lin'an, near the present-day city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, the former capital of the aforementioned Wuyue Kingdom of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period.

Trouble broke out again, however, due to the invasion of yet another Turkic tribe, the Khitans, who had formed the Liao (CE 916-1125) Dynasty. The Khitans would spawn the smaller break-away tribe, the Jürchens, who, in turn, as rebel invaders, would first wrest a part of the Chinese empire to themselves, then a larger chunk of the empire under the Jürchen Jin (CE 1115-1234) Dynasty. The Jürchens would re-emerge as the Manchus under China's last Imperial dynasty, the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty.

Even though the Jürchen Jin Dynasty had conquered and seized the lands of the Northern Song Dynasty, while the remnants of this defeated dynasty fled southward to Zhejiang Province, the re-constituted Song Dynasty in the form of the Southern Song Dynasty still ruled over at least half of the then population of China, and it sat on most of the rich agricultural lands of the Central China Plain. The Southern Song was also a robust dynasty militarily, with a well-developed navy.

It was during the Southern Song Dynasty that the much-prized celadon technique of glazed porcelain was developed – in the Longquan District of Zhejiang Province, in fact. The thick, creamy, bluish-greenish celadon glazeware of the Southern Song period was especially prized by later aficionados of porcelain, in comparison to the thinner, greenish celadon glazeware that would characterize the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty. But a comparison of the two types of celadon glazeware is like comparing apples to oranges, since the Yuan period celadon was thinner-walled, and this permitted the firing of much larger vessels. Still, in the eyes of modern collectors, the Southern Song period celadon glazeware from the Longquan kilns of Zhejiang Province is considered the "crème de la crème" of celadon porcelain. Besides its famous porcelain, Southern Song period Zhejiang Province was famous for its silk- and papermaking production, its printing and its shipbuilding.

The Khitans of the Liao Dynasty and the Jürchens of the Jin Dynasty as well as the Han Chinese of the Southern Song Dynasty were all resolutely trounced by the invading Mongols, an even larger and more powerful Turkic tribe that would eventually unify all of China – either by entreaty or by cajoling, where these instruments were effective, or by brute force where they weren't. The Mongols, under Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, eventually founded the Yuan Dynasty. It was during the Yuan Dynasty that the intrepid world traveler of Italian origin, Marco Polo, visited Hangzhou, which he called "Kinsay", referring to the burgeoning metropolis that Hangzhou had already become as the 'finest and noblest city in the world'.

From this time onward, the administrative organization of the area that would later become Zhejiang Province began to take shape rapidly. The area was formed as Zhongshu Province under the Yuan Dynasty, then it became the highly structured Zhejiang Chengxuan Secretariat under the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty. Zhejiang Chengxuan Secretariat consisted of 1 prefecture, 11 cities and 75 counties. Finally, during the early years of the Qing Dynasty – specifically, during the reign (CE 1661–1722) of Emperor Kangxi – Zhejiang Chengxuan Secretariat was renamed Zhejiang Province, a name the area has retained ever since.

Period of Invasion

During the Unequal Treaties (1842-1933) period of Chinese history, i.e., during the latter part of the Qing Dynasty, Zhejiang Province served as the link between a burgeoning Shanghai – under the influence of outside powers (viz., the Bund) – and the wealthy heartland of southern China. The province also played a minor role in China's WWII history when a squadron of US bomber aircraft that had been sent against mainland Japan in 1942, led by Lieutanant Colonel James Doolittle – and dubbed the Doolittle Raid – had to make an emergency landing on friendly Chinese soil (most of coastal China was under Japanese occupation from 1937 until almost the close of WWII – for example, the Battle of Okinawa was fought from April until mid-June 1945, ending only a few months before Japan's surrender in August, 1945) due to the extreme distance and the lack of airborne refueling capabilities at the time.

These B-25 bombers landed for the most part in Zhejiang Province, and their crews – where they survived the emergency landing on open fields (some perished in crash landings, while at least two of the bomber crews were never recovered, the planes having apparently run out of fuel over the East China Sea) – were smuggled to freedom by the sympathetic Chinese, who, alas, paid a high price for their aid to the Americans, as upwards of a quarter of a million Chinese people in cities, towns and villages all across Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan and Sichuan Provinces (the destination was Chongqing, headquarters of the Kuomintang) were rounded up and summarily executed by the frustrated Japanese occupiers, in a manner similar to the disproportionate retaliations that the Nazis infamously exacted on the populations of occupied Europe wherever resistance movements managed to sabotage Nazi installations. The Japanese effort to punish the Chinese "collaborators" was dubbed the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign.

Land of Fish And Rice

With a coastline that commences, in the north, just below the coastal city of Shanghai, Zhejiang Province's northerly border commences near the mouth of the Yellow Sea, where the latter meets the East China Sea, and for this reason, the coastline of Zhejiang Province is very rich in fish stocks. Moreover, spread along the province's coastline is a network of some 3000 islands – Zhejiang being the Chinese province with the greatest number of islands, in fact – and the waters between these many islands represent a natural fishing ground. The best of these fisheries are the waters surrounding the Zhoushan Archipelago with its nearly 1400 islands and 3300 reefs, China's largest and one of the four largest fisheries in the world, and situated just beyond Hangzhou Bay.

The Northern Zhejiang Plain provides the ideal conditions for growing rice, so Zhejiang Province, given also its abundance of fish, can truly be said to be a natural "Land of Fish and Rice ", which is precisely how the province profiles itself, even though it has recourse to many other natural resources, including other agricultural resources such as tea (think: the world-famous Longjing ("Dragon Well") green tea), bamboo, jute and silk production, the latter of which has a history of over 4700 years in the area of present-day Zhejiang Province, meaning that silk was produced here during the Neolithic Age.

Zhejiang's Topography

Besides its rich saltwater fish resources, the province is blessed with a myriad of rivers and lakes, including major rivers such as the Qiantang and Ou Rivers, and major lakes such as the famous West Lake near Hangzhou and South Lake near Jiaxing – and, as indicated, the grand canal courses through the province, from Hangzhou northwestward. From Hangzhou to Shaoxing to Ningbo, the landscape is crisscrossed by rivers and dotted with lakes. The province has only a modest amount of arable land, even if it is rich in waterways, which is not too surprising given that mountain ranges and hills account for about ¾ of the province's total area. However, much of the province's produce grows on mountain slopes.

Zhejiang Province's highest peak is Huangyajian Peak at 1921 meters, situated in the southwestern part of the province. Other famous Zhejiang mountains and mountain ranges include the Tianmu and Yandang Mountains as well as Mount Mogan, Mount Putuo (one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China – the other three being Mount Emei, Mount Jiuhua and Mount Wutai), Mount Tiantai (a very sacred Buddhist mountain (and home to the Tiantai sect), and though not one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, Mount Tiantai is frequented by Japanese Buddhists) and Mount Yandang. Generally speaking, the province slopes from southwest (its highest part) to northeast.

Zhejiang's Weather

The province is characterized by a monsoonal subtropical climate with four distinct seasons, albeit, seasons that do not occur at the usual times as the seasons that characterize North America and Europe. For example, Zhejiang spring commences in March and continues through May, a period that frequently brings rain. Summer begins in June and ends in September, and is the hottest and most humid season. Fall, which is quite short (October-November), is the very best period for the tourist to visit Zhejiang, as it is generally dry, still moderately warm (on average, around 20 degrees Celsius) and sunny.

The month of December is a transition month between fall and winter, with rapidly falling temperatures. Winter is also short – and cold, except for the southernmost part of the province – and stretches from January through February. The rainfall pattern is as follows: there are frequent but short rain showers throughout spring and early summer, but by August, the rains become heavy and sustained – monsoonal, in fact – then drop off dramatically in late September, becoming only occasional throughout fall and winter.

Zhejiang Cuisine and Handcrafts

Zhejiang is a great place for seafood lovers, thanks to the abundances of freshwater- and marine fisheries. Common seafood dishes in the province include the Largehead Hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus, aka cutlassfish, an eel-like fish with lots of teeth and a dorsal fin that runs the length of the fish), squid and the Yellow Croaker (Johnius dussumeri). Zhejiang Cuisine belongs to the Eight Great Cuisine Schools of China, with three sub-schools: Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing. Besides its Longjing ("Dragon Well") green tea – considered the best tea in all of China by some – the province is famous for its Huangyan tangerines and its West Lake water shield (aka "Dollar Bonnet"), i.e., the leaves of a perennial lake plant that has a number of small, oval-shaped leaves that float in the surface in a manner similar to the floating leaves of the lotus plant. The Dollar Bonnet is green on its upper surface and reddish on its underside, which additionally has a gelatinous slime layer.

The province has traditionally been renowned for its handicrafts such as its Hangzhou fans, its West Lake silk parasols, its Shengxian bamboo articles, its Qingtian stone carvings, its Dongyang wood carvings, its Wunzhou bowl sculptures, its Xiaoshan lace, its Ningbo woodwork inlaid with ivory, its Langquan swords, its Zhang Xiaoquan scissors and its Longquan celadon glazeware.

Zhejiang Language and Theatre

Wu is the primary language of the indigenous Zhejianger. That said, there is a multitude of Wu dialects spread throughout the province, and some are all but unintelligible to other Wu speakers. Mandarin, however, is the main lingua franca, since it is generally spoken by everyone, regardless of one's primary language. Additionially, the Huizhou dialect is spoken on the border with Anhui Province, while the Min dialect is spoken on the border with Fujian Province. Many more local dialects are spoken in the province, such as the Hangzhou, the Shaoxing, the Ningbo, the Wenzhou, the Taizhou, the Jinhua and the Quzhou dialects. The main ethnic groups are the Han, the Hui, the Manchu, the Miao and the She.

Zhejiang Province – more specifically, the city of Shangzhou – is the birthplace of Yueju Opera, one of the mainstream forms of Chinese Opera. Yueju Opera is traditionally performed by females alone, who also play the male roles, just as with Beijing Opera, the converse was traditionally the case. There are many more local forms of opera in Zhejinag Province – almost as many as there are dialects, from city to city!

Major Tourist Cities

Many of the cultural and historical highlights of the province are to be found in the province's many famous cities. It should be remembered that Zhejiang Province, once it came to be inhabited by Han Chinese fleeing the turmoil in the north, developed early on into one of China's most prosperous regions – in fact, in terms of literacy and general living standard, the province has always rated among China's very best. With so much opulence, it is not surprising that there is such an abundance of sites of historical and cultural interest spread round about the province's major cities, such as Ningbo, Shaoxing, Wenzhou and Hangzhou.

The latter city, with a history that stretches back some 2000 years, has become a significant metropolis in its own right, having absorbed many smaller towns and villages as it has grown almost to rival Shanghai, its neigbor immediately to the north. Hangzhou is one of China's six ancient capitals (the other five being: Beijing, Xi'an, Nanjing, Luoyang and Kaifeng). There is a very apt ancient Chinese saying regarding Hangzhou: "Above there is heaven; below there is Suzhou [in neighboring Anhui Province] and Hangzhou.

If you are near Hangzhou Bay in August-September, you should definitely hang around to catch the annual Qiantang River Tidal Bore, a peculiar and spectacular tidal phenomenon where the rising sea level causes a reverse flow of water up the Qiantang River, producing a thunderous sound that is awe-inspiring (to read more about Qiantang River Tidal Bore, which can best be observed from the city of Haining, about 60 kilometers west of Hangzhou, go here).

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