Changsha, capital city of Hunan Province, is an inland city to the south of China's second biggest lake, Dongting Lake. With numerous cultural relics, beautiful girls and a slow tempo, the city is quite attractive, although its economy lags behind coastal cities.
Changsha is best known for Xin Zhui, a noblewoman in the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.-25 A.D.). Her extremely well-kept corpse surprised the world when it was excavated from her luxury tomb in 1972.
When the body was found, it was almost as good as when she died at 56 in 186 B.C. It is now exibited at the Mawangdui Museum in Changsha, together with a 1.28-meter-long, 49-gram silk dress excavated from the tomb. The dress is so far the lightest silk dress discovered in the world.
It is not surprising that a noblewoman in Changsha could have been so rich. Changsha used to be very prosperous. In the Warring States Period (475B.C.- 221 B.C.), it was regarded as the granary of the Chu Kingdom, one of the seven major kingdoms of the time. With plenty of rainfall, hot summer and cold winter, Hunan was a fertile ground for grains and occupied an important status in agricultural society.
Changsha is traversed by the Xiangjiang River, an important tributary to China's longest river, the Yangtze. In addition its practical functions of transportation and irrigation, the river has inspired many poets, including Mao Zedong, who became the first chairman of P. R. China from a remote Hunan village. Mao, whose achievements in poetry and calligraphy are also widely acclaimed, wrote a poem when visiting Juzi Island in the river in 1925. The poem describing the scenery of Changsha is inscribed on a stone on the island.
Unlike Shanghai, where skyscrapers gather near the city's Huangpu River, buildings near the Xiangjiang River are mostly old and shabby, but typical of the Chinese houses in the 1980s. Owners of the buildings' apartments have been living there for generations. At suppertime, the fragrance of fried hot peppers from the apartments can make passers-by light-headed.
On the riverbank is an old market called Xiahe Street. Merchants sell mostly hot, spicy snacks like bean curd preserved with hot peppers. Changsha people are crazy about hot food.
Crossing the river, you will enter the city's university town near its highest mountain, the Yuelu Mountain. The mountain is on the campus of Hunan University, one of the oldest universities in the world.
Hunan University developed from a 1,000-year-old school named after the Yuelu Mountain. The old schoolhouse stands at the foot of the mountain, with its front door bearing a couplet that means "The Chu Kingdom has the most clever people in the world; the most clever people in Chu Kingdom are here at the Yuelu school.." The words were no exaggeration. The Yuelu school had been headed by the best scholars in China's history and had several thousand students during its prime, including Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi, Confucius masters in Southern Song Dynasty, Wang Yangming, Ming Dynasty philosopher, and Wang Xianqian, Qing Dynasty historian.
The Yuelu Mountain was visited by some of China's most respected poets like Du Fu, Liu Yuxi, and Han Yu. Their poems can be read at pavilions and temples around the mountain.
In Changsha, you will also see some of the most beautiful girls in China. Changsha girls have porcelain faces, rosy cheeks, and are always exquisitely dressed. Their most precious gift, however, is the creamy skin. Outsiders always wonder why they can keep their skin white and smooth while eating hot peppers every day.
There are five to six flights from Shenzhen to Changsha every day. The ticket price is 730 yuan (US$88) per person and the flight takes one hour.
It is recommended that visitors go to Changsha by trains. Train N738 leaves Shenzhen Railway Station at 7 p.m. every day and arrives at Changsha at 6:40 a.m. the next morning. Or take train N722, which leaves Shenzhen Railway Station at 8:40 p.m. and arrives at Changsha at 8:18 a.m. the next day.