Despite a government vision of Anhui (安徽, ānhuī) as a wealthy corridor between coast and interior, the region continues to live up to its reputation as eastern China’s poorest province. It has a long history, however, and million-year-old remains of the proto-human Homo erectus have been found here, while Shang-era copper mines in southern Anhui fuelled China’s Bronze Age. The province later became known for its artistic refinements, from decorative Han tombs through to Ming architecture.
Any success, however, has been in the face of Anhui’s unfriendly geography. Arid and eroded, the north China plains extend into its upper third as far as the Huai River, and while the south is warmer and wetter, the fertile wooded hills soon climb to rugged mountains, where little can grow. Historically, though, the flood-prone Yangzi itself has ensured Anhui’s poverty by regularly inundating the province’s low-lying centre, which would otherwise produce a significant amount of crops. Despite the expansion of highways and railways – not to mention several huge bridges across the Yangzi – Anhui’s economy still trails its booming neighbours, though there are compensations for this underdevelopment. Superlative mountain landscapes at Huang Shan and the collection of Buddhist temples at Jiuhua Shan have been pulling in sightseers for centuries, and there’s a strong cultural tradition stamped on the area, with a substantial amount of antique rural architecture surviving intact around Tunxi.