China // The Yangzi basin //


One way or another, almost anyone travelling through central China has to pass through WUHAN (武汉, wŭhàn), Hubei’s vast capital. The name is a portmanteau label for three original settlements: Wuchang (武昌, wŭchāng), Hankou (汉口, hànkŏu) and Hanyang (汉阳, hànyáng), separated by the Han and Yangzi rivers, but now connected by bridges, tunnels and ferries. Wuhan’s sheer size – the population approaches ten million people – lends atmosphere and significance, even if the city is not a traditional tourist centre. Nonetheless it’s an upbeat, characterful metropolis, and Hankou’s former role as a foreign concession has left plenty of colonial European heritage in its wake, while the Provincial Museum in Wuchang is one of China’s best. There are also a couple of temples and historical monuments to explore, some connected to the 1911 revolution that ended two thousand years of imperial rule. On the downside, Wuhan has a well-deserved reputation – along with Chongqing and Nanjing – as one of China’s three summer “furnaces”: between May and September you’ll find the streets melting and the gasping population surviving on a diet of watermelon and iced treats.