China // The Yangzi basin //


Caught between the Yangzi in the north and a mountainous border with Guangdong in the south, Jiangxi province (江西, jiāngxī) is generally considered a bit of a backwater, but to dismiss it out of hand is to ignore some significant attractions. Here you will find at least a couple of mountain ranges worth hiking, some major revolutionary history and a town that has been producing the highest quality ceramics for almost six and a half centuries.

Inhabited for some four thousand years, the province’s first major influx of settlers didn’t arrive until about two thousand years ago, with the northern half benefiting most as migrants began farming the plain around Poyang Hu, China’s largest freshwater lake. A network of rivers covering the province drains into Poyang, and when the construction of the Grand Canal created a route through Yangzhou and the lower Yangzi in the seventh century, Jiangxi’s capital, Nanchang, became a key point on the great north–south link of inland waterways. The region enjoyed a long period of quiet prosperity until coastal shipping and the opening up of treaty ports took business away in the 1840s. The twentieth century saw the province’s fortunes nosedive: the population halved as millions fled competing warlords and, during the 1920s and 30s, fighting between the Guomindang and Communist forces raged in the southern Jinggang Shan ranges. This conflict eventually led to an evicted Red Army starting on their Long March across China.

Things picked up after the Communist takeover, and a badly battered Nanchang licked its wounds and reinvented itself as a centre of heavy industry. Transport links provided by the Poyang and Yangzi tributaries have also benefited the east of the province, where Jingdezhen retains its title as China’s porcelain capital. North of the lake, Jiujiang is a key Yangzi port on the doorsteps of Anhui and Hubei, while the nearby mountain area of Lu Shan, also easily visited from Nanchang, offers a pleasant reminder of Jiangxi’s past, when it served as a summer retreat for Chinese literati and colonial servants.