In many ways, Hunan is a pastiche of the tourist image of rural China – a view of endless muddy tracts or paddy fields rolling past the train window, coloured green or gold depending on the season. But the bland countryside, or rather the peasants farming it, has greatly affected the country’s recent history. Hunan’s most famous peasant son, Mao Zedong, saw the crushing poverty inflicted on local farmers by landlords and a corrupt government, and the brutality with which any protests were suppressed. Though Mao is no longer accorded his former god-like status, monuments to him litter the landscape around the provincial capital Changsha, which is a convenient base for exploring the areas where he spent his youth.

Both Hunan and Hubei – literally “south of the lake” and “north of the lake” respectively – take their names from Dongting Hu, China’s second-largest lake, which also provided the origins of dragon-boat racing. South of Changsha, Heng Shan houses a pleasant assortment of mountain temples, while Zhangjiajie Scenic Reserve in the far west boasts inspiringly rugged landscapes. A few hours south of here lies the picturesque town of Fenghuang, where you’ll find remnants of the Southern Great Wall.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

7 Chinese street foods you need to try

7 Chinese street foods you need to try

Thanks to China’s sheer enormity, travelling through the country is as much a tastebud odyssey as it is a history lesson. And eating your way around the stre…

16 Feb 2018 • Aimee White insert_drive_file Article
20 picturesque Christmas destinations

20 picturesque Christmas destinations

Dreaming of a trip this Christmas? We're here to help. From glittering cities to a few snowy escapes, here are 20 classic destinations for a festive break. …

12 Dec 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
An expert's guide: where to stay in Shanghai

An expert's guide: where to stay in Shanghai

Shanghai has to be a contender for the buzziest city in Asia, a thriving business hub that's brashly modern yet wears its history on its sleeve. Dense with glit…

23 Oct 2017 • Simon Lewis insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right