CHANGSHA, Hunan’s high-rise-filled capital, had been an important river town for millennia before its demarcation as a treaty port in 1903. Europeans had hoped to exploit the city’s trading position, upstream from Dongtine Lake astride the Xiang river, but found that the Hunanese had a very short fuse (something other Chinese already knew): after the British raised the market price of rice during a famine in 1910, the foreign quarter was totally destroyed by rioting. Guomindang forces torched much of the rest of the city in 1938 as they fled the Japanese advance, and recent modernizations have finished the job of demolishing the past. Today, away from the bustling shopping district and vibrant nightlife, sights linked to Chairman Mao account for the majority of Changsha’s formal attractions, though there are also some parks to wander around and a fascinating Provincial Museum.

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