Hunan

Hunan (hōˈnänˈ) [key] [south of the lake], province (2010 pop. 65,683,722), c.80,000 sq mi (207,254 sq km), S central China, S of Dongting lake. Changsha is the capital. Largely hilly in the south and west, Hunan becomes an alluvial lowland in the Dongting basin in the northeast; the Xiang River, which traverses the province from north to south, and the lesser Yuan and Zi rivers drain into Dongting lake. The mountainous uplands include the Nanling range and Hengshan Mts. Rice is the outstanding crop, particularly in the "rice bowl" of Dongting lake; corn, sweet potatoes, barley, potatoes, buckwheat, rapeseed, fruits, and tea are also produced. Although much of the province's forested land has been cleared due to excessive cutting, many stands of cedar, pine, fir, oak, camphor, bamboo, and tung wood are found in the southwestern hills. Fishing and livestock raising are important rural activities. Pulp and paper mills are found along the upper Yuan and Zi rivers. Hunan abounds in minerals such as iron ore, lead, zinc, antimony, tungsten, manganese, coal, mercury, gold, tin, and sulfur. Although agriculture is still its main industry, Hunan has a variety of heavy and light industries, such as food processing, aluminum smelting, iron, steel, and textile mills, and the manufacture of machine tools, pyrotechnics, and traditional handcrafts. The population of Hunan, concentrated mainly in the Xiang and lower Yuan valleys and along the Wuhan-Guangzhou RR, is overwhelmingly Chinese and speaks a variety of Mandarin. There are aboriginal Miao and Yao peoples in the hills of the south and west; since 1952 several autonomous reserves have been established for these minorities. Under Chinese rule since the 3d cent. B.C., the region was traditionally called Xiang for its main river. It belonged to the kingdom of Wu at the time of the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 220–80) and later became part of the Chu kingdom of the Five Dynasties (907–60). Its present name, first used (12th cent.) under the Sung dynasty, was revived in the 17th cent. by the Manchus when the historic province of Huguang was divided into the present provinces of Hubei and Hunan. Hunan, traditionally the home of fighting men, supplied the troops that saved the Ch'ing (Manchu) dynasty from the Taiping rebels (1850–64). Largely unoccupied by the Japanese in World War II, it passed to Communist rule in 1949. Mao Zedong was born in Hunan.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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