From Mao’s Birthplace to Avatar’s Mountains: the Evolution of Hunan


During its millenary history, Hunan has been Chairman Mao’s birthplace and the place of inspiration for Avatar blockbuster. But the province’s development hides more, mirroring Chinese ability to make the most of the region’s potential


Famous for being the birthplace of Chairman Mao and for inspiring the magical setting for Cameron’s movie Avatar, the Hunan province looks like an idyllic picture with small traditional towns set in green mountain ranges. Here, the Chinese government has been able to make the most of the region’s resources, mirroring the country’s development on multiple levels.

Located in south-central China, Hunan province is China’s seventh most populous province by population and the tenth most extensive province by area. Although it is medium-sized and most of its territory is covered by mountain ranges, Hunan’s population has almost 69 million inhabitants, grouped into 41 different ethnic groups.


the development of hunan province - young mao statue - cifnews

© Pixabay. Young Mao Zedong, Changsha. Hunan is a key region in the “red tourism”, an initiative that encourages tourists to visit places historically linked to communism to promote the local economy.


The spirit of Chairman Mao still hovers over this inner and deep area of China, attached to traditions, proud of its great “firsts” and, above all, of its most beloved son, the hero of the Long March. It is a big legacy that transpires from the stubbornness with which Hunan’s people continue to fight in the name of the Dragon’s glorious future. Here, the pilgrimage to the mausoleum of Shaoshan – Mao’s hometown – keeps the province at the top of the “red tourism”.

From 2000 to 2015, this central province recorded an annual growth of 9.5%, showing to be a worthy partner in China’s rat race to global supremacy. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) here is a driving force for local development so much so that Hunan has already signed over 66 infrastructural projects to catch up with national plans.

Many crucial realities for China and the world are based in Hunan. The Tianhe 1 supercomputer was born here, as well as the hybrid rice. The consolidated expertise of Zhuzhou’s CRRC electric locomotives are located here, as well as the Farsoon Technologies 3D printers of Changsha, thanks to which Shanghai Exuberance designers have won the Salone Satellite Award in Milan in 2014. Moreover, in August 2018, Changsha County opened the first industrial blockchain park, attracting businesses from first-tier cities, including Beijing and Shenzhen.

For what concerns Changsha, it is the capital and most populous city of the province, guarded and protected by a 32 meters granite statue of young Mao Zedong. Although it has a history of more than 3,000 years, it is just since the late 1990s that the capital has rapidly developed, becoming one of the important cities in the central and western regions.


Hunan enjoys a unique geological edge in carrying out the major strategy for the rise of central China as it sits at the transportation heart of central China, borders Guangdong and overlooks Hong Kong and Macao.


At the end of 2007, Changsha, with Xiangtan and Zhuzhou, was approved by the State Council for the Changsha-Zhuzhou-Xiangtan City Cluster, also Greater Changsha Metropolitan Region, one of China’s 19 megalopolises. Moreover, financial news portal recently released its 2019 ranking of China’s new first-tier cities, and Hunan’s capital is a newcomer this year.

Changsha is working hard to place itself at the center of international prestige. In 2017, the city’s first freight train arrived in Budapest, Hungary, through Russia and Ukraine. Last June, instead, China Southern Airlines launched the first Nairobi-Changsha direct flight, carrying 230 passengers.

The flight is expected to improve trade relationship between China and Africa. Over the past ten years, China has always been the largest trade partner of Africa and the increase in trade volume with Africa is also evident in Hunan province, where bilateral trade has grown by over 50% for four years running and reached $2.8 billion in 2018. Press statements have also revealed that nearly $1 billion has already been invested by more than 120 Hunan-based enterprises in Africa.

Moreover, Changsha is investing over $436 million to realize, on a surface of 67 hectares, “a place to spend holidays where it is possible to embrace all the sectors of tourism: from the largest amusement park on the snow to an Italian Renaissance city”, said Liu Kai, general manager HB Italian Town. And China’s first all-glass suspension bridge was opened right here, in Shiniuzhai National Geological Park.


the development of hunan province - changsha - cifnews

© Pixabay. Changsha, Hunan. Established in 1992, the Changsha Economic and Technological Development Zone attracts many foreign investments, including Philips, LG, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi.


The city is thus growing and changing fast. Compared to other Chinese emerging cities, Changsha is showing to be able to transform itself leveraging both its touristic resources and its geographical position along China’s main trade routes, without losing the special link with its history.

Throughout the years, Hunan’s capital has been able to change its role according to the historical period. Now it is time to aim at the international stage by attracting foreign enterprises and driving local companies going global.

According to a recent report evaluating the business environment of 35 large and medium-sized cities in China, Changsha moved to the ninth place, up from 20th in the rankings last year. The city also surged to second place in soft environment index, in the first week of January.


“Thirty years ago, this city was just a kilometer long and three kilometers wide, now you don’t see the end of it. We are the geographical junction of the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Zhu Jin Hui, the number two of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Party in Changsha.


Several Fortune 500 companies, such as Germany’s Continental Group, established offices in Changsha this year, a boost for the city’s efforts to become a national smart manufacturing center, as well as a vote of confidence for its premier business environment.

In addition to attracting international firms, Changsha is also pushing forward the overseas development of major smart engineering equipment and product manufacturers, including Zoomlion and Sany, which enhanced the brand influence of “Made in Changsha” along the BRI and even across the world.

Behind the capital’s rising business environment, there is a three-year campaign launched by the government not only to improve the business environment but also to ease companies burden and to attract talents by streamlining administrative procedures. As a result, in 2017, Changsha made its way into the 1-trillion-yuan GDP club. It now boasts around 430 demonstrative enterprises for smart manufacturing, including 27 state-level ones. The development of intelligent vehicles mirrors how Changsha is leveraging its advantages to pursue high-quality development.


the development of hunan province - zhangjiajie - cifnews

© Unsplash. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan. Renowned spicy food, infinite nature, historical tourism, and a stimulating business environment are all symbols of Hunan’s ability to take the best of its resources.


Changsha and the Hunan province are particularly important for the BRI. In 2018, the turnover of Hunan enterprises in contracting projects and labor cooperation along the Belt and Road route reached $8.46 billion, an increase of 20.1%. In the same year, the central province established a Belt and Road fund in a total amount of almost $3 billion. This fund is one of province’s three state-owned assets funds and will strongly support the provincial state-owned enterprises’ internationalization, promoting their “going global” development.

In recent years, the province has also been committed to promoting ecological development and reinforcing the overall governance of ecosystem composed mainly of mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, and fields, in a bid to ensure blue skies and clean water and soil, as well as to create a beautiful landscape along the Yangtze River.

Although it is an obligatory stop on the tourist itinerary on communism, the so-called “red tourism”, the Chinese government has been able to really make the most of the region’s resources. With a strategic vision, it has improved connections between some key places, developed infrastructures and invested in maintaining and promoting settlements with greater touristic and commercial potential.

Therefore, Hunan is truly a magical place. Here, nature mixes with strategy, tourism meets Chinese commercial routes, and the BRI finds full cooperation. Hunan province reflects the Dragon’s evolution, mirroring its development on multiple levels but also sharing the same ambitions.


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