In May 2023, during my first visit to China after the pandemic, I was astonished by the development of Xi’an. “How Has Covid Changed China” chronicles the transformation of this previously unkempt city into a more modern metropolis of gleaming towers and high-tech zones interconnected by elevated expressways, metro lines and buses set on a canopy of lake-centred parks and green spaces. It was like time-traveling from 1980 to 2025 in the space of four years.

China Map

To understand the forces behind Xi’an’s incredible leap over the past five years, we need to look at government policy towards Xi’an over the past forty years, but particularly either side of the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of 2013. Prior to the BRI, exports routinely traveled from China to the rest of the world eastwards by ship. And as Xi’an is in western China, she was facing irrelevance and obsolescence.

China’s reforms of the 1980’s had led to a widely-celebrated economic boom along the east and south coasts where customs-exempt manufacturing zones located by rapidly growing ports were exporting a range of low-cost goods around the world. Meanwhile, because of poor inland infrastructure, foreign investors shied away from Xi’an which subsequently suffered slow growth and emigration. This imbalance was addressed by President Jiang Zemin’s “Go West Campaign” of 1999 which between then and 2006 prompted public investment of more than ~US$140 billion in transport, energy and connectivity to develop the attractiveness of western regions for investment. To forestall inevitable environmental complaints about this steel-woven carpet of concrete infrastructure, ecological protection along with education, were incorporated into the policy from the outset – over a million hectares of farmland and wasteland were converted into forest with farmers compensated for their resulting loss of income.

Xi'an North Station

This long-term planning, a characteristic of Chinese governance, from two-decades ago is coming to fruition now. Apart from building smart new highways for China’s burgeoning middle classes and road-hauliers, a second airport terminal was completed in 2003 and a third in 2012. Also, Xi’an’s connection to China’s expansive high speed railway system, the largest in the world, was facilitated through the construction of Xi’an North Station. And again with an eye on the environment, investment was planned for a city metro system whose 9 lines covering 263 miles (423 km) opened between 2011 and 2023.

However, this first phase of development, pre-BRI, received a disappointing response from foreign investors. On the one hand, this was because the strategy had all been directed by the government which made western business people uncomfortable, and on the other, it was because it was ultimately misdirected. The billions spent on improving the infrastructure and educating the local workforce still did not compensate for the easy convenience of locating manufacturing capacity in the vicinity of the already established shipping hubs with their teaming populations.

This state of affairs was to be radically changed by President Xi Jinping, whose hometown is a one-hour drive from Xi’an. In 2013 he launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), prompted by three separate factors. Firstly, China still needed to address the longstanding economic imbalance of its underperforming western regions. Secondly, Xi realized that China’s reliance on shipping for all its exports created a significant trade, economic and military vulnerability – any geostrategic rival could bring China to its knees by blockading the Malacca Straits through which nearly all China’s shipping passed. Lastly, as a result of the massive stimulus it unleashed following the 2008 financial recession, China had developed over-capacity in infrastructure-related capabilities, particularly in steel and concrete production. Coupled with a need to diversify its asset holdings from an over-reliance on US bonds, it saw an opportunity to leverage its infrastructural know-how through an international development loan and export program.

So what is the oddly-named Belt and Road Initiative? (BRI for short) Translated uncomfortably from the Chinese, “belt” and “road” refer to two different sets of envisaged trade routes. “Belt” describes the web of historic overland trading routes popularly referenced as the “silk road” linking Europe and China via Mongolia, Russia and Central Asia. This ancient commercial network has already been significantly rejuvenated through a gargantuan Chinese-built infrastructure program and even now continues to receive more investment from both China and participating countries. Xi’an has always been at the Chinese terminus of that network.

Xi'an International Railway Port

“Road” relates to a more logistically ambitious goal for China to access the Indian Ocean via complex corridors through South East Asia (particularly Myanmar) and via the adjoining Arabian sea through the Pakistan Economic Corridor. The westerly cities of Chengdu and Chongqing, which along with Xi’an form the “West Economic Triangle Zone”, are the gateways for this route. The BRI is therefore intended to increase China’s strategic resilience by reducing its reliance on the eastern and southern seaboards for exports. Of course, by reducing the cost and time to transport cargo from China westwards by rail to Europe, the BRI necessarily increases the attractiveness of western regions for foreign direct investment.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the papers, both foreign and local companies jumped at the logistical advantages of the BRI. The American company HP was an enthusiastic early adopter, proud to replace a 37-day journey from China to Europe eastwards by ship in 2009 with a 15-day journey westwards by rail ten years later. As a result between 2018 and 2019, rail volumes from Xi’an to Europe increased by a factor of 6! Then, in 2019 the volume of rail travel between Europe and China almost doubled. Suddenly, the western region boomed. And Xi’an was the place to be. In 2019, the government supported the rail project with an International Trade and Logistics Park along with a bonded area in an accompanying High-Tech Industrial Development Zone for cross-border e-commerce. Money poured in. Xi’an profited from US$31 billion of investment in private investment in 2019 alone. The city’s population grew from 6.2 million in 2013 to 8.8 million in 2023 and – despite the accelerated pace of construction – house prices rose 46% between 2016 – 2019. Similarly, the value of the city’s GDP or production tripled from US$57 billion in 2013 to US$156 billion in 2022. As a result of its fast population growth, Xi’an was able to extend its city limits and allocate more land to its fast-growing Qujiang District, where many of its new and soon to come luxury hotels are located. When I arrived in Xi’an in March 2023, having not been there since 2019, I was utterly astonished by the tail end of all that investment.

Qujiang Art Centre

But Xi’an may well have hit its apogee just as Covid hit, because the pandemic has partly cut off the oxygen on which Xi’an thrived, namely foreigners’ access to the city. By June 2020, new business registrations had fallen by 40%. Tourism, along with equipment manufacturing and service outsourcing, was one of Xi’an’s pillar industries. Although domestic tourism provided some support, international tourism was completely interrupted from 2020 until March 2023, and because of reduced airlift to and from China, it is still only now beginning to recover. Furthermore, the conflict in the Ukraine and US sanctions on Russia have complicated Europe-bound rail logistics, though attempts are being made to create a new route that skirts Russia’s southern border across the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus to Europe. Lastly, the economic and military standoff between China and the US has spilled into its relationships with Western Europe, Japan and South Korea, nullifying the Foreign Direct Investment on which Xi’an’s recent success and strategy has been predicated.

Following twenty years of continued investment Xi’an positively glistens. Expensively constructed government, commercial and residential buildings embellish a state-of-the-art infrastructural plan of social utopianist promise. However, tourism, a pillar industry, and reliance on continued foreign direct investment are being held hostage to the geopolitics of the moment. Without some kind of thaw in China’s relationship with western countries, Xi’an’s regeneration and even the ingenuity of the BRI are liable to stagnate. I and many Xi’an residents hope the world can find a way to avoid this fate.

24 years ago I co-founded Imperial Tours, an inbound luxury tour operator in Beijing where I lived for 20 years. As a result of Covid, I was trapped outside China from November 2019 until three weeks ago when I returned for the first time. This article describes my experience of how China has changed during Covid.

The Status Of Westerners In China

I first moved to Beijing in 1997 to study Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University. It was such a fun place to be. As a Caucasian it seemed as though I had a free pass to go anywhere and do everything. A Western junior diplomat of the time, now senior, used to joyfully drive us the wrong way down one-way streets for the sheer fun of it protected by diplomatic immunity. That was the atmosphere.

Unknowingly, I was benefiting from a century-old, unspoken social hierarchy topped by Westerners. But this unearned assumption of superiority took a grievous blow after the great recession of 2008 – 09 when the greed of western bankers wrecked the global economy. This not only exposed endemic institutional corruption but also shredded the reputation of the western capitalist model for probity and global governance.

And together with the successful rise of affluent Chinese – people who’d been born to nothing and had worked hard to afford their luxury lifestyles – the social pecking order within China began to change. One day soon after, I recall walking into the Bentley showroom with my American wife to find the sales person hop, skip and jump straight past me to a shabbily-dressed young Chinese man walking in behind – and sadly, this was entirely astute.

Three weeks ago, standing in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel, a place that would have intimidated many two decades previously, I could not help but be impressed by the swaggering self-confidence of the fashionably dressed, coiffed and shoed, local clientele. I realized with sudden clarity that I was the only hotel resident in the room not wearing a designer label, and also that in a room full of Chinese strangers, people who’d built their status-driven identity on such values, this did in a way matter.

While the Four Seasons hotel lobby represents only the commercial elite of Chinese society, I can draw a direct comparison for this group over the years. On that basis Chinese people in urban centers have progressed immeasurably and significantly matured such that the relative status of Westerners has dropped relative to them.

A Countryside Transformed

Whilst there’s a measure of disaffection in the cities, in the countryside I found a diametrically different story. Country folk have benefited mightily from the government’s decade-long “Poverty Alleviation Campaign”, the biggest and most unreported development in China over the last 10 years.

If the former leader Deng Xiao Ping set off the economic reform process in China with the aphorism “To get rich is glorious”, then Xi Jinping’s mantra of “the harmonious society” has been all about pulling up the countryside by its water-buffalo straps and reducing the wealth gap with the cities. This transformation has been staggering.

As a longtime China resident, I had been expecting to see litter, polluted water, wasteland, poorly built dwellings and a weird social mix in the villages of elderly grandparents with their grandchildren, the middle-aged parents having all left for manufacturing centers in search of work – those were my expectations of China’s countryside.

On returning to China after Covid, I could not have been more surprised. Traveling by high-speed train from Beijing to Xi’an, I saw a country networked with raised rail-tracks and highways traversing well-tended fields before a backdrop of townships with the odd kempt village. Traditionally, the poorest villagers in Shaanxi lived in cave dwellings – couldn’t find any of those anywhere near Xi’an now.

When I traveled to villages in southern Guaanxi province, an area admittedly in the top tier of China’s rural areas, I was flabbergasted by the changes. Ian Hamlinton, a South African architect, cum country hotel entrepreneur, cum Chinese TV personality, told me how Chinese villages have been revolutionized over the past decade.

“The government has invested in public services like sewage systems, piped water, a secure electricity supply, rubbish collection systems and you’ll even see publicly funded irrigation. Farm machinery has replaced the water buffalo, freeing up the afternoons as they don’t need to graze the buffalo anymore,” he related.

Reed mat weavers appreciate new health insurance coverage.

When I visited some elderly basket weavers, I asked them about health care coverage. They told me that the government now funds 70% of their treatment, including such services as chemotherapy. That is a far cry from ten years earlier. In combination with free education for children to the age of 18, I began to understand why it is that you now see parents in the villages.

With their accommodation paid for and government support for health and education, they just need to make a little cash to get by. As a result, the villages are bustling again. The countryside has been so transformed to my eyes that I wonder how the traditionally parsimonious Chinese government is planning to fund these major reforms given the financial challenge set by the poorly performing economy.

Xi’an, The Shanghai of The West

As a result of the louche and excessive debauch in its French concession, Shanghai became known as the “Paris of the Orient”. It was an anything goes kind of place as the Chinese city of jazz partied into the early dawn of the twentieth century.  This tag-line was used to market it in the 1980’s, but whilst Shanghai preserves and enjoys its Art Deco period, many voices in China’s elite have urged Shanghai to move on as a symbol of Chinese modernity. The incredible Lujiazui cityscape is an apt metaphor for what China and Shanghai have achieved over the last 40 years. 

So when a couple of weeks ago I was driven from Xi’an North railway station across town to the Ritz Carlton Hotel to its south, I very much wondered how I’d somehow ended up in Shanghai. Had I taken the wrong train and arrived in Shanghai instead of Xi’an by accident? Where was the dirty, destitute city of Xi’an with its narrow roads and air pollution – the place that tourists in the early 2010’s would jet into in the early morning to see the Terracotta Warriors first thing so that they could fly out again immediately after and therefore largely avoid. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

Instead, I was in this sparkling new place speeding along a fabulous raised highway overlooking beautiful trees and passing modern apartment blocks that went on for miles and miles. It was the most befuddling sensation. What had happened? But that is China.

And for a provincial Limey like me, it feels like China’s the only place it could possibly happen like this. I must admit I’ve seen Austin, Texas blossom over the last 15 years, so I am aware of how growth happens in the west, but this is on a completely different level. It’s like another universe.

By way of rational explanation, I should explain that Xi’an is close to President Xi Jinping’s hometown and so just as Shanghai benefitted massively under the leadership of Jiang Zemin, who was from there, so has Xi’an these days benefitted from huge recent investment under its current leader.

Those of you who think you’ve been to and know Xi’an, think again – it’s bigger, newer and altogether more marvelous than you can possibly imagine, and as it’s got more archaeological treasures buried in its ground than any other place bar Luxor, there’s plenty for travelers to do here. I visited the new archaeological museum, and there’s plenty of other cultural sites like Famen Temple or the Tang dynasty frescoes for people to enjoy over and above the Terracotta Warriors, city wall and Muslim quarter.

What’s Not Changed In Hong Kong

This leads us finally to what’s happened in Hong Kong. Following the tough response to the umbrella movement and resulting sanctions, there is no question that a lot of western multinationals and expats have moved their businesses out of Hong Kong, often to Singapore, which has profited mightily as a result. I also caught the tensions that persist between mainlanders and local Hong Kongers, which most recently flared in the controversy over the behavior of Hong Kong Cathay Pacific flight attendants towards their mainland Chinese customers.

Nonetheless in my stays at the stalwart Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula Hotels I found the age-old and enduring values of world-leading hospitality predominant and well-sustained. Indeed, I was tickled pink to see longtime Peninsula servant Rieko Kibo in the lobby greeting guests. There is a savoir faire and sophistication embedded within the fabric of Hong Kong that helps it transition effortlessly between cultures.

Although there is a feeling that Hong Kong needs to confront the concentration of power in its property owners, friends inform me that the gap left by multinational company departures is being filled at least partly by a vibrant new class of entrepreneur from a more cosmopolitan background, particularly from the Middle East and Latin America. Development plans for the Greater Bay Area, also spur optimism.

Just as when I first visited China in 1993, there remains the feeling that China is a place on the move. The raw power of the place is still inspiring when you go to cities like Xi’an and see it entirely transformed, or find that over a three-year period, the countryside is so improved. I was proud, happy and fascinated to see those changes, though of course disheartened by areas where China seems to have moved in an unattractive direction.

People talk about the increased surveillance and the regular flashes of traffic cameras on the roads did disturb me. On the other hand, the first use of facial recognition software on this trip was introduced by Lufthansa and the British border force for flight check-in and immigration in London before I got anywhere near China. What was best about this trip though was the opportunity to meet up with so many old friends and be back doing something I love.


First published in Insider China Report on June 14, 2023.

Vice Director Gao Fu of BTDGuy – Why was Beijing Tourism Administration (BTA) changed into Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development (BTD)?

Vice-Director Gao – Thanks Guy for inviting me to do this interview. It is my pleasure to introduce Beijing to the travel community. To answer your question – in the Beijing government structure a “Commission” ranks higher than an “Administration” and a “ Commission” has yet more coordination power and a bigger budget than an  “Administration ”. This shows the increased respect with which the government views the travel industry. As a Municipal Commission, we have more power to co-ordinate other industries, and this is one of the key reasons for the change. The government realized that travel affects and includes many industries, such as culture, sports, education, agriculture, marine and more. So rather than encouraging travel as one sector, the government felt it needed to be managed as an industry interlinked with many others. In order to co-ordinate aspects of various industries within an umbrella of travel, Beijing Tourism Administration was promoted with the status of Commission in 2011. At the same time, BTD was given a much bigger budget.  Our annual budget is now 1 billion RMB (approximately 163 million US$), of which half should be spent on industrial development, for example developing infrastructure and functional areas and half on promotional activities and others.

Guy – 1 Billion RMB a year! That being the case, why do people overseas not see more promotional information about Beijing?

Vice-Director Gao – Please see this in the context of the changes taking place within China at large. These days the central government wishes to let the invisible hand of the market play a greater role in shaping industry. This is a wide-ranging policy shift and one that needs time to develop and mature. We currently focus more on infrastructure development, tourism planning, personnel training and education. To date, a limited portion of our funds have been used overseas because the government needs to learn about the kinds of marketing partnership that will be most effective. As time passes, we will dedicate more funds to overseas promotion with the stronger partnership of Public Sector and Private Sector.

Guy – Can you outline your role within BTD?

Vice-Director Gao – Sure, but first let me give you background on the nature of travel to Beijing. In 2012, there were around 231 million visitors to Beijing and only 5 million of these were from overseas. Whereas in the past, tourism authorities used to focus on increasing tourism numbers to their destination, now we want to focus on the quality of those stays. We want to increase the yield to the city by lengthening each individual stay or increasing the total expenditure of each visitor. We look at high end tourism as a means of achieving our aim, and I am part of the high end tourism development department which is tasked with achieving this. This department subdivides into three areas – MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Conference and Events), Luxury travel (FIT travel) and what we call Specialized Travel. This latter one covers specialized forms of travel that often have high yields such as medical travel, educational travel or various forms of sports tourism.

Guy – What steps have you taken to engage with these markets?

Vice-Director Gao – This is happening on two levels. Firstly, we have worked to increase the public exposure of Beijing to the wider global travel community, and then secondly we have taken steps to foreground Beijing’s suitability for the MICE market. 

Apart from regularly sponsoring FAM trips for agents and media, we have sent “Kungfu Pandas” to the UK and Ireland in 2012 and then in 2013 to USA and Canada. Our marketing campaigns have included sponsoring a Royal Albert Hall performance in London by Swedish rock pianist Robert Wells together with famous Chinese singer Madame Tan Jing and we have developed multi-million dollar shows for New Year’s Eve celebrations in the Temple of Heaven and in the Summer Palace in 2011 and 2012, images that went all around the world on the stroke of midnight. In October 2013, there will be a pull-out section of Travel + Leisure magazine in the US and we have also placed some advertising in One +, the MPI magazine.

On a more specific level, we have been working particularly in the MICE area. We have sponsored delegations of Beijing travel companies at CIBTM (co-hosted by Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development), EIBTM and IMEX Frankfurt for the past few years. At the same time, the government’s role is also to increase communication with international organizations. Thus, we hosted the WTTC conference in 2010, PATA’s 60th anniversary event in 2011 and followed this in 2012 by hosting the Site Global Conference. These major events increased Beijing’s exposure. We also have fostered dialogue with ICCA and MPI and launched the first Skal chapter in China in Beijing in August15, 2012. Another exciting development was that in 2012, Beijing together with other cities, such as Berlin, Los Angeles and others launched the World Tourism Federation with its secretariat to be based in Beijing, which will create a broader platform for international tourism community. 

Guy – So what do you feel BTD needs to do to attract more MICE business to China?

In 2011 we launched the BCVB (Beijing Convention & Visitor Bureau) and formed the Beijing High End Tourism and Meeting Industry Alliance, a committee comprising industry and government representatives to move MICE forwards. I feel to further MICE, what we need to do is firstly to co-ordinate and mobilize the abundant resources for MICE. I mean we need to present further and better the spa, golf, restaurants and ancillary services and to foreground these in the MICE offering. Secondly, we need to ask for business from industry leaders in Beijing who could do a better job of inviting conferences to Beijing.  I feel that Beijing has a fantastic sales proposition for MICE. Planners want something different and unique.  Beijing offers both historic event venues like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City as well as futuristic ones like the Water cube. The amazing cultural highlights and the attraction of one of the biggest consumer markets in the world are at the core of bringing MICE business to China.

Guy – Do you feel airlift is holding back Beijing’s development of the MICE market?

The air ticket fee is a factor in competing with international destinations, and we are working closely with Air China and other airlines in a win-win situation to try and entice more business travelers to Beijing. Similarly, the increasing strength of the RMB is another factor. However, these need to be balanced in the overall business decision. China will soon have the largest consumer market in the world. How exciting a proposition would it be for many business people to hold their event in the capital city of this market? Many competing factors need to be considered to come to a balanced decision for a business about where to hold their events and we feel that Beijing offers a compelling case. 

Let me pre-empt your next question and say something about air pollution.  The pollution starting in winter 2012 was bad, and the situation remains unsatisfactory today. Nonetheless, I am confident that in the next few years Beijing will overcome its challenges in this area. Beijing government recognized in February 2013 that there is a problem and has issued aggressive targets for pollution reduction by 2017. I really believe we will succeed in this. 

So the Chinese people are friendly, we have excellent hotels and we warmly invite you to hold your event here in Beijing and to see what our society, different from yours, but still wonderful and successful looks and feels like.

Image of Zhu Ge Liang of the Three Kingdoms of China Era"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide." So begins the historical fiction "The Three Kingdoms" with a line as recited by the Chinese Diaspora as "To be or not to be" in the West.

These days many Western business schools introduce Eastern strategic thinking through Sun Tzu's treatise, "The Art of War". One imagines that there is no better primer for mediaeval battle. However, for an introduction to the Chinese conception of diplomacy, strategy and warfare, there is nothing to match the colorful and astounding "Three Kingdoms".

What is most exciting about this story is that it is as influential today as it has ever been, since even before the novel was written. If this sounds nonsensical, bear in mind that the novel was itself a shrewd synthesis of myriad plays, operas, myths and folk stories current in the early-Ming dynasty (~1360-1390). The contemporary TV shows and cartoons, dramatizing the novel for Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese audiences are following in a dramatic tradition that has already popularized these events for centuries.

To get down to specifics: "The Three Kingdoms" recreates the period between the disintegration of the Han dynasty in 168 AD and the subsequent re-unification of China under the Jin dynasty in 280 AD. In this intervening period there arose three kingdoms, which vied to unify and control China. These were Wei – based in Northern China, Shu – based in Western Sichuan and Wu – based south of the lower Yangzi. "The Three Kingdoms" traces the numerous leaders, strategies and wars that competed for dominion.

To give some notion of the centrality of the Yangzi River to this historical fiction, it is enough merely to quote the prologue. This is in the form of a poem:

"On and on the Great River rolls, racing east. 
Of proud and gallant heroes its white-tops leave no trace, 
As right and wrong, pride and fall turn all at once unreal. 
Yet ever the green hills stay 
To blaze in the west-waning day."

The middle reaches of the River Yangzi, bordering all three kingdoms, were the inevitable focus of many battles. Before introducing the most famous battle with which the river is associated, it behooves us to first present the three kingdoms and their leaders.

Kingdom of Wei

General Cao Cao is portrayed as a super-intelligent villain. During the integration of the Han dynasty, he rises to become Regent to the last Emperor. However, his intentions are ambiguous; having consolidated power at court, effectively making the Han Emperor his prisoner, he appoints himself King of Wei. From here it is but a small step for his son to depose the emasculated last Han Emperor and proclaim himself Emperor.

General Cao Cao's is an interesting portrayal because the novel's author is opposed to his ambition to usurp the Han dynasty. At the same time though, he does acknowledge Cao Cao's brilliant military strategy and savy political maneuvering. What adds to the richness of this character is that even though Cao Cao is from a powerful family, he must battle through many adversities to reach his ultimate kingly position.

Kingdom of Shu

The novel's author favors this kingdom's claim to the Imperial throne. Thus it is this kingdom which boasts the most interesting characters.

Liu Xuande , King of Shu, is a distant blood relation of the Han emperor. He is portrayed as weighing his every decision against strict ethical values; his humanity drawing men of talent to him. His character is saved from stereotype by the complication of his oft-professed virtue far exceeding his military and political talents. His short fall as a ruler therefore lends greater powers to his ministers.

None is more central than Zhuge Liang . Politician, military strategist, administrator and shaman par excellence, this character has become an archetype. He personifies an extreme idealization of a government minister. Though the historic Zhuge Liang is widely admired for his skill, his representation in "The Three Kingdoms" is ultimately anchored in myth. Uninhibited by any limiting factor, Zhuge Liang's plans are only ever foiled by the incapacity of those around him. Considering the cunning of his ingenious schemes, it is a testament to the author's skills that this fictional character is untainted by suspicions of deviousness. (Which is certainly not the case with the real, historic Zhuge Liang.)

Apart from the above two, no introduction to Shu Kingdom could be so-called without mention of Liu Xuande's two sworn brothers, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu . The opening scene of "The Three Kingdoms" presents these three penniless warriors swearing an unbreakable allegiance of brotherhood in their pledge to deliver the weakening Han dynasty from the threat of bandits.

Zhang Fei is the epitome of military strength. Honorable, valiant, physically enormous and of prodigious military skill, his flaw is that he is driven by passion more than by thought. As the story develops, we see Zhang Fei become more cunning in his ruses. However, when his sworn brother Guan Yu is killed it is Zhang Fei's instinctual nature that brings about his own demise.

Guan Yu combines military prowess, honor and intelligence. The valiant and slightly vain Guan Yu acts as a foil to Liu Xuande, serving to justify the Confucian code of ethics that cements the foundation of the kingdom of Shu. Ultimately, it is Guan Yu's arrogance that kills him. "Know your enemey and know yourself," Sun Tzu enjoins in his "Art of War". Guan Yu ignores this precept, underestimating the cunning of his young opponent.

Kingdom of Wu

The Kingdom of Wu lay south of the lower reaches of the Yangzi. This river not only marked its northern boundary but also to some extents determined its destiny. A natural buffer, the river lent Wu great strength in defense. Any northward land attack, however, was undermined by the possibility of having its expeditionary forces cornered in battle with their backs to the river, as well as by the threat of leaving its rear exposed to an attack from a river-based force.

Sun Quan is the King of Wu. He is predominantly concerned with winning back Jingzhou, a military district he allowed Liu Xuande as part of their common attack on General Cao Cao at the famous battle of Red Cliff. Liu Xuande, who originally claims to wish to borrow this district, proves to have been disingenuous. Having secured his own Kingdom of Shu, he appoints Guan Yu as a hereditary ruler of Jingzhou. It is this duplicity that provokes Wu to attack and kill Guan Yu. Liu Xuande, the supposedly ethical ruler of Shu, saves his name from ignominy by immediately risking everything – against the advice of all his counselors – to avenge the killing of his sworn brother. He initiates a campaign, which results not only in his death but also that of his other sworn brother, Zhang Fei.

Although some attempt is made to present Sun Quan as treacherous, especially with respect to his repeated attempts to murder Liu Xuande, his foreign policy is not sufficiently aggressive to equal the malevolence of a Cao Cao. Additionally, the subsequent betrayal of Liu Xuande, partly justifies Sun Quan's originally treacherous attitude.

The Battle of Red Cliff

This Yangzi River battle is the most famous of the novel, because it results in the tripartite division of power between the three kingdoms. In it General Cao Cao's river-bound, southward drive is repelled by a coalition of Liu Xuande and Sun Quan's smaller forces.

This battle is doubly memorable because it is one of the first instances, after his introduction to the novel, that Zhuge Liang is seen to excel. Indeed so fearsome is Zhuge Liang's cunning that his ally and then boss, Sun Quan's military commander, the elderly General Zhou Yu, tries to arrange his murder and thereby protect his own kingdom of Wu from potential future aggression by this military genius. Zhuge Liang, however, has already anticipated this.

In this short space, it is not possible to recreate the brilliance of Zhuge Liang's schemes. No attempt will be made. Instead, we recommend readers to get hold of a copy of "The Three Kingdoms" and turn to The Battle of Red Cliff, which begins at Chapter 44. If you do start reading from this point, it is likely that only the passing demands for food and sleep will tear you away from the novel's thrilling, remaining chapters.

To whet your appetite, here we quote an edited description of the Yangzi. Zhuge Liang has anticipated fog for one of his stratagems. This short passage sets the murky scene.

" At times the forces of yin and yang that govern nature fail, and day and darkness seem as one, turning the vast space into a fearful monochrome. Everywhere the fog, stock-still. Not even a cartload can be spotted. But the sound of a gong or drum carries far. 

It is like the end of early rains, when the cold of latent spring takes hold: everywhere, vague, watery desert and darkness that flows and spreads. A thousand warjunks, swallowed between the river's rocky steeps, while a single fishing boat boldly bobs on the wells. 

The roiling, restless fog is like the chaos before a storm, swirling streaks resembling wintry clouds. Common souls meeting it fall dead. Great men observe it and despair. Are we returning to the primal state that preceded form itself – to undivided Heaven and Earth?"


These are the bare facts: the Mogao cave complex is comprised of 492 caves, containing 450,000 square feet of murals dating from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries – a period which corresponds to an immense growth in international commerce along the nearby Silk Road. The caves were abandoned in the fourteenth century and lay untouched until the beginning of the twentieth century.Image of Mogao Caves in China

These facts presume ten centuries of consecutive public works programs of astonishing financial proportions and startling logistical complications. They anticipate unparalleled craftsmanship especially during the Tang (608-907) and Yuan (1227-1368) dynasties when China was a global superpower.


Buddhist cave art originated in the second century B.C.E. in Maharashtra, India – an area of commercial importance for trade flows between north and south India. Between the inception at the older site at Ajanta and the completion of further ones at a nearby site at Ellora in the eighth century, some 63 caves were excavated and painted.

The Mogao Caves, begun six centuries later in the fourth century, were positioned on the more prosperous international trading network, known as the Silk Road. With 492 painted grottoes, the Mogao Caves have more than eight times as many grottoes as those at India's primary two sites. That said, the Mogao Caves should not be understood as an isolated endeavor within China. They are merely the best example of an astonishingly widespread Buddhist cave movement in this nation. Apart from the UNESCO-registered grottoes at Dazu, Longmen & Yungang, prominent Buddhist grottoes on the Silk Road are the Kizil Caves near Kuqa, on which much of the content if not style of the earliest Mogao Caves are based, and the Bezeklik Caves near Turpan in China's western Xinjiang province. Within their home province of Gansu, the Mogao Caves are but one of several painted cave complexes with nearby grottoes at Yulin, the Western Thousand Buddha Caves and Eastern Thousand Buddha Caves, as well as further afield, notably at Maijishan, Binglingsi and Laoshansi.

Indian in origin, Buddhist cave art was soon wholeheartedly promoted in many cultural centers throughout China both on the Silk Road network and off.


Buddhist cave art, like Buddhism, was an Indian export to China. Over time, its original ideological function was embellished with features required by Buddhism's synthesis into China's political and religious life.

Image of Mogao Caves in China - 2(i) Original Religious Functions

The Indian tradition of sannyasa refers to the concept of renouncing attachments to the material world in order to devote oneself entirely to spiritual matters. This concept developed in two ways: The first, outlined in the "Bhagavad Gita", is the principle of internalizing this concept so that it inspires one's daily life. The second is the physical execution of this ideal by formally renouncing the various comforts of society for the austerity of a remote location where the spiritual aspirant devotes him/herself to the search for enlightenment. A remote cave offers peace and shelter as well as an environment suited to spiritual endeavor. Neither light nor dark, high nor low, enclosed nor exposed, a cave is a metaphor for a dimension that exists beyond the worlds of reality and unreality.

The cave thereby became a place for spiritual search. It was but a small elaboration to painting the caves' walls with emblems to facilitate meditation or with visualizations derived from the search for enlightenment.

Sannyasa originally relates to an individual's search for enlightenment. However, even before the institution of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, there was evidence of devotees' zeal to enlighten their contemporaries. Caves also became loci of pedagogy and the tools of proselytizers. Cave paintings came to have the function of publicizing Buddhist stories and concepts to an illiterate audience. The images became attractive and accessible libraries of Buddhist sutras (teachings) and jataka (moral tales of previous incarnations of the Buddha).

(ii) Subsequent Political Functions

Assuring Imperial Legitimacy

To understand the political value of Buddhism to China's rulers, it is useful firstly to introduce an axiom of Mahayana Buddhism, which was the strain of Buddhism that became popular in China. Mahayana Buddhism innovated the concept of the bodhisattva (enlightenment being). This is an individual who has attained supreme enlightenment but delays his or her entry into nirvana (the state of enlightenment ) in order to make possible the salvation of fellow sentient beings. The bodhisattva is a figure of immense authority, which represents and acts out of enlightenment, compassion and self-sacrifice on behalf of all other beings. As such, it is a potent potential political metaphor for a ruler.

The heyday for Buddhism, as well as for murals at the Mogao Caves, was during the first half of the Tang dynasty (618-781). This period featured three highly successful Emperors: Emperor Taizong (626-649), Emperor Wu (684-704 – China's only female Emperor) and Emperor Xuanzong I (712-755). Apart from the successes of their reigns, these Emperors shared only one other common experience – that of ascending to the throne in violation of the sacrosanct conventions of succession. Their accessions to the throne were tainted with illegalities. Their subsequent patronage of Buddhism bore the political goal of using for themselves the bodhisattva image to wipe clean the disrepute of their usurpation.

The clearest challenge to the existing order came from Emperor Wu (a woman). Hence, the 100 foot White Buddha in cave 96 was sculpted in her lifetime and was modeled on her physiognomy. Similarly, the 75 foot Black Buddha of nearby cave 130 was constructed during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong I.

The legitimacy of the Imperial regime through association with a populist Buddhist order was maintained explicitly and implicitly. Firstly, the Emperors sponsored Buddhist public works programs. Secondly, as stated above, the likeness of Emperors and of other members of the ruling elite were incorporated within the Buddhist cosmogony. Thirdly, the appearances of popular Buddhist scenes were adapted to resonate to the culture of the Imperial Palace. For example, the architecture of Amitabha's Western Palace closely resembled that of the Emperor's Imperial one. Otherwise, in the traditional figures of the flying apsara (Hindu mythological nymphs), musicians, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas could be seen references to the maids, singers, dancers and musicians of the Imperial palace.

Although a foreign import, Buddhism suffered no discrimination in China. It was integrated within a holistic, world religious view. Instead of interpreting it as a threat to the status quo, Buddhism was at first co-opted by the ruling Imperial elite to garner popular support.

Fostering Cohesion In A Multi-ethnic Nation

The Tang dynasty was a time of increasing affluence and surging military expansion. Commerce fostered upward mobility wImage of Mogao Caves in China - 3hile military conquests continually broadened the cultural base of the empire. Buddhism, a universal philosophy transcending class and ethnic barriers, was used as a trans-national ideology to bind the disparate ethnic and social groups of the Empire. As a result, the paintings at the Mogao Caves became an establishmentarian vision of the heavenly paradise awaiting obedient and dutiful citizens of all classes and territories.

The Mogao Caves are notable for their holistic integration of the disparate groups and individuals displayed on their walls. Deities, Imperial likenesses and wealthy donors are provided pride of place but commoners and ethnic minorities are also included within a mosaic of socially and culturally harmonious bliss.

The culturally syncretizing and socially unifying function of the paintings appears even to transgress the boundaries of the caves' original inspiration, Buddhism. Part of the uniqueness of these grottoes is in their holistic integration of indigenous Chinese philosophies, such as Daoism and Confucianism. This is historically accurate in that Confucianist and Daoist concepts did encourage the evolution of Mahayana Buddhism into Chan (or Zen) Buddhism in China in the fifth century. However, dressing an imported ideology in the garb of traditional Chinese philosophies and heroic tales is also politically expedient both for the ruling elite and to further engender the propagation of Buddhism in China.


As the fame of Mogao Caves became widespread, cave dedications were used to cement political relationships. The collapse of the Tang dynasty created a power vacuum filled by contending regimes. By 907 it was the Cao family who controlled the Dunhuang region. In order to guarantee the integrity of their kingdom vis-a-vis the powerful Khitan and Nurchen kingdoms to the east, they forged alliances with powerful western kingdoms. As part of an alliance with the King of Khotan, the ruler Cao Yijin dedicated murals in this king's honor.

(iii) Social Function

Social Prestige

Daoism and Confucianism induced two important mutations to Buddhism as it developed in China. Confucianism emphasizing the inherent goodness of humans taught that "everyone can become a sage." Daoism meanwhile underlined that the process of enlightenment was not gradual over many lifetimes but sudden and hence achievable within one lifetime. These innovations of the predominant Chinese or Chan (Zen in Japan) sect of Buddhism brought the promise of paradise closer to adherents and, as a result, accelerated the propagation of the Chan Buddhist sect.

It became possible for a wealthy individual to allude to his or her own duanwu (sudden enlightenment) by sponsoring the excavation and decoration of a cave. A large contribution to the Buddhist cosmogony at the Mogao Caves by association guaranteed the prominence of the donor's social standing. Although some commentaries claim that often it was wealthy traders who financed the caves as a form of heavenly guarantee to ward off the risks of their perilous Silk Road journey, there is little evidence to support this. In fact, as attested by dedications painted on the cave murals, most of the Mogao Caves' donors were members of the local political elite.

Clan Hall

As donors featured themselves more prominently amongst the murals, the cave shrines took on an additional role, that of clan hall. Cave 220, for example, popularly known as the "Zhai Family Cave", features ten generations of the prominent, local Zhai family. As such, this cave is a metaphor for the process of cultural synthesis by which the originally Buddhist role of the caves was integrated into the pre-existing, indigenous values, customs and beliefs of China.

The Founding

According to "An Account Of Buddhist Shrines" written by Li Junxiu during the reign of Tang Empress Wu (684-704), a monk named Lezun (also known as Yuezun) founded the Mogao Caves in 366. It is said this monk's favorite disciple, Zhiqin, had a holy vision here. As the last rays of the sun struck the peak of Sanwei Mountain, the disciple Zhiqin looked up to see the Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the future) sitting in a golden light, surrounded by a host of celestial maidens playing musical instruments and dancing for his entertainment. So awe-struck was the disciple that he immediately took up hammer and chisel, hollowed out the first of the grottoes and painted his vision there.

Scientists refer to large mica deposits in Sanwei Mountain as a possible explanation for the intense golden light related within Zhiqin's vision. Also several accounts refer to the great thirst and fatigue of the monk prior to his vision and thereby seem to imply the potential for a hallucination.

The Development Of The Caves

The complexities of excavating a cave, of importing high quality materials for its facing and decoration, as well as of fostering local artistic talents and Buddhist learning demanded not only heavy financing, but also a high degree of coordination.

At this well-guarded outpost of the Hexi corridor, it is unsurprising that the Art Academies and management mechanisms created for the caves' development were incorporated within the already existent military structure. Among the inscriptions for the donors in both the Mogao and Yulin grottoes are: "Painted by the artisans of the first department of the Military Command"; "Painters under the Military Command"; "Calligraphers of First and Second departments of the Military Command"; "Officer in-charge of engraving" and "Officer in charge of cave-cutting".

Whilst such formalities suggest a disciplined & stark working environment, provision vouchers for wines and viands from the records of the Cao family, which sponsored 11 caves during the tenth century, indicate a jollier atmosphere. The wine bills reveal the hierarchy of workers at the caves. Whilst painters and masons were supplied with "fine" quality, other workers were issued with "inferior" supplies.

The relationship between resident artists and donors can be seen from one of the Dunhuang Manuscripts, which gives an account of master artist Colonel Dong Baode. He "had noble aspirations and a gentle temperament, an example of an honest gentleman of compassion and proper conduct. Objects came to life in his sketches, and his paintings of Buddha surpassed his predecessors'. Conversant with Buddhist scriptures and accomplished in Confucian norms and propriety, he was recommended to the King of the Cao family… Dong Baode served the noble cause while being generously rewarded. His family became affluent with provisions to spare. He consulted his colleagues (seniors and juniors) about repaying his indebtedness to the royal family while redeeming his devotion to the Enlightened One. They all agreed to dedicate themselves to the construction of the holy shrines."

There are many variations in the architecture, statuary and murals of the 492 caves built over a thousand-year period. Here will be offered an introduction to the basic themes present in a majority of caves.

Basic Design

The most basic cave design is that of a rectangular room. Meditation caves, called chanku, have two small meditation rooms either side of a main hall. A later development was the incorporation of a four-sided column in the center of the main hall, whose purpose was to create a circumambulatory path for worshippers around the cave. Overhead, until midway through the sixth century, the cave roof's cross-sectional shape was usually that of the top of an inverted U, also known as an "inverted dipper" ceiling. Later, a tiered canopy structure, modeled on an Imperial umbrella, was developed.

While the most basic cave has one altar in its western wall, one with a central column might have one to four altars installed in the wide faces of this central column. Inside the altars, and also in wall niches, are placed painted stucco statues. Colorful murals cover every inch of the surrounding cave walls, the notion of plenitude being fundamental to many of the various painted themes. The floors are often covered with kiln-fired, lotus-patterned tiles. The ceiling usually bears a chessboard or caisson pattern (See "Decorative Designs" in a later section).

Of the four walls, the most important is the western wall, opposite the easterly entrance for prominent viewing. The cave's main theme is painted in its center. Common arrangements for this central image include single-theme paintings, group paintings, a comic-strip sequence of small tableau, gigantic sutra illustrations and screen paintings (where the wall is divided into usually six painted parts in the style of a screen.) Depending on decorative fashions and on whether the image's purpose was to portray an individual, landscape, deity or story, various formats could be chosen for allocating wall space around the main image.


Murals form the main component of Dunhuang's art. This is a suitable juncture to introduce the common layout and subjects of the painted stucco statues.

The first caves featured the Buddha (enlightened one), either as Maitreya (Buddha of the future) or as Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha, Prince Siddartha Gautama) with attendant Bodhisattvas either side. More often than not the Buddha is shown in a meditative posture – a reference to the original purpose of cave shrines. In the Northern Wei dynasty (439-534), two disciples were added to this arrangement: Ananda (Sakyamuni's youthful cousin, known for his intelligence) and Kasyapa (a stern disciple famous for his strict devotion). This enlarged the group to five.

From the Tang dynasty (618-907), seven to ten statues were customarily grouped around the Buddha in hierarchical order. Outside the disciples and Bodhisattvas would appear Lokapalas (guardian warriors), Vajra warriors (protectors of the Buddhist law) and kneeling attendants. These would be reinforced by paintings on the back wall behind the statues. For example, behind statues of the two disciples Ananda and Kasyapa might be painted eight eminent monks bringing the total number to the ten chief disciples of Buddha.

The three most famous stucco statues at the Mogao Caves are the early Tang dynasty (618-781) Northern and Southern Buddhas, 33 meters (approx. 100 feet) and 26 meters (approx. 80 feet) tall, and the massive 16 meter wide (50 foot) Sleeping Buddha. Since the Northern Buddha has been the subject of many renovations, the first dating to the tenth century, the Southern Buddha is usually accorded greater attention.

Mural Motifs

Image of Mogao Caves in China - 4Apsara

Derived from Hindu mythology, an apsara is a celestial courtesan. In India, they were originally portrayed as nude, haloed female musicians, riding in clouds and showering flower petals. When this mythological character traveled from India to the more conservative cultural climate of Confucianist China, its bold presentation was toned down. The apsara of the Mogao caves do not travel on clouds, nor are they painted with a halo. Similarly, the potent sexuality of the Indian figure has been muted; only the upper torso of the Dunhuang apsara is naked, and this is partly obscured by the innovation of a long Persian scarf that floats around the flying angel.

Often these mythological beings are used to decorate wide borders along the upper parts of walls, commonly at divisions between the top of the wall and the ceiling or within the ceiling design itself. For the pictoral development of apsara, please consult the Apsara Photogallery.


Image of Mogao Caves in China - 5There are three different types of music portrayed at the Mogao Caves, that of the Chinese heartland, that of the western regions (the present day western provinces of Gansu, Ningxia and Xinjiang) and lastly "celestial music", originally taken from the land of the Buddha, used for liturgical and meditative purposes. The pre-Tang dynasty caves stress the importance of liturgical music by often featuring its musicians in the upper parts of the walls, a positioning akin to the apsara.

Thousand Buddhas

One of the alternative names for the Mogao Caves is the "Thousand Buddha Caves". This number should not be taken literally. Firstly, it refers to the density of the caves' innumerable Buddha images and statues. Secondly, thousand buddhas or qianfo is also used to refer to the miniature Buddha figures painted in a pattern on many walls. A stereotype is grouped with four or five differently colored copies and this grouping is repeated across the wall to create a myriad concentration of Buddha images. The intensity of this repetition is designed to fuel the religious mysticism surrounding the "realm of the Buddha".

Vajra Warriors

These are the ferocious-looking guardians of dharma (Buddhist law) that customarily appear on the lower parts of many cave walls. They are powerfully built, often painted with upraised arms or performing martial exercises. During the Tang dynasty in particular their physique and musculature were exaggerated for aesthetic effect.


Donors are customarily identified with text labels by their images. Indian cave shrines do not contain pictures of donors. In the earliest Chinese caves of the fourth century, donors are featured. They are presented as a class of individual rather than as individuals themselves. There is minimal characterization distinguishing between hundreds of named portraits featured as addendum on the lower parts of the walls. Donors were proud merely to be included in the murals as venerators of Buddhism.

By the Tang dynasty (618-907), the portrayal of donors had changed significantly. They are shown in larger than life portraits on either side of the corridor leading to the cave, as well as on the eastern wall directly opposite the main western one, even pictured greeting the Buddhist deities facing them. Indeed, cave 98 has 169 portraits of the distinguished, local Cao family and cave 220, known as the "Zhai Family Cave", has ten generations of the Zhai family. What had begun as the extension of a pre-established Confucianist ethic of ancestor worship had evolved to fulfill the role of clan hall. The Mogao Caves prime role as Buddhist shrine had been supplemented with a secondary one as a clan hall.

It was not just in size and number that the presentation of donors differed. Whereas the depiction of the deities was bound by age-old conventions, the painting of laity evolved according to the dictates of fashion. For example, the dress of the deities remains invariably Indian throughout the caves whereas that of the donors varies. Similarly, the Tang dynasty penchant for expansive waistlines is reflected in the well-nourished triple chins of the donors of this period. The inviolability of convention in painting deities carries through to coloring techniques. The original Indian-inspired three-dimensional perspective technique is employed throughout the centuries for the depiction of deities whereas new coloring refinements are constantly introduced for images of the laity (See Painting Technique).

Decorative Designs

Towards the early Tang period (618-781), an important innovation in cave design occurred; this was the shift in ceiling design from that of the top of an inverted U (also known as an "inverted dipper") towards a canopy design, modeled on the Emperor's umbrella. This innovation in its wake resulted in further evolutions in cave design. The first was the introduction of the caisson into the square of the canopy ceiling. The caisson is a painted square, customarily decorated with a circular design featuring a lotus. It can be further enhanced with an interlinked rabbit ear decoration as well as traditional Chinese ceiling emblems.

The second evolution of this period was a shift in decorative focus away from the apsara (celestial courtesans) and deities (thousand Buddhas) towards greater accentuation of geometric and floral shapes. This is not to suggest that apsara and thousand Buddhas were no longer included in the decorative design, but to indicate merely that they became the most important of many new patterns. The rich multiplicity of new patterns resulted in a wide range of design from floral patterns (lotuses, pomegranates and curry leaves amongst many others), to geometric patterns (inspired by interlocked branches and dancing dragons, amongst others) to textile patterns.

A further area of decorative evolution is in the costumes. Archeological evidence from Tang dynasty burial sites, particularly at nearby Turpan, have uncovered examples of the beautifully woven, complicated brocade designs that are featured in the murals and stucco statues of the Mogao Caves. This evolution of costume can be clearly seen in the painted dress of donors.

Auspicious Symbols

The aim for this section is not to familiarize readers with the meanings and history of auspicious symbols, but rather to touch upon a fascinating phenomenon, which helps explain part of the enormous significance of the Mogao Caves to Central Asian art history.

Starting in the latter half of the Tang dynasty (781-907), following the enormous boom in traffic along the Silk Road, auspicious symbols from Central Asia and Northern India were replicated on the walls of the Mogao Caves. As a result of war and destruction in their homeland, in some cases, the Mogao Cave image is the only surviving extant example of the imported auspicious symbol.



Lying at China’s southern most point, Hainan Island has at various times been a Chinese penal colony, suffered invasion and exploitation by the Japanese, used as a port of free trade, and, in its current incarnation, is an island that China likes to compare with Hawaii.  The comparison is not out of place as tourism and a naval base prop up the economies of both places.

The first Chinese to settle Hainan Island were the Li people. During the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC to 24 AD), many of this Chinese ethnic minority moved from their original home in Guangxi Province to Hainan, displacing the island’s Aboriginal inhabitants.

Originally referred to as ‘the gates of hell’, Hainan’s most famous exile was Su Dong Po, one of China’s best known literati.   He was exiled to Hainan towards the end of the 11th Century for writing poetry criticizing the government. In 1098 the residents of the town that Su Dong Po resided established the Dongpo Academy in memory of him. (This was the second time he had been exiled.  He was first exiled in Hangzhou where the famous pork dish Dong Po Rou was named after him. )

During the 16th and 17th Centuries, the nation’s majority ethnic group, the Han Chinese, began to move to Hainan Island, pushing the Li people into the hilly, southern interior. Eventually the Li people rebelled, forcing the government to send in Miao minority mercenaries. Many of these Miao, originally from Guizhou Province, chose to settle in Hainan and now, these three ethnic groups make up 98% of Hainan’s population. 

Throughout its history, Hainan has been under the command of either Guangxi or Guangdong Provinces.  The Second World War saw Japan invade and occupy Hainan for a brief period mining it for iron. At this time, the Chinese Communists and the Li Minority banded together to fight the Japanese, and, in 1950, wrested back control of the island.

In 1988, with Deng Xiao Ping opening the doors to China, the Chinese Government officially gave Hainan independent provincial status. It is from this time that the Hainan of today has developed – a tropical getaway, blessed with white sand beaches and clear blue skies, whose crescent bays are dotted with high-end international resorts. These resorts, together with secondary home real estate developments, have tilted the renown of this once purely agricultural economy away from rubber trees and fruit orchards to an international sun-seekers’  destination where affluent Chinese mix with foreigners in a place where practically everyone is on vacation.