As an inland city, Changsha lacks the glamour and sophistication of coastal metropolises, but therein lies its appeal. Rubbing shoulders with locals who boast of being laid back and friendly, a visitor can recapture the flavour of yesteryear China.
Even as industries such as engineering machinery, electronic information and carmaking are developed in the capital of Hunan province, a giant bust of Mao Zedong, on Orange Island, reaffirms its ties to the founder of the People’s Republic, who was born nearby, went to school in Changsha and began his revolutionary career here.
The 5km-long island lies in the Xiang river, which divides Changsha, and has long been distinct from the city around it. It is now a large recreational park, offering respite from the urban hustle and bustle. Just a few decades ago, though, this sandbar was home to a community of foreigners, with imposing European-style buildings and spacious lawns. The contrast with the walled city across the water, with its narrow, congested lanes, was stark.
Only a few buildings from those times survive: the custom commissioner’s residence, a group of structures that belonged to Seventh Day Adventist missionaries in the 1920s, and which are now used as restaurants, and a pair of restored two-storey American greystone villas once occupied by executives of the Standard Oil Company of New York, which stand at opposite ends of a spacious lawn.
Everything on this island is new, just like the city itself which has gone through the self-inflicted 1938 Great Changsha Fire. The Nationalist government of that time thought they would lose the city to invading Japanese, they touched everything so that they would not leave anything behind for the intruders.
You can come to the island from either side of the river, a huge bridge, Orange Island Bridge 橘子洲大橋, that connects both banks of the River Xiang 湘江 has viaducts in the middle to go down to the sandbars. You can also walk along pedestrian walkways on the bridge (not recommended, air pollution, hazy sky not because of fog) as public transport can get pretty chaotic. When I was there, they were building the Juzizhou Station on Changsha Metro’s Line 2. It provides direct access to the park and was opened in 2014.
Stele of Mao’s Poem 毛澤東詩詞碑
Mao Zedong (1893–1976), the first Chairman of the Communist Party of China and leader of the People’s Republic of China for nearly 30 years, wrote poetry, starting in the 1920s, during the Red Army’s epic retreat during the Long March of 1934-1936, and after coming to power in 1949. In spite of Mao’s political radicalism he was artistically conservative, opting to use traditional Chinese forms.
Changsha 1925, in the rhyme of Qinyuanchun 長沙 沁園春
Alone I stand in the autumn cold
On the tip of Orange Island,
The Xiang flowing northward;
I see a thousand hills crimsoned through
By their serried woods deep-dyed,
And a hundred barges vying
Over crystal blue waters.
Eagles cleave the air,
Fish glide under the shallow water;
Under freezing skies a million creatures contend in freedom.
Brooding over this immensity,
I ask, on this bondless land
Who rules over man’s destiny?
I was here with a throng of companions,
Vivid yet those crowded months and years.
Young we were, schoolmates,
At life’s full flowering;
Filled with student enthusiasm
Boldly we cast all restraints aside.
Pointing to our mountains and rivers,
Setting people afire with our words,
We counted the mighty no more than muck.
How, venturing midstream, we struck the waters
And the waves stayed the speeding boats?
Young Mao Zedong Stature 毛澤東雕像
Mao Zedong (1893–1976) is the first Chairman of the Communist Party of China and leader of the People’s Republic of China for nearly 30 years. He is revered to almost God-like status in China and officially one can find no fault with this man. Personal worship of Mao remains to this day.
The monument stands 32 metres (105 ft) tall and depicts Mao Zedong’s head during his youth. The Hunan People’s Government began building it in 2007 and it was completed two years later, in 2009. It took more than 800 tons of granite, which were mined from Fujian.
And on the front of the statue is a huge promenade for folks to admire the monument. A pavilion at the end of the promenade provides a panoramic view of the western end of the island. There’s an interesting stone inscription – 指點江山 – carved into a boulder. I did some research, Mao has never written a simplified Chinese version of these characters even though it is in the same style.
Boat Quay for Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi 朱張渡口
Along the southern bank of Orange Island is a boat quay rebuilt for a historic meeting of two great minds. Zhu Xi 朱熹 was a great Confucianist philosopher and Zhang Shi 張拭 was the principal of the Yuelu Academy who invited Zhu to give a series of lectures in the academy. The Great Lectures, which was recorded for posterity and regarded as one of the most important interpretation of Confucianism, influence generations of government officials.
But more importantly we tend to forget that Orange Island is, after all, a park.
Orange Island Park
We thank those that came before us, for their contributions to build the nation where it is so that we can enjoy the fruits of their labour.
It was a weekend that I visited the park, and so it was packed with people! Every angle there’s always someone in that shot. It was almost springtime, and the plum blossoms were almost in bloom.
On the weekends, there are always bridal photographies going on in the parks around China. This park is no different. I counted at least 20 couples out on their photoshoot this particular weekend.
Temple of the River God 江神廟
The temple was build during the Liang dynasty of the Six Dynasties period (AD 502-577), was given its current name on eighth year Emperor Yongzheng reign (1730). Because it was rebuilt in 2010 by the Hunan Provincial government, it is supposed to function as a park and monument, rather than a temple. But of course, businessmen had their ways. The main temple itself is off limits to all religious activities. These are now concentrated to the front promenade – you burn your incense and offerings outside before entering the temple. Go figure – Chinese ingenuity – outside commercial, inside official.
Tower of Reaching Attainment 拱極樓
This used to be tallest point in Changsha, and people come here to admire the winter scenes as well as escape from the smothering heat of Changsha’s summer.
Among the eclectic collections of buildings built for other purposes include an artificial beach playground on the eastern end of the island behind the temple, a permanent exhibition demonstrating the conservation efforts done by the government for the area, a science museum, and the most important of all – an ancient pavilion converted to sell Changsha street food. Yummy, now I am hungry and shall go search for proper Hunanese food.
Date Visited : Feb 2014