Zhejiang, on China’s southeastern coast, is one of the nation’s wealthiest and most fertile provinces. Since the tenth century Zhejiang has been a leading producer of silk, porcelain, tea, and paper. It also is the home of many of China’s political and intellectual elite. Its 101,800 square kilometers, which make it comparable in size to Iceland, include 3,061 off-shore islands.
Zhejiang, one of the wealthiest and most fertile provinces in China, lies on the southeastern coast south of the Yangzi (Chang) River delta and China’s largest city, Shanghai. Zhejiang is bordered on the north by Jiangsu Province, on the south by Fujian Province, and on the west by Anhui and Jiangxi provinces. It covers 101,800 square kilometers (about the size of Iceland), including 3,061 offshore islands. About one-third of Zhejiang consists of rivers, lakes, and plains, whereas the other two-thirds is mountainous.
The capital is Hangzhou, which was China’s capital during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). The Venetian traveler Marco Polo in his travels described Hangzhou as “the finest and most splendid city in the world” (Polo 1986, 213) in the world. The province has forty-one counties, twenty-three cities, and twenty-three county-level towns. In 2008, about 300,000 people in Zhejiang were categorized as ethnic minorities, the largest being the She and Hui nationalities.
Zhejiang Province historically has been in the forefront of China’s cultural and economic development since the early Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). During the seventh century its emergence as a major grain producer resulted in the extension of the Grand Canal to Hangzhou. Since the tenth century Zhejiang also has been a leading producer of silk, porcelain, tea, and paper and a center of commerce and trade. When the Southern Song dynasty established its capital in Hangzhou in 1127, Zhejiang also became the cultural and political center of China. It continues to be the home of many of China’s political and intellectual elite. Two of the greatest modern Chinese writers—Mao Dun and Lu Xun—were from Zhejiang, as are nearly one-fifth of the members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Zhejiang also produced two of China’s best-known contemporary leaders: Chiang Kai-shek, president of the Republic of China on Taiwan from 1949 to 1975, and Zhou En-lai, premier of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1976.
Zhejiang Province has been a prime beneficiary of China’s current economic reforms. The province’s economy since 1978 has grown faster than the national average, thanks in part to the rapid growth of collective and private firms. Zhejiang is one of the wealthiest of China’s provinces and ranked among the top four or five on various economic indicators along with economic powerhouses such as Guangdong and Jiangsu. In addition to its traditional industries, Zhejiang has concentrated on developing its machinery, chemical, electronics, and pharmaceutical industries. Foreign tourism, trade, and investment also have flourished, especially in the coastal cities of Ningbo, Hangzhou, and Wenzhou.
Source: Shieh, Shawn. (2009). Zhejiang Province. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2629–2630. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
An aerial view of Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, with its fertile fields. The province has been a center for commerce and trade since the tenth century. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.
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