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Hunan (ho͞oˈnänˈ) [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 Wuling and Nanling mountains; the Wulingyuan scenic and historic area, in NW Hunan, is a tourist attraction. 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.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a province in China, situated in the basin of Tungt’ing Hu (Lake Tungt’ing) and of the middle course of the Yangtze River. Area, 210,000 sq km. Population, 37.18 million (1973). Most of the inhabitants are Chinese; other nationalities include the Miao, T’uchia, Yao, Hui, Uighurs, and Chuang. The capital is the city of Ch’angsha.

In the west and south, Hunan is dominated by mountains and hills; the central region and the north are occupied by a plain that contains Tungt’ing Hu. The province has a subtropical monsoon climate, with an annual precipitation of 1,100–2,000 mm. The northern periphery of Hunan lies in the flood plain of the Yangtze; other major rivers are the Yuan Chiang, Tzu Shui, and Hsiang Chiang.

Hunan’s economy is based on agriculture, primarily land cultivation; approximately one-fifth of the province is under cultivation. Irrigated rice paddies, which produce 80 percent of the grain harvest, take up most of the cultivated land; they are found chiefly in the plain around Tungt’ing Hu. Maize, wheat, and barley are also cultivated. The principal industrial crops are ramie and cotton; tea, rape, peanuts, jute, and tobacco are also grown. The principal fruits raised are citrus types.

Livestock raising is an important part of the economy. The livestock population is primarily made up of draft animals and swine. There is commercial fishing in Tungt’ing Hu; fish breeding is also of some importance. Timber, primarily China fir, is felled on a large scale, and tung oil is expressed.

Mining and nonferrous metallurgy, which have undergone development in Hunan, are represented by the large-scale extraction of antimony at Hsik’uangshan, lead and zinc ores at Shuik’-oushan, tungsten at Tzuhsing and Sanchang, and manganese at Hsiangt’an. Antimony is melted in Hsik’uangshan, lead in Ch’angsha and Sungpo, and zinc in Sungpo. Hunan has a machine-building industry: electric locomotives, electrical machinery, and machine tools are manufactured in Hsiangt’an, mining equipment in Hengyang, and agricultural and irrigation equipment in Ch’angsha and Hengyang. Plants of the food-processing, paper, and textile industries are located in Ch’angsha, Hengyang, and Hsiangt’an. Craftsmen produce linen, canvas, umbrellas, and porcelain articles. The province’s major industrial and transportation centers are Ch’angsha, Chuchou, Hengyang, Hsiangt’-an, and Shaoyang.


In antiquity Hunan was inhabited by tribes of the Yao and Yi. In the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. it was part of the state of Ch’u. The Chinese began settling the province in large numbers in the fourth century A.D. The region was part of the Hsitao and Tungtao districts in the seventh and eighth centuries, of the Hsin-ghu Region from the ninth to 12th centuries, and of Hukuang Province from the 13th to 17th centuries. Hunan Province, with its present boundaries, was established in 1668.

In the late 18th century detachments of insurgent peasants, led by the White Lotus sect, were active in Hunan, and from 1852 to 1854 the army of the insurgent Taiping peasants operated in the province. During the revolution of 1925–27, Hunan was a center of the peasant movement. From 1927 to 1934 several revolutionary bases (soviet regions) were located in the province. Much of Hunan was occupied by the Japanese during the Chinese People’s National Liberation War against the Japanese Invaders of 1937–45 (Sino-Japanese War). In August 1949 the People’s Liberation Army of China liberated Hunan from the Kuomintang.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a province of S China, between the Yangtze River and the Nan Ling Mountains: drained chiefly by the Xiang and Yüan Rivers; valuable mineral resources. Capital: Changsha. Pop.: 66 630 000 (2003 est.). Area: 210 500 sq. km (82 095 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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