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Changsha, capital city of Hunan Province, is an inland city to the south of China's second biggest lake, Dongting Lake.

A Modern View

"The Xiang was wide and shallow at Changsha. Across the river a mountain rose up, yellowy-orange around the base with autumn leaves, and the sun always set behind the mountain. The river had many long, white sandbars and across the main channel from the city was a very big sandbar where the important treaty people had their houses. The big houses were behind dikes and walls and surrounded by trees. Changsha had a wider and longer wall than Poshan, but you could not see it as well, because the bund was built up with tin roofed godowns and foreign brick buildings. One hotel on the bund was always lit up at night and music came from it.

The river bank was a sheer wall of masonry with stone steps inset here and there and slanting down to the sand uncovered by the receding water. The Chinese dumped rubbish and garbage down on the sand and it would build up and stink all winter until the spring flood swept it away, Burgoyne told Holman. Junks and sampans of brown-yellow, bare oiled wood crowded three or four deep all along the river bank except where there were pontoons for the commercial steamers. Much of the city was outside the walls. To the south rose the tall smokestacks of an antimony smelter and to the north there was much missionary property. The Japanese Consulate was outside the city to the north, with the Japanese gunboat anchored offshore.

The river ran north. It seemed backward to Holman. he always thought of north as being uphill. North was a high place.

When the river was full, an eddy kept a deep pool scoured out near the north end of the city. At low water the pool stayed full, but it had only a very slow eddy current in it. It was the San Pablo's anchorage. Trash and turds from the head would drift very slowly two or three times around the ship in a kind of continuous wreath before it got into the sluggish current of the main channel. The Sand Pebbles called their anchorage the goldfish bowl. H.M.S. Woodcock's birth was upriver and across the channel, abreast His Majesty's Consulate on the big sandbar.

All day every day blue-clad coolies swarmed in the junks and along the bund, pushing wheelbarrows and pulling carts, five or six men leaning and straining along ahead of the heaped carts like hitched horses. Changsha had electricity but no running water, and lines of water coolies slopped along all day between the river and the city. They had five gallon kerosene tins at each end of their shoulder poles, instead of wooden buckets as at Poshan, and that was as near as Changsha had gotten to civilizing its water supply. The coolies sang their work chant all day, hay ho, hay ho, and it made a happy sound in the crisp smoky autumn air.

Changsha was a treaty port and foriegn companies could own property there. Their buildings were all along the bund...oil companies, steamship companies, export and import agencies. Each company had its own house flag which flew all day above each building and on many of the honking launches that took the businessmen back and forth between the city and their homes on the big sandbar. They flew company flags on their homes, too. On Sundays they replaced the company flags with national flags. But the consulates and missions and gunboats flew the national flags all through the week.

Spring was all over both banks of the river in a yellow green mist of new leaves and spotty patches of pink and white flowers on the mountain. When the wind was right, it smelled of flowers. The warming weather raised nasty smells and swarms of flies from the winter's garbage along the foot of the embankment. Then one morning the river was suddenly rising as they watched it, rolling powerful muddy brown and yellow foam on top, eating away the sandbars and piles of rubbish. Now and then a junk along the bank would carry away its morings and go careening down the river while all hands aboard it yelled and screemed and tried to get it back to the bank.

In a few days the water dropped again, almost as low as before, but the river bed was clean with freah white sand. It had been what the Sand Pebbles called the false flood, the Xiang's personal flood, which all ran away in a few days into Dongting Lake and hardly wet the bottom. The real flood would come later, when the mighty Yangtze flooded and backed up Dongting Lake"

Quoted from The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna, one of the 20th Century's best novels, a Best Seller set in the 1925-1927 period of revolutionary China. Later the Sand Pebbles was re-published by the Naval Institute Press, a bit surprising because it is an indictment of shipboard life.

"The navy would not let an enlisted man marry until he was a second-class petty officer, and by then he was supposed to know better. If he didn't, he had better not expect any official favors just because he had a wife. Good sailors were supposed to make do with whores."

A Historical View

Changsha used to be very prosperous. In the Warring States Period (475B.C.- 221 B.C.), it was regarded as the granary of the Chu Kingdom, one of the seven major kingdoms of the time.

Changsha is traversed by the Xiangjiang River, an important tributary to China's longest river, the Yangtze. The river has inspired many poets, including Mao Zedong, who wrote a poem when visiting Juzi Island in the river in 1925. The poem describing the scenery of Changsha is inscribed on a stone on the island.

Across the river is the city's university town below Yuelu Mountain. The mountain is on the campus of Hunan University, one of the oldest universities in the world.

On its front gate is a couplet "The Chu Kingdom has the most clever people in the world; the most clever people in Chu Kingdom are here at the Yuelu school.." The words were no exaggeration. Famous students were Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi, Confucius masters in Southern Song Dynasty, Wang Yangming, Ming Dynasty philosopher, and Wang Xianqian, Qing Dynasty historian.

The Yuelu Mountain has been visited by poets like Du Fu, Liu Yuxi, and Han Yu. Their poems can be read at pavilions and temples around the mountain.

In Changsha, you will also see some of the most beautiful girls in China. Changsha girls have porcelain faces, rosy cheeks, and are always exquisitely dressed. Their most precious gift, however, is the creamy skin. Outsiders always wonder why they can keep their skin white and smooth while eating hot peppers every day. (he he!, perhaps an over statement?)

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