Travel: The province of ZhejiangWritten by Julen Madariaga on April 9th, 2010
I never thought of this before, but when I was asked this week which was my favourite province in China, I naturally answered Zhejiang. I have been travelling there again on QingMing holidays and I have been reflecting what a remarkable place it is.
Zhejiang is the smallest province in the mainland, just a bit larger than the Chongqing municipality. But in this small area it contains some of the most beautiful places to visit in China. From the imperial gardens in Hangzhou to the islands off Ningbo or the beautiful cloudy peaks, it is like a whole China in miniature has been condensed there for the traveler to visit conveniently.
But it is for people watchers that Zhejiang is most remarkable. The almost 50 million people packed there have managed to get the highest GDP per capita of any Chinese province, something even more impressive considering it contains no major cities, and it is usually taken as an example of development through local initiative as opposed to the models in Shenzhen, Shanghai or Tianjin.
The cowboy businessmen of the Wenzhou area are known for turning their villages into the “World’s largest producer of X”, or building absurdly luxurious marinas in places nobody knows. Meanwhile, small towns like QingTian are the home of most of the Chinese diaspora in Spain, Italy, and other countries. The character of the Zhejiangese epitomizes the image of the resourceful and bitter-eating  Chinese that we see in the West.
I like to watch the smaller towns and villages in the province because I see in them a reflection of what China might be in the near future. Apart from rich, the inhabitants of Zhejiang seem to be fiercely individualistic. In this town in the center of the province no two houses are alike. Unlike the huge drab apartment compounds seen in other places, the Zhejiangese wants his own personalized palace to paint with his own loud colours. It’s not the hanging gardens of B, but the overall effect is appealing to the curious eye.
Up in the mountains, there are still many of the old adobe houses hidden in the forests of bamboo. But unlike other provinces, here they all have a well-equipped toilet and flat screen TVs to use with their satellite dishes. “Ah, Spain“, says the peasant where we spend the night, “yes, my cousin just opened a restaurant in Barcelona”. With part of the family in Shanghai and another in Europe, he sounds like a peasant from a different World.
From the beginning I suspected that the little altar he had installed in the dining room was just a show to please young Shanghainese guests eager to photograph relics of the past. My conversation with the owner confirmed there was more to this place than revolutionary fervor. In the end I did my duty as a tourist and took the above picture.
And I say, what do you want in a province where you can go to the forest and eat the trees on the way? Over the weekend, I must have eaten 5 kilos of these sprouts, the main export of our little mountain village. And yet all the bamboo nibbling was worth it when we reached the end of our path and discovered the heavenly sources of the valley stream:
- 吃苦, chiku, literally “eat bitter”, or be able to bear hardship. This Chinese characteristic is at the root of China’s miracle development [↩]