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From the series Cities of China

I have been to Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, twice and have three distinct memories. The first is rain. Getting around town meant traipsing through mud or riding in taxis that could barely make it through the flooded streets. One taxi was in such bad shape that water was coming in through the holes in the floor.

My second distinct memory is the linguistic quirk of the Hunan dialect, whereby an f and an h are flipped, and an n and l are flipped. In other words, ask some from Hunan where they are from, and they will reply Fulan. Once I got over the shock, attempting to engage in conversation was great fun!

The third memory is the food. I’m a lover of all things spicy and Hunan food is nothing, if not spicy. In fact, I've eaten Hunan food that was so hot I could actually feel my brain beginning to fry (may I have a second helping, please!). Called Xiang (湘), Hunan cuisine is considered one of China’s major regional varieties. 

Because it is a provincial capital, Changsha (pop. 7 million) is considered to be a second tier city. If you haven’t been there, here’s what it looks like:

Historically Hunan is most famous for being the birthplace of Chairman Mao, and Changsha is a jumping off place for visiting his hometown and participating in what is known as “red tourism.”

Our friends at Pray for China provide a nice summary of the history of Christian missions in China:

Anti-Christian tracts published by Hunanese in the 19th century made it one of the last provinces to open to missionary residence, and it still remains the least reached province in China (other than Tibet). The CIM’s Adam Dorward focused on Hunan for eight of his ten years in China and itinerated in the province many times. On his first trip, he and 2 Chinese helpers sold or distributed 30,000 books, including 1700-1800 Gospels. E.D. Chapin and F.B. Brown of the Church Missionary Society moved to Changde in 1897 and became the first missionaries to live in Hunan. In 1900 there were 3 mission agencies working at just 5 locations. Within 20 years of the Boxer Uprising, the work had grown to 19 agencies at 63 stations with 398 foreign missionaries and 1,229 Chinese workers serving 11,018 Protestant believers (with 3,972 belonging to Lutheran churches). Hudson Taylor died in Changsha in 1905 at the age of 73. That same year, graduates of Yale University opened a hospital and school in Changsha as part of the Student Volunteer Movement revivals. Indigenous movements like the extreme pentecostal True Jesus Church had a large work in Hunan before the Communist Party came to power in 1949.

According to the city’s official website, there are six official Protestant churches in the city. No doubt there are many more registered meeting points and house churches. There is also a Changsha International Christian Fellowship for the foreign community in the city.

In 2010, ChinaSource teamed up with some other organizations to do in-depth research on Chinese youth, publishing the results of that work in the Summer 2010 edition of the ChinaSource Quarterly. The fieldwork was done in Changsha.

Getting to Changsha from the US is easier than ever now that Hainan Airlines offers non-stop service between Changsha and Los Angeles. There are also direct flights between Changsha and Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Bangkok, and Taipei. 

Image credit: 君健 范, via Flickr.
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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