/hooh"pay"/; Chin. /hooh"be"/, n.
Older Spelling. Hubei. Also, Wade-Giles, Hupei /hooh"bay"/.

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Chinese (Wade-Giles)  Hu-pei,  (Pinyin)  Hubei,  

      sheng (province) lying in the heart of China and forming a part of the middle basin of the Yangtze River. Until the reign of the great K'ang-hsi emperor (1661–1722) of the Ch'ing dynasty, Hupeh and its neighbour Hunan formed a single province, Hukuang. They were then divided and given their present names: Hupeh, meaning, “North of the Lakes” (of the Yangtze River); and Hunan, “South of the Lakes.” Hupeh has an area of 71,800 square miles (185,900 square kilometres). Its capital is Wu-han (Wuhan), the composite name of the three cities of Han-k'ou, Han-yang, and Wu-ch'ang, which lie at the confluence of the Han River and the Yangtze at a point approximately 600 miles (1,000 kilometres) from the sea and halfway between Shanghai and Chungking.

Physical and human geography

The land
      Almost all of Hupeh Province lies immediately north of the Yangtze River. Hupeh is bounded on the north by the eastern extension of the axis of the Tsinling, T'ung-pai, and Ta-pieh mountains. In the southeast the Mu-fu Mountains divide the province from Kiangsi. Along its central southern border there is no clear physical divide apart from the Yangtze itself: a lake-studded alluvial plain continues uninterruptedly southward to Tung-t'ing Lake in Hunan. The Wu-ling Mountains form the boundary between southwest Hupeh and northwest Hunan. Western Hupeh has highlands that lie at an altitude of more than 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) and consist of the eastern extension of two ranges, the Ta-pa and Fang-tou mountains, marking the boundary between Hupeh and Szechwan.

      The level of the land falls rapidly, from west to east, to the lake plain, much of which is no more than 200 feet above sea level. This flat or gently undulating country is often suddenly interrupted by steeply rising isolated hills or ranges. The plain is the remnant of a former depression or old lake basin formed in the Pliocene Epoch (from 7,000,000 to 2,500,000 years ago), which has largely been filled with eroded red sandstone from Szechwan. The process of filling in is not yet complete; in consequence, large areas adjoining the Yangtze (Yangtze River) and Han rivers are covered by innumerable shallow lakes.

Drainage and soils
      The Yangtze cuts its way from the Szechwan Basin through the Ta-pa Mountains in a series of magnificent gorges and descends rapidly to the Hupeh Plain at I-ch'ang. The bed of the river at I-ch'ang is only 130 feet above sea level and is 960 miles from the sea. From this point onward its velocity decreases and its bed widens as it winds its way across the province from west to east. Finally, it forces a passage between the Mu-fu and Ta-pieh ranges into Anhwei and Kiangsi provinces. There the river again narrows to less than half a mile in width. In its course through Hupeh the Yangtze receives the waters of two tributaries, the Han (Han River) and the Ch'ing rivers. It also receives, through Tung-t'ing Lake, the entire drainage of Hunan. The Han, itself a considerable river even by Chinese standards, rises in the Tsinling Mountains and flows eastward in Shensi Province for about 200 miles. On entering Hupeh, it turns south in a much broader valley, or floodplain, and widens its bed, which varies from half a mile to a mile in width over much of this stretch. About 100 miles from its confluence with the Yangtze at Han-k'ou (Hankou) (k'ou, “mouth”), it turns east, threads its way through a maze of lakes, and, in the last few miles, narrows its bed to a mere 250 yards—a factor that is responsible for much flooding in summer.

      The variation in the regime of the Yangtze between summer and winter is striking. At Han-k'ou, where the river is nearly a mile wide, the average difference between summer and winter levels is 45 feet. In winter the river is sluggish, with many shallows, and is navigable up to Han-k'ou only by specially built flat-bottomed river steamers. With the coming of the spring and summer rains the change is dramatic, and the river comes down as a mighty flood. In times of exceptional flood, as in 1931 and 1954, the flow reaches astronomical figures. Flooding of large areas of the surrounding low-lying land is normal each summer, when river and lakes combine. Marco Polo (Polo, Marco), who visited the area in the 13th century, reported that in places the river was more than 10 miles wide; his report was discredited as a gross exaggeration, but he had seen the Yangtze in the summer flood. In summer Han-k'ou is an ocean port, capable of receiving vessels of 10,000 to 15,000 tons. There are, however, navigational hazards at this time. Great care has to be taken that a vessel does not stray from the true river course and become grounded in more shallow water. If this happens, refloating is an urgent matter as the river is prone to quite rapid falls in level, and the vessel may be left stranded for a year.

      Hupeh lies in a neutral soil zone between the pedocals (soils of arid or semiarid regions, enriched in lime) of North China and the pedalfers (soils of humid regions, enriched in alumina and iron) of the South. The uplands are mainly brown mountain earth, the lower hilly lands yellow-brown soil, and the lowlands alluvium and red earth.

      Hupeh's rainfall follows the general Chinese seasonal pattern, governed by the rain-bearing monsoon winds. Han-k'ou has an average minimum rainfall of about an inch (25 millimetres) in December and a maximum of almost 10 inches in June, with a total annual fall of about 50 inches. Rainfall throughout the province decreases from southeast to northwest. Much of this rainfall is caused by cyclones, which pass down the Yangtze Valley from west to east. Occasionally, such as in the summer of 1931, a series of cyclones passes down the valley in rapid succession, bringing phenomenal rainfall and disastrous flooding. Since 1949 considerable effort has been directed toward flood control measures in the valley.

      Hupeh winters, although usually short, are often rigorous, with heavy and glazed frost and some snow brought by bitter north winds in January and February, when the average temperatures are 40° F (4° C) and 43° F (6° C), respectively. Summers are hot, with July temperatures averaging 85° F (29° C), and are long and oppressive because of the high relative humidity. Any light breeze by day tends to die out in the evening, leading to intolerable nights when mothers bring their bamboo beds into the streets and sit fanning their children through the weary hours. There are about 270 frostless days in the south and 250 in the north.

Plant and animal life
      The natural vegetation of Hupeh is dense forest, but this was cleared from the lowlands and hills many centuries ago, leaving only the western highlands densely wooded. The forests and woodlands consist mainly of ma wei (pine), shu mu (cedar), camphor, yellow sandalwood, maple, and poplar. As a result of deforestation, soil erosion has been serious. Despite sporadic efforts to plant the hillsides with trees during the early decades of the 20th century, the poverty of the people and the demand for fuel led to the continued stripping of trees. Since 1949 there has been a determined effort at afforestation and its maintenance.

      There is a sparsity of large wild animals. Some small barking deer are found in the scant cover on the hills rising from the plain. Deer and wild pig are plentiful in the wooded mountains in the west. There is abundant birdlife, including wild duck and pheasants.

Settlement patterns
      Population distribution, as in the rest of China, is predominantly rural. The main concentrations of rural population are found in the lake plain around the Yangtze and lower Han, notably from Wu-han downriver to Huang-shih; the lower Han Basin below Chung-hsiang (former An-lu) to Wu-han; and between I-ch'ang and Sha-shih. There is a smaller concentration at Hsiang-fan at the confluence of the Han and Tang rivers. Here the villages are often strung along high, mud riverbanks, which give safety in time of flood. Villages are small, usually 10 families or less, and are usually about one mile or so apart. Urban population is concentrated in a few large towns and a large number of small ones. The conurbation of Wu-han is the second largest industrial and commercial centre in the Yangtze Basin. Other large towns are Huang-shih, Sha-shih, I-ch'ang, and Hsiang-fan. In the past, many of the larger towns were walled; many of these walls have been demolished and the stone used for building and road construction.

The people
      Hupeh's ethnic composition is homogeneous, being overwhelmingly Han (Chinese). Their dialect is closely akin to pure Mandarin. Most of the minority peoples are Hui (Chinese Muslims), widely scattered throughout north Hupeh and the Han plain. There are some T'u-chia (Tujia) and Miao people in the highlands of the southwest.

The economy
      Hupeh is located in the agricultural transition zone between the wheat-growing North and the rice-growing South; it is one of China's leading rice-producing provinces. In south and southeast Hupeh, where rainfall is greater and irrigation more easily practiced, most of the cultivated land is devoted to rice growing. In northern parts, where rainfall is less and variability greater, rice occupies less of the cultivated area and wheat much more. Most of the paddy area is planted with a single crop—middle-season rice (rice planted in the middle of the season after winter wheat or barley has been harvested)—newer strains of which have a growing period of only 90 days. Winter crops grown on paddy fields are usually wheat, barley, and broad beans. Irrigation in the hilly lands is predominantly by means of gravity from ponds dammed higher up in the valleys. On the plains, where water has to be raised, wooden paddle pumps operated by hand are still used, but electrical pumping stations are rapidly replacing human labour. Food production decreases rapidly westward, where cultivation is confined mainly to deep valleys in the highlands.

      Hupeh ranks high among the Chinese provinces as a producer of cash crops, of which cotton is the most important. The main growing area lies north of the Yangtze in a belt stretching from Sha-shih eastward along the lower Han to Wu-han. Other important economic crops are vegetable oils (sesame, peanut [groundnut], and rapeseed) and fibres ( ramie and hemp). Ramie is the fibre from which grass cloth or China linen is made. Some tea is grown on the hills in the southeast. Tung oil, a valuable forest product used in paints and varnishes, comes mainly from the western regions and the upper reaches of the Han and Yüan rivers.

      Hupeh's mineral wealth consists chiefly of iron, copper, and phosphorus ores; coal; and gypsum. Some of China's richest and best iron ore is found at Ta-yeh in southeastern Hupeh. The exploitation of this ore and of coking coal from P'ing-hsiang in Kiangsi was the basis for the founding of an ironworks at Han-yang at the end of the 19th century. Ore from Ta-yeh and other mines was also the basis for the establishment of the Wu-han Iron and Steel Corporation, one of China's largest integrated ironworks. Completed in 1961, these works cover about four square miles and contain the largest blast furnaces in China. The Hunan No. 2 Auto Plant in Wu-han is a major national supplier of jeeps and small trucks. Huang-shih has also developed as a large iron and steel centre. Copper is found at Yang-hsin in the east and also at Ta-yeh. Reserves are large compared to those of other provinces, and production has increased considerably. Bituminous coal is found in the west and anthracite (hard coal) in the south and east. There are large reserves of gypsum and salt in the northeast, and a number of foreign-built plants produce chemical fertilizers.

      With the restoration of its traditional role as a national centre of trade and transportation, the tri-city area of Wu-han (Wuhan) has come to play an important role in the province's economic development. Wu-han is the second largest industrial and commercial city in the Yangtze Basin. Of its three constituent cities, Han-k'ou is the commercial and industrial centre; Han-yang (Hanyang), formerly residential, is now largely industrialized; and Wu-ch'ang (Wuchang) is the administrative, educational, and cultural hub of the province. In 1983 the conurbation was given economic power on a level with the provincial government.

      For more than 2,000 years waterways have been the main means of communication in Hupeh. Wu-han, known historically as “the thoroughfare of nine provinces,” is the largest inland port in the country. The Yangtze and Han rivers, with their tributaries, are used by all manner of craft. Large ocean freighters reach Han-k'ou, and small steam launches penetrate much farther inland. Steam and oil-fired craft, however, carry only a small portion of the total waterborne freight: huge coaster junks from Chekiang and Fukien provinces sail to Sha-shih and I-ch'ang, and the small stern-oared hua tzu—each rowed from the stern by one man—ply the smaller streams. In addition to the rivers, the lake plain is a network of drainage channels that are used for communication by the local people.

      Until 1958 Hupeh's railways consisted entirely of the Peking–Han-k'ou and Wu-ch'ang–Canton line, which ran from north to south across the province. Because of political unrest, corruption, and lack of funds, by 1949 the Peking–Han-k'ou line was in a parlous state; rapid repair work was carried out by the Communist government. In 1959 the completion of the bridge over the Yangtze between Han-yang and Wu-ch'ang—the first bridging of the river over a length of 3,400 miles—wrought a revolution in the system by greatly increasing the value and efficiency of the whole north–south line from Peking to Canton.

      More than half of the pre-1949 road network was rendered unusable by the Sino-Japanese War and subsequent civil war. Since 1949, much reconstruction and repair work has been done, and new roads have been built. Wu-ch'ang has become an important centre for air traffic, second only to Peking. Air services, formerly entirely under central government control, have been supplemented by a regional carrier.

Administration and social conditions
      From 1950 to 1954 Hupeh was part of the Central South greater administrative region. In 1954 provincial (sheng) government was established directly under the central government. In 1958 local government was greatly modified by the formation of communes, which took over the duties of the rural districts and market towns (hsiang and chen) and were made responsible for the functioning of all local life at this level. During the early years of the Cultural Revolution (1966–69) Hupeh was governed by a Revolutionary Committee composed of party cadres, the army, and the revolutionary mass organizations. The Revolutionary Committee was replaced in 1980 by the People's Government, which is the administrative arm of the People's Congress. The commune system was abolished in the 1980s, and the township government pattern of the 1950s was reestablished. Hupeh has six prefectures (ti-ch'ü), eight prefecture-level municipalities (shih), and one autonomous prefecture (tzu-chih-chou). Below that level are counties (hsien) and county-level municipalities (shih).

      The educational pattern in Hupeh is similar to that in the rest of the country. From 1949 onward determined efforts have been made to overcome illiteracy. By 1970 it was estimated that nearly two-thirds of the people were literate, and this percentage has steadily grown. Wu-ch'ang, which was the early capital of the ancient province of Hukuang, has remained the educational and cultural heart of Hupeh. Under the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government (1928–49), a national university was built on one of the three large lakes outside the old walled city, and a Christian university was established inside the city itself. After 1949 both these institutions were incorporated into the new educational system, which now includes more than 50 institutions of higher learning.

Health and welfare
      Before 1949 there were large, efficient modern hospitals, run by Christian missions and secular bodies in both Han-k'ou and Wu-ch'ang; good though many were, they were inadequate to meet the needs of the rural people. Insofar as rural needs were met at all, they were served by medical missionaries and nurses, scattered sparsely throughout the province, as well as by Chinese doctors, herbalists, and acupuncturists. From the 1950s the city hospital services were greatly enlarged, offering a choice of Western or Chinese medicine; most attention has, however, been paid to public health and to preventive medicine. Debilitating diseases such as schistosomiasis (a parasitic disease) and malaria were attacked; drinking water and the proper disposal of sewage were supervised; standards of personal hygiene and of the cleanliness of streets and public places were raised. These measures, and the equitable distribution of food, have served to improve health and increase production.

Cultural life
      In common with all other provinces, Hupeh has experienced considerable change in its cultural life since 1949. The great extension of education and the increase in literacy have had a far-reaching effect. In the cities, museums and libraries have been opened and are much patronized. Large stadia, sports halls, and swimming pools have also been built. The theatre still retains great popularity, particularly the regional operatic form known as Chu opera.

      The rural areas, no less than the towns, have undergone great cultural change. Electricity has been extended to villages and hamlets. Every village of any size now has its own stores, its library, and its hall, in which meetings are convened, health clinics are held, and table tennis is played. Being probably better lighted than individual homesteads, the hall has become the place where villagers assemble to chat or listen to the radio. Storytelling—an agelong profession, which is still very popular—serves to preserve folklore. Country life is enlivened by occasional visits of professional players, entertainers, and acrobats.

      When China was slowly evolving in the Honan–Shansi region during the Shang and Chou dynasties (18th to 3rd century BC), Hupeh formed part of the kingdom of Ch'u. It was subjugated by Shih huang-ti (reigned 221–210/209 BC), who created the first united empire of China; it was finally assimilated into the Chinese state under the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). Hupeh at that time was described by the ancient Chinese historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien (Sima Qian) as:

a large territory, sparsely populated, where people eat rice and drink fish soup; where land is tilled with fire and hoed with water; where people collect fruits and shellfish for food; where people enjoy self-sufficiency without commerce. The place is fertile and suffers no famine and hunger. Hence the people are lazy and poor and do not bother to accumulate wealth.

      From this time on, the facility of communications afforded by its river system has caused Hupeh to figure prominently in Chinese history.

      Since the mid-19th century it has been the centre of many momentous events, sometimes to its sorrow. The Taiping Rebellion, led by a Hakka, Hung Hsiu-ch'üan (Hong Xiuquan), broke out in Kwangsi in 1850, after which the rebel armies moved north, taking Wu-ch'ang in 1853. During the succeeding 10 years the central plains of Hupeh and Hunan were devastated by fighting and banditry. After China's defeat in the second Opium, or Arrow, War of 1856–60, the Hupeh cities of Han-k'ou (Hankou), I-ch'ang, and Sha-shih were opened to Western nations as commercial ports. From this time on, European influence in central China steadily increased. Han-k'ou became the head of international oceangoing traffic. In the first 20 years (i.e., until 1880) trade was based almost exclusively on tea, but, with increasing Indian and Ceylonese competition, Han-k'ou became the centre for the collection and processing of other central Chinese raw materials, notably vegetable oils, egg products, and tobacco.

      Hupeh's industrialization began with the establishment of the Han-yeh-p'ing ironworks in Han-yang by Chang Chih-tung (Zhang Zhidong), the governor of the province, who also established a cotton mill in Wu-ch'ang opposite Han-k'ou. The ironworks had a checkered career. At first it enjoyed some government protection and tax exemption but later suffered from internal political unrest and instability, lack of capital, and poor management. Subsequently a Japanese concern gained financial control with a view to securing ore from Hupeh for its ironworks in Japan. The Han-yang works were allowed, even induced, to fall into decay. They were destroyed by bombing during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45 and were restored only after the advent of the Communist government in 1949.

      The Chinese Revolution of 1911–12 began in Hupeh. The army in Han-k'ou mutinied, and the soldiers, led by their commander, Li Yüan-hung (Li Yuanhong), took the cities of Han-k'ou, Han-yang, and Wu-ch'ang. Yüan Shih-k'ai (Yuan Shikai) led his northern troops, on behalf of the Emperor, against them and retook Han-k'ou but was unable to cross the Yangtze and eventually retired. This was the only significant fighting during the revolution. The province was ruled by a warlord (tu-chün) from 1916 to 1927, but from 1928 to 1938 there was some attempt at local government of a democratic Western pattern. When Nanking was taken by the Japanese in 1937, Han-k'ou became a temporary headquarters for the Nationalists; after the Nationalist retreat to Chungking in 1938, much of Hupeh came under Japanese control. A period of near chaos after the Japanese defeat in 1945 ended with the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949.

Thomas R. Tregear Victor C. Falkenheim Ed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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