▪ province and island, China
Chinese (Wade-Giles)  Hai-nan,  (Pinyin)  Hainan Dao,  

      sheng (province) of China. The province, whose name means “South of the Sea,” is coextensive with Hai-nan Island. Hai-nan is located in the South China Sea, separated from Kwangtung's Lei-chou Peninsula to the north by a shallow and narrow strait. It is the southernmost province of China and, with an area of about 13,200 square miles (34,300 square kilometres), is also the smallest. For centuries Hai-nan was part of Kwangtung province, but in 1988 this resource-rich tropical island became a separate province. The capital is Hai-k'ou (Pinyin: Haikou).

Physical and human geography

The land
      Hai-nan's long coastline of more than 930 miles (1,500 kilometres) contains numerous bays and natural harbours. Alluvial plains cover a narrow coastal margin, reaching their broadest point in the northeast. The southern interior of the island is mountainous, with Mount Wu-chih rising to over 6,000 feet (1,830 metres) above sea level. Numerous rivers and streams cascade out of the mountains; the longest, the Nan-tu River, flows northeastward.

      Hai-nan's climate is tropical and monsoonal. Temperatures average about 64° F (18° C) in January and 84° F (29° C) in June. Rainfall is heavy especially in summer, with an average annual precipitation of about 70 inches (1,800 millimetres) in the south and 60 inches in the north. The northeastern lowlands can sustain three crops of rice per year.

      The island is covered with mature red soils. The natural vegetation, which has been much reduced, includes many palms, bamboos, rattans, and tropical hardwoods. The mountain belt, especially in the east, is covered with dense tropical rain forest up to an elevation of about 2,600 feet. Animal life is rich and varied and includes deer, gibbons, and blind snakes; Hai-nan's streams and offshore waters abound in fish.

The people
      Two-thirds of Hai-nan's predominantly rural population is concentrated in the northeastern lowlands. Most of the people are Han (Chinese), but about one-sixth are ethnic minorities. The Li, concentrated in the south, constitute the largest minority group, followed by the Miao. The largest cities are Hai-k'ou in the north and the port city of Ya-hsien (locally called San-ya) in the south. The lingua franca of Hai-nan, Hainanese, is a variant of the southern Fukien dialect.

The economy
      Hai-nan's economy is predominantly agricultural, and more than two-thirds of the island's exports are agricultural products. Hai-nan's elevation to province-level status, however, was accompanied by its designation as China's largest “special economic zone,” the intent being to hasten the development of the island's plentiful resources. The central government has encouraged foreign investment in Hai-nan and has allowed the island to rely to a large extent on market forces.

      Hai-nan has commercially exploitable reserves of more than 30 minerals. Iron, first mined by the Japanese during their occupation of the island in World War II, is the most important. Also important are titanium, manganese, tungsten, bauxite, molybdenum, cobalt, copper, gold, and silver. There are large deposits of lignite and oil shale on the island, and significant offshore finds of oil and natural gas have been discovered. Virgin forests in the interior mountains contain more than 20 commercially valuable species, including teak and sandalwood.

Agriculture and fishing
      Paddy rice is cultivated extensively in the northeastern lowlands and in the southern mountain valleys. Leading crops other than rice include coconuts, palm oil, sisal, tropical fruits (including pineapples, of which Hai-nan is China's leading producer), black pepper, coffee, tea, cashews, and sugarcane. In the early 20th century Chinese emigrants returning from Malaysia introduced rubber trees to the island; after 1950, state farms were developed, and Hai-nan now produces most of China's rubber.

      Marine products contribute a significant share to the provincial economy. Shrimps, scallops, and pearls are raised in shallow bays and basins for local use and export. Grouper, Spanish mackerel, and tuna constitute the bulk of the catch from the rich offshore fishing grounds.

      Hai-nan's industrial development largely has been limited to the processing of its mineral and agricultural products, particularly rubber and iron ore. Since the 1950s, machinery, farm equipment, and textiles have been manufactured in the Hai-k'ou area for local consumption. A major constraint on industrial expansion has been an inadequate supply of electricity. Much of the island's generating capacity is hydroelectric, and it is subject to seasonal fluctuations in stream and river flows.

      Before 1950 there were practically no transportation links with the interior of the island. The Japanese built a railroad from the iron mines in the southwestern mountains to the coast, which subsequently was upgraded and extended around the southern coast, but there is no link with Hai-k'ou in the north. The first roads were built in the early 20th century, but no major road construction was undertaken in the mountains until the 1950s. Parallel north–south roads along the east and west coasts and through the interior of the island constitute most of Hai-nan's road network. The freight-handling facilities of the island's ports have been improved, and Hai-k'ou has an international airport.

      Even while Hai-nan was a part of Kwangtung (Guangdong) it had a considerable amount of local autonomy; the southern half of the island was an autonomous prefecture (tzu-chih-chou). Hai-nan's elevation to provincial level increased its accountability to the central government, but by designating the new province a special economic zone the central government expressed its intent to allow Hai-nan maximum flexibility in devising programs to facilitate foreign investment and economic growth. Administratively, the province has been divided into five economic districts.

Cultural life
      Hai-nan has always been on the fringe of the Chinese cultural sphere. Traditionally, the island was a place of exile for criminals and disgraced officials. As a frontier region celebrated by such exiled poets as Su Tung-p'o, Hai-nan acquired an air of mystery and romance. The influx of large numbers of mainlanders after 1950—particularly in the 1970s, when young Chinese from southern Kwangtung were assigned to state farms to help develop Hai-nan, and in the 1980s, when thousands more came to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered—has perpetuated the frontier atmosphere on the island. The level of primary and secondary education has improved since 1949, but facilities for higher education remain inadequate.

      Hai-nan was formally incorporated into the Chinese empire in 110 BC, when the Han government established a garrison in the north. Chinese sovereignty remained nominal, however, until the T'ang dynasty (AD 618–907). During the Yüan (Mongol (Yuan dynasty)) dynasty (1206–1368) it became an independent province, at which time it acquired the name Hai-nan. In 1370, however, it became a part of Kwangtung. Hai-nan's first major period of settlement occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries, when large migrations from Fukien and Kwangtung pushed the island's indigenous peoples into central and southern Hai-nan.

      In 1906 the Chinese Republican leader Sun Yat-sen proposed that Hai-nan become a separate province, and for a short time (1912–21) it was nominally independent under the name Ch'iung-yai Island. The Japanese occupied Hai-nan (1939–45) during World War II and began developing the island's resource potential. Hai-nan reverted to the Chinese Nationalists (Nationalist Party) in 1945 and was one of the last places to fall to the Communists.

      After 1950 Hai-nan served as a military outpost and as a source of raw materials, but because of its strategic vulnerability the central government was reluctant to make it an investment priority. With China's shift in economic policy at the end of the 1970s, Hai-nan became a focus of attention. In 1984 the island was designated as a special zone for foreign investment; and, though it was still part of Kwangtung, it was upgraded to the status of a self-governing district, a prelude to its establishment as a province in 1988.

Victor C. Falkenheim

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Universalium. 2010.

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