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Hubei: from fish & rice to industry & hydroelectricity

Map of China’s provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions and special administrative regions. Source: chokkicx / Getty Images

Hubei is conveniently located in the center-east of China and belongs to Huazhongdiqu (the central region of China). It has been part of China since the Spring and Autumn period (almost 3000 years ago). In Qing dynasty, thanks to important local reforms, it started its industrialization.
Today Hubei is a major air hub. The huge airport of Wuhan connects it to the whole China and with many cities all around the world.

The Geography of Hubei

Known as the land of fish and rice, the area of Hubei is both blessed and cursed by its floods, which are mostly caused by its two main rivers, the Yangtze and the Han. Since Qin and Han dynasties (221 B.C. – 220 A.D.), in order to protect the people from those natural disasters, major efforts have been taken to build dams and dykes to direct the course of the rivers. But even so, and even after the realization of the huge Three Gorges Dam (a project envisioned since the first Republic of China and realized between 1994 and 2003, now the world’s largest hydroelectric factory) Hubei still suffers from periodic floods, a threat shared with some other provinces in China.

Speaking of population, Hubei alone has almost 60 million people – the equivalent of a major European country, like Italy. The vast majority of people are Han – the major Chinese ethnicity, but there are also 2 million Tujia ethnics.
The capital of Hubei is Wuhan, a tier two city in China with more than 31 million residents between its urban and metropolitan area. This means more than half of the entire province’s population lives around there. Wuhan is also the economic center of Hubei. More than a fourth of the entire economy of Hubei is based in its capital city. In order to balance the growth of the province, China is now slowly moving the focus on other cities. Wuhan’s airports, roads and high speed railways connect it to the east coast, the neighboring provinces and the rest of Hubei. Since Wuhan and the cities are well connected, so they can be gradually helped to catch the pace with the capital.

The Economy

Since the early years of China, Hubei has been famous. Today, besides rice and river fish, it produces wheat, tea and cotton.
Later on the mining industry found in Hubei important sources of various minerals. Some of these include vanadium, manganese, copper, salt, garnet and iron.
Today its main industries are electricity (where water replaced coal as sourcing power), food products, machinery, high tech and textile.
Some of Hubei’s Economic Development Zones include the Jingzhou Chengnan zone. It began in 1992 and supported textile, petroleum and chemical fields. Another is the Wuhan East Lake Hi-Tech Trade Zone (ELHTZ), focused on telecommunications, equipment manufacturing and optical electronics. There is also the Wuhan Economic and Technological Development Zone, focused on automotive, biotechnology, production and processing of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, processing of food and drinks, heavy industry and telecommunications. Another important industry for Hubei is the production of electricity, thanks to its Three Gorges Dam. This huge dam helps to reduce the need of non-renewable energy and partially satisfies the electricity need of the entire China.

Hubei is also the most rich area of all the central and western regions of China, outclassed only by the coast provinces. Among the 23 provinces of China, Hubei is 7th with a total GDP of almost 4 trillion RMB (2018). Considering its land locked status, it is impressive. The GDP per capita in the same year was 67.000 RMB, which is above the average in China. It is also above any other central and western province of China.

The Culture

Hubei people’s own accent is quite easy to notice, due to their different pronunciation of some sounds in standard mandarin. That, together with the fact that Chinese usually say of Hubei people that they are pretty aggressive and strong, are a wide source of joke and small talk about Hubei people based on stereotypes. Hubei’s Jingzhou city is famous for its involvement in one of the most famous classics of China, the (vastly historical) Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Jingzhou was then an important city for the different factions fighting each other for the domain of China.
Furthermore, with 1.3 million of students living there, and 89 universities, Wuhan is the city with most college students in the world.

In conclusion, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, Hubei has still the potential to be one of the economic powerhouses of China. Hubei has a sensible advantage compared with other provinces, which are still relying on coal and other ores. This especially applies in the medium to long term – but it still needs to solve some issues. The underdevelopment of the small towns and rural areas around the major cities is the biggest. Next, it should ensure its inhabitants can spend more money for consumer goods in order to boost the economy further.

2 thoughts on “Hubei: from fish & rice to industry & hydroelectricity”

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