The Chicago of China, China’s Thoroughfare, the River City – Wuhan has had many nicknames throughout the years and it’s sad to realize that for the coming months most people around the world will only remember it as the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. Born out of the conglomeration of three cities (Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang), Wuhan is now a major cultural, industrial, technological, educational and gastronomic hub, and without exaggeration, one of China’s most important cities. While the coronavirus outbreak is undoubtedly a matter of paramount importance, here are at least five factors that will put Wuhan on your list of cities to visit once the outbreak has subsided.
The territories that now comprise Wuhan are believed to have been inhabited by people for more than 3,500 years. The city has played an important role throughout pretty much all periods of China’s history and grew to its utmost prominence at the beginning of the 20th century as a major industrial hub. The city’s influence was such that foreign powers occupying big chunks of China at the time chose Wuhan as one of their most important strategic posts, setting up consulates, trading firms and factories.
Located on the junction of the Yangtze and Han Rivers, Wuhan was essential to supplying coastal port cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tianjin through which foreign powers were trading with China. Thus, the city quickly became China’s largest inland entrepôt.
As one of the central territories comprising the ancient Chinese state of Chu, Wuhan and Hubei province are considered the cradle of Chu Culture. Among other things, it is known for its achievements in music. Wuhan is home to Han opera, one of China’s oldest opera styles (yes, it’s not only Beijing that has opera).
The city is a center for the arts, especially poetry. One of China’s most celebrated poets of the Tang dynasty, Cui Hao, is said to have visited the city’s Yellow Crane Tower in the early 8th century, where he wrote a poem that for the coming centuries made the tower one of the most admired buildings in southern China.
Another integral part of Wuhan is its dock culture. The fact that the city was an important river port for the most part of its history has reflected on many aspects of the local lifestyle, and is especially visible in the city’s culinary influences. Wuhan’s position as an inland thoroughfare between several other Chinese provinces endowed the city with an incredibly eclectic culture. In fact, unlike many other Chinese provinces and major cities, Wuhan does not have a distinct dialect of its own, instead fusing elements of dialects and cultures of the surrounding areas.
A fact practically unknown outside of China is that Wuhan is one of China’s most celebrated academic centers. In fact, the city ranks third after Beijing and Shanghai in terms of scientific and educational influences, being home to a slew of influential universities and research centers.
If not for education, Wuhan University, the city’s main educational powerhouse, is worth visiting at least for its jaw-dropping cherry blossom season that takes place every spring.
In 2018, the output value of Wuhan’s high-tech industry exceeded 1 trillion yuan with the added value of the local high-tech industry exceeding 300 billion yuan, accounting for 20.6% of the city’s GDP.
Established in 1988, Wuhan East Lake New Technology Development Zone, colloquially known as “China Optics Valley”, has become the mainstay of Wuhan high-tech.
This high-tech zone with an area of 518 square kilometers accommodates hundreds of state-level universities and research institutions, second only to Beijing and Shanghai. The number of high-tech enterprises in Wuhan East Lake exceeds 2770, with the companies’ combined annual revenue in 2018 reaching 1.2 trillion yuan.
In 2018 alone, Wuhan’s local government granted 37,032 patents, with 34 invention patents per every 10,000 people living in the city. The cumulative value of all technology contracts signed in the city reached 72.25 billion yuan, ranking second in the country at the sub-provincial level.
If there was one term to characterize Wuhan cuisine, it’s Guozao, which literally translates to “spend the morning”, but essentially means “to have breakfast.” Wuhan is so turned on morning treats that it has even earned the nickname “the city of breakfast.”
Wuhan offers an astounding variety of morning dishes, but two titles that stand out as undeniable staples are the Hot Dry Noodles or Reganmian and Doupi. The former is a rich noodle dish soaked in the mix of soy sauce, sesame paste and chili oil and garnished with pickles and garlic chives. The latter is what some call the Chinese answer to lasagna, which is a mix of rice, mushrooms and ground pork stuffed between thin slices of eggy pancake lookalikes.
Most Wuhan breakfast dishes are quite inexpensive and mainly sold on the streets. Having breakfast outside of one’s home is in fact also part of the Wuhan culture. Steeped in its roots as an industrial port with hordes of dock workers doing physically intensive work for low pay, Wuhan cultivated a steady demand for cheap and protein-rich breakfast options.