The city is divided in two by the Xiang River. Most sites are on the east side of the river. The west side of the river is home to three universities — Hunan University, Hunan Normal University and Central-South University — and Yuelu Mountain.
West of the River: Yuelu Mountain and Yuelu Academy
East of the River
Hunan Provincial Museum
This museum is Changsha’s only top-flight place to see. It is home to artifacts uncovered at the Mawangdui archaeological site outside of the city. The tombs at Mawangdui date to the 160s B.C., and were excavated in the 1970s. They were built for Han Dynasty nobility and contained an astonishing collection of funerary objects. Now, those objects — ranging from lacquerware to silk textiles to food — are on display at the Hunan Provincial Museums. But the biggest draw is the mummified body of the Marquess of Dai. Two thousand years after her death, researchers were able to perform an autopsy that discovered a likely cause of death (heart attack) and the last food she ate (melon, or at least melon seeds). Her body was stitched up after the autopsy and is now on display in the museum.
Changsha’s shopping is generally lacking, but the museum stores at the Provincial Museum are a pleasant exception. Reproduction lacquerware and bronzes make great gifts and souvenirs. A small red-and-black lacquer box costs less than 100 RMB.
The museum is located at 50 Dongfeng Lu. Take buses 109 or 303 from Wuyi Guangchang, or direct your taxi driver to 湖南省博物馆 (Hunan Sheng Bowuguan). Admission to the museum became free in fall 2008, but you need to show your passport to get in. [June 2009]
Changsha City Museum
Changsha is most famous for its relationship with Mao Zedong, whose statue (right) greets visitors to Hunan University. Mao was born in Shaoshan, about two hours outside of Changsha, and Changsha was where he did his first Communist Party organizing. But in today’s reformed-and-opened-up China, traces of Mao’s legacy are hard to find.
The Changsha City Museum is one of the surviving remnants of the Great Helmsman’s cult of personality. Its doorway is emblazoned with a huge portrait of Mao. The former site of the Hunan Communist Party Committee headquarters, where Mao once lived, are preserved on the museum grounds. But even this remnant of Mao-worship may be disappearing. In 2008, the museum opened up a fascinating exhibit celebrating China’s economic growth since the 1970s — that is, since Mao’s death.
The Changsha City Museum (Shi Bowuguan, 市博物馆) is located at 480 Bayi Lu (八一路), north of Wuyi Guangchang. Admission to the museum is free. [June 2009]
Martyr’s Park (Lieshi Gongyuan)
Martyr’s Park is where Changsha comes to play. There is a small monument to Changsha’s martyrs from the Communist Revolution, but most people come for the large surrounding park. You can take pleasure boats onto the lake or hit the carnival rides, including a kid-sized bungee jump, at left. The “Magic and Hallucinatory Castle” is worth 10 kuai for the kitsch value alone.
The main entrance to Martyr’s Park is located on Zhanlanguan Lu. There is another entrance on Dongfeng Lu south of the Hunan Provincial Museum. There is no entrance ticket to the park. You can take buses 112 or 803 from Wuyi Guangchang to the park. [June 2009]
Tianxin Ge (Old City Walls)
Tianxin Ge Park holds one of the last surviving remnants of old Changsha, a short stretch of the city walls possibly dating to the Ming dynasty. You might once have been able to get a view of the city from the walls; now, they are dwarfed by new construction. The park gets its name from the “Heavenly Heart Pavilion” that is perched atop the wall. The current pavilion is a 1983 reconstruction. The surrounding park is a pleasant place to escape the city crowds.
Tianxin Ge (天心阁) is on Chengnan Lu on the east side of the river. It is several blocks southeast of Wuyi Guangchang. You can take bus 202 from Wuyi Guangchang to the Tianxin Ge stop, which is right outside the park entrance. There is no fee for the park, but a 16 RMB ticket is required to walk on the old city walls. [June 2009]
West of the River
Yuelu Mountain and Yuelu Academy
Yuelu Mountain is one of few places in Changsha where it is possible to escape the crush of the city. While its mountain status is questionable (it’s only 300 m tall), exploring the park is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Paths and steps crisscross the mountain, leading to different temples and tombs. A road along the top of the ridge is a popular place for strolling, and there are several teahouses if you need to quench your thirst. Look for cotton candy vendors at the Autumn-Loving Pavilion near the south entrance to the mountain.
Yuelu Academy sits on the Hunan University (HuDa) campus just around the corner from the south entrance to Yuelu Shan. HuDa traces its origins back to this Confucian academy, founded in 976 A.D. The connection is tenuous, but the tiny campus is now open as a tourist attraction. Visitors can wander through the academy buildings and a pleasant parklike area at the back of the campus.
Yuelu Mountain (岳麓山, Yuelu Shan) is on the west side of the Xiang River. There are two main entrances, one near the Number One Bridge and one near Hunan University. The bus stops are named Yuelu Shan Bei (Yuelu Mountain North) and Yuelu Shan Nan (Yuelu Mountain South), respectively. Entrance to Yuelu Mountain became free in June 2009.
Yuelu Academy (岳麓书院, Yuelu Shuyuan) is located at the base of Yuelu Mountain, near the south entrance to the park. Entrance costs 30 RMB. [June 2009]