The land in Hunan generally slopes from the east, south and west towards the north like the shape of a horse’s hoof. Hunan is surrounded with mountains on three sides: Mufu and Luoxiao mountains in the east, Nanling Mountain in the south, and Wuling and Xuefeng mountain in the west. The northern part of the province is the Dongting Lake Plain, and central Hunan has wide areas of low hills, basins and valleys.
Among the total area of Hunan, mountainous regions account for 51.2 percent, while basins, plains and hilly areas account for 13.9 percent, 13.1 percent and 15.4 percent respectively. Areas below 50 meters altitude form 9.9 percent of the total, while areas above 1000 meters account for 4.3 percent. The majority of Hunan Province lies at altitudes between 100 meters and 800 meters.
Hunan has a humid continental and subtropical monsoon climate. It has average annual sunshine of 1,300-1,800 hours, annual average temperature is 16°C-18°C, a frost-free period of 260-310 days, and a mean annual precipitation of 1,200-1,700 mm.
Its climate has three characteristics: first, it has abundant sunshine, heat and water resources, and they reach their peak synchronously. During the period from April to October, the total radiation amount is 70-76 percent of the whole year, and rainfall accounts for 68-84 percent of the total. Second, there are distinct seasonal climate changes, with a cold winter and hot summer. The temperature always changes in spring, but always declines abruptly in the autumn. There is much rainfall in spring and summer, while drought always appears in autumn and winter. Third, areas with an abruptly changeable climate are surrounded by mountains in three directions, especially in the mountainous regions in west and south Hunan.
Hunan has a total cultivated area of 3.92 million hectares, 18.5 percent of the province’s total area. Forest areas, 9.47 million hectares, account for 44.7 percent; deserted hilly areas where forestation is possible total 159,400 hectares, 0.8 percent of the total; the freshwater area is 1.353 million hectares, accounting for 6.4 percent. Over half of the soil in the province is red or yellow earth. Nearly 20 percent of the cultivated areas are suitable for paddy planting.
The province has a complete water system. Dongting Lake in northern Hunan, the second largest fresh water lake in China, has a water area of 2,691 square km. It takes the waters of the Xiangjiang River, Zishui River, Yuanjiang River and Lishui River from the southwest, and then flows into the Yangtze River at Chenglingji.
Xiangjiang River, Zishui River, Yuanjiang River and Lishui River have a total waterway length of 2,200 km in Hunan, with nearly 5,000 tributaries.
There are more than 5,341 rivers over 5 km in length, totaling 90,000 km, with annual runoff of 200.43 billion cubic meters.
The total surface water and total underground water are 175.92 billion cubic meters and 43.85 billion cubic meters respectively.
Hunan has various and abundant minerals. Of the over 140 kinds of minerals found nationwide, 111 kinds are found in the province; at least 83 of these are currently exploitable.
The province is known as the “hometown of nonferrous metals”, with the presence of 37 types confirmed among them. Deposits of stibium rank largest in the world, while deposits of tungsten, bismuth and monazite rank first in China. There is also abundant lead and zinc.
Non-metallic minerals are the second largest group of resources. Deposits of jade-like stone, barite, feldspar and meerschaum, etc. are the largest in the country. Hunan has another 30-plus minerals like limestone, silica, dolomite, pyrite and phosphorite. Coal deposits rank first among the nine provinces in south China.
The energy sector in Hunan includes production of coal, crude oil processing and power construction.
Currently, coal deposits totaling 3.4 billion tons have been confirmed. Oil is still under exploration, but Hunan has large-scale crude oil processing enterprises.
The province has a potential hydropower capability of 15.32 million kw, of which 10.84 million kw can now be exploited. Currently, some large hydropower generating plants like Fengtan, Dongjiang and Wuqiangxi have been set up. By 1998, the installed capacity had reached 5.1 million kw. After continuous construction and extension, the installed capacity of thermal power reached 4.82 million kw by the end of 1998. Several more hydropower generating plants and thermal power plants will be set up by 2010. Besides, Hunan is preparing for the establishment of nuclear power plants.
Hunan’s electricity network now covers 90 percent of the province.
Hunan has a variety of animals and wide range of distribution. Incomplete statistics show that the province has 70 kinds of mammals, 310 kinds of birds, over 70 kinds of creeping animals and over 160 kinds of fish. It has 44 rare and state-protected animals. Eighteen kinds of rare animals are under Class A protection, like the white-flag dolphin, South China tiger. Nineteen kinds of animals, like the macaque and short-tail monkey, are under Class B protection. The third category of protected animals includes seven species, such as bear.
Hunan, lying in a sub-tropical area, has a mild climate and flourishing plants. Forest cover totals 34.3 percent, and land used for forestry accounts for 57.4 percent of the province’s total area. As an important timber base in South China, Hunan currently has 2,470 kinds of woody plants, with a total accumulated volume of 184 million cubic meters and annual growth of 11 million cubic meters.
In addition, it has abundant grassland resources.
Hunan has lots of elegant landscapes and numerous historic sites. It now has over 20,000 cultural remains, including 22 national-level key protection units and 211 provincial-level key protection units.
The province has four state-class natural reserves, 22 provincial-class natural reserves and 21 national forest parks. The total area of nature reserves is 7,260 square km, 3.43 percent of the province’s total.
Hunan has developed 43 scenic areas. There are three national-level key scenic areas covering Mount Hengshan, WulinYuan, Yueyang Tower, Dongting Lake and Shaoshan, and 27 provincial–class scenic areas.
WulingYuan tourist area (including Zhangjiajie, Suoxi Valley and Tianzi Mountain and Mengdong River), with its unique physiognomy, limestone caves, brooks, hot springs, ancient trees and rare animals, has been placed by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the World Natural Heritage List. Mount Hengshan is the famous sacred mountain of Buddhism and a summer resort. Yueyang Tower is also well known at home and abroad for its long history, folklore and grand architecture. Changsha, the provincial capital, is a historic and cultural city. Tourist sites there include Han Dynasty Tombs at Mawangdui, Yuelu Hill, Loving Youth Pavilion (Aiwanting), Orange Isle (Juzizhou), andYuelu Academy of Classical Learning.
In 2002, Hunan established 149 environment-monitoring stations, with a staff of 2,498. It completed 374 pollution-prevention projects involving investment of 70.1 million yuan. The province also set up 1,072 square km of smog-control zones, 1,094 square km of noise-control zones. The comprehensive rectification of Dongting Lake has achieved much: its ecology is greatly improved, the water area is enlarged and floodwater storage is also strengthened.
But pollution and ecological breakages in some areas have not been effectively controlled.