ICRAS 2018 · Wuhan
Wǔhàn (武汉) has matured from the sprawling convergence of three smaller cities to an industrial and commercial centre with more than a smattering of fine cultural sites, including the Yellow Crane Tower and a terrific museum. At times it feels ready to leap from its second-tier status, its warring history a thing of a 2000-year-old past.
Amid the traffic and smog, the Yangzi River opens up the densely packed streets, rolling around parks, lakes and a concession-era entertainment district in Hànkǒu, the pick of the three cities, growing in swagger by the financial year. This is not the place of penny postcards, but it's urban China and it's worth getting to know.
Húběi Provincial Museum
Some minor renovations have lifted one of China's finest public museums to even further heights. The history of China is on display here in all its glorious complexity. The centrepiece is the exhibition of the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, which includes one of the world’s largest musical instruments, a remarkable five-tonne set of 65 double-tone bronze bells. The museum is located by the Húběi Museum of Art and the enormous East Lake (东湖; Dōng Hú).
An afternoon at this revered 350-year-old Buddhist temple can fluctuate between serenity and chaos, depending on the tour buses. Pass a large rectangular pond where turtles cling like shipwrecked sailors to two metal lotus flowers and examine the magnificently burnished cabinet housing Milefo in the first hall. Also seek out the more than 500 statues of enlightened disciples in the Hall of Arhats (罗汉堂; Luóhàn Táng). Completed in 1890, after nine years in the making, they remain in pristine condition.
Wǔhàn’s magical dancing crane, immortalised in the 8th-century poetry of Cui Hao, has long flown, but the city’s pride and joy remains perched atop Snake Hill. The tower has had its history rebuilt out of it since the original was constructed in AD 223, and today’s beautiful five-storey, yellow-tiled version is a 1980s remake of the Qing tower that combusted in 1884. Buses 401, 402 and 411, and trolley buses 1 and 10, all go here.
Húběi Museum of Art
As contemporary Chinese artists continue to soar in the art world, institutions such as the excellent Húběi Museum of Art gain increased relevance and acclaim. Bright young things are not the only exhibitors of note; the extensive collection over three levels features signature pieces from most major periods. It's located by enormous East Lake; take bus 402 or 411.