One way or the other, almost anyone travelling through central China has to pass through
, Hubei's sprawling capital, most likely cruising in along the Yangzi from Sichuan or Shanghai, or rattling in by rail. In truth, transport links are the sole reason for spending time in the city. Although there's enough to keep you entertained between train or ferry connections, it can't honestly be claimed that Wuhan, despite its upbeat energy, size and obvious economic importance to the region, contains much in the way of essential viewing.
The name is a portmanteau label for the original triple settlements of
, forever separate across the junction of the Han and Yangzi rivers, but given some sense of unity by three great interconnecting bridges. At first glance, the city's character is shaped by the volume of traffic and Hankou's former role as a foreign concession, which contributed to an extraordinary mix of
ranging from (reconstructed) Qing through to nineteenth-century European and stolid Communist efforts. The docks and riverside promenades further lend the place atmosphere, supported by some historic sites, including the
and a fine
, plus a handful of monuments linked with the
. As the main beneficiary of profits from river trade and Hubei's postwar industrial development, however, Wuhan's real function is as an enthusiastically busy shopping and social centre, with many stores open late to meet demand. On the minus side, the city has a well-deserved reputation - along with Chongqing and Nanjing - as one of China's three summer "furnaces": between May and September you'll find the streets melting and the gasping population surviving on a diet of watermelon and ice lollies.