Hainan, island and province (1994 est. pop. 6,910,000), c.13,100 sq mi (33,940 sq km), China, in the South China Sea. The province, created in 1988, is coextensive with Hainan Island; Haikou is its capital, largest city, and major port. The second largest island off the China coast (Taiwan is the largest), Hainan is separated from the mainland (Liuzhou Peninsula) by Hainan Strait (c.30 mi/50 km wide).

The year-round growing season and monsoon climate favor the cultivation of rice, coconuts, palm oil, sisal, tropical fruit, coffee, tea, and sugarcane; the island also produces most of China's rubber. The mountainous interior is thickly forested, yielding tropical hardwoods, including teak and sandalwood. Hainan is rich in minerals, notably high-grade iron and tungsten, but also rich in titanium, manganese, salt, copper, bauxite, molybdenum, gold, silver, coal, cobalt, graphite, and crystal. Hainan's rich offshore fishing grounds provide shrimps, scallops, tuna, and Spanish mackerel, and pearls are harvested in the shallow bays surrounding the island. The growth of Hainan's industries, which include the production of textiles and farm equipment, has been hindered by a lack of energy resources. With its tropical climate and many beaches, Hainan is becoming a popular resort site. Hainan was designated a special economic zone in 1988 to spur the development of its considerable natural resources, but speculation led to an economic bubble that collapsed in the mid-1990s. The economy has recovered slowly and growth is now focused on the tourist industry.

The many aboriginal Li, who inhabit the forested interior, have been constituted with the Miao into a large Li-Miao autonomous district. Under Chinese control since the 1st cent. A.D., Hainan was not fully incorporated into China until the 13th cent. It became part of Guangdong prov. in the late 14th cent. In World War II it was occupied (1939) by the Japanese, who developed the industries and exploited the great iron-ore deposits. The island was liberated (1945) by the Nationalists. The Chinese Communists landed in Apr., 1949, and, with the aid of Communist guerrillas from the mountains, gained control in 1950. The Yulin naval base, a natural harbor developed by the Japanese, has been expanded since 1950.

Hainan (POJ: Hai-lam, pinyin: , jyutping: hoi2 naam4; literal meaning: "South of the Sea") is the smallest province of the People's Republic of China (PRC), located off the southern coast of the country. It consists of several islands, including the largest and eponymous Hainan Island (Hainan Dao). When speaking of "Hainan" in Chinese, it is usually the main Hainan Island that is referred to. The PRC government claims Hainan's territories to extend to the southern Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands and other disputed marine territory. Hainan is also the largest Special Economic Zone laid out by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s.

Hainan is located in the South China Sea, separated from Guangdong's Leizhou Peninsula to the north by a shallow and narrow strait. It is the southernmost province of China and, with an area of about 33,920 square kilometers, is also the smallest. For centuries Hainan was part of Guangdong province, but in 1988 this resource-rich tropical island became a separate province. The capital is Haikou. The Island is home to a new strategic naval harbor that has been dug through the mountainside.


Hainan Island was called the Pearl Cliffs (珠崖 Zhūyá), Fine Jade Cliffs (瓊崖 Qióngyá), and the Fine Jade Land (瓊州 Qióngzhōu). The latter two gave rise to the province's abbreviation, Qióng (琼 in Simplified Chinese), referring to the greenery cover on the island.

Hainan first enters written Chinese history in 110 BC, when the Han Dynasty established a military garrison there. Settlement by mainlanders was slow however and from early on the island was considered to be fit only for exiles. It was in this period that the Li people arrived from Guangxi Province and displaced the island's aboriginal Austronesian-speaking peoples.

In Eastern Wu of the Three Kingdoms Period, Hainan was the Zhuya Commandery (珠崖郡).

Under the Song Dynasty, Hainan came under the control of Guangxi Province, and for the first time large numbers of Han Chinese arrived, settling mostly in the north. Under the Yuan Dynasty (AD 1206-1368) it became an independent province, but was placed under Guangdong Province during the Ming Dynasty in 1370. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, large numbers of Han from Fujian and Guangdong began migrating to Hainan, pushing the Li into the highlands in the southern half of the island. In the eighteenth century, the Li rebelled against the government, which responded by bringing in mercenaries from the Miao people regions of Guizhou Province. Many of the Miao settled on the island and their descendants live in the western highlands to this day.

In 1906 the Chinese Republican leader Sun Yat-sen proposed that Hainan become a separate province.

Hainan was historically part of Guangdong Province and Guangxi Province, being as such, it was the Ch'iung-yai or Qiongya Circuit (瓊崖道) in 1912 (the establishment of the Republic of China). In 1921, it was planned to become a Special Administrative Region (瓊崖特別行政區); in 1944, it became Hainan Special Administrative Region with 16 counties containing the South China Sea Islands.

During the 1920s and 30s Hainan was a hotbed of Communist activity, especially after a bloody crackdown in Shanghai, the Republic of China in 1927 drove many Communists into hiding. The Communists and the Li natives fought a vigorous guerrilla campaign against the Japanese occupation of Hainan (1939-45), but in retaliation over one third of the male population were killed by the Japanese. Feng Baiju led the Hainan Independent Column of fighters throughout the 1930s and 1940s. After the Japanese surrender in 1945 the Nationalist Party (KMT) re-established control. Hainan was one of the last areas of China controlled by the Republic of China. From March to May 1950, the Landing Operation on Hainan Island captured the island for the Chinese communists. Feng Baiju and his column of guerrilla fighters played an essential role in scouting for the landing operation and coordinated their own offensive from their jungle bases on the island. This allowed the Hainan takeover to be successful where the Jinmen and Dengbu assaults had failed in the previous fall. The takeover was made possible by the presence of a local guerrilla force that was lacking on Jinmen, Dengbu, and Taiwan. Hence, while many observers of the Chinese civil war thought that the fall of Hainan to the Communists would be followed shortly by the fall of Taiwan, the lack of any Communist guerrilla force on Taiwan and its sheer distance from the mainland made this impossible, as did the arrival of the US 7th fleet in the Taiwan Strait after the outbreak of the Korean War in June.

On May 1, 1950, under the PRC, the Special Administrative Region became an Administrative Region Office (海南行政区公署), a branch of the Guangdong provincial government. On October 1, 1984, it became the Hainan Administrative Region (海南行政区), with a People's Government, and finally as province separate from Guangdong four years later.

The Communists resumed development of the island along the lines established by the Japanese, but the results were limited by the island's isolation, its humid and typhoon-prone climate, and its continuing reputation as a place of danger and exile by mainland Chinese. With China's shift in economic policy at the end of the 1970s, Hai-nan became a focus of attention.

In 1988 the island was again made a separate province, and was designated a Special Economic Zone in an effort to increase investment.

During the mid-1980s, when Hainan was still part of the Guangdong Province, a fourteen-month episode of marketing zeal by Hainan Special District Administrator Lei Yu put Hainan's pursuit of provincial status under a cloud. It involved the duty-free imports from Hong Kong of 90,000 Japanese-made cars and trucks at a cost of C¥ 4.5 billion (US$ 1.5 billion), and exporting them with the help of local naval units to the mainland, making 150% profits. By comparison, only 10,000 vehicles were imported into Hainan since 1950. In addition, it involved further consignments of 2.9 million TV sets, 252,000 videocassette recorders & 122,000 motorcycles. The money was taken from the 1983 central government funds destined for the construction of the island's transportation infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, harbours) over the next ten years.

The central government funds were deemed insufficient by the Hainan authorities for the construction of the island's other infrastructures (water works, power stations, telecommunications, etc.) and had taken a very liberal interpretation of the economic and trade regulations for Hainan and thirteen coastal cities; the regulations did not mention on prohibiting the re-selling of second hand goods. Some of the proceeds, from unsold units, were later retrieved by the central government to re-finance the special district.


Hainan, separated by the Qiongzhou Strait (瓊州海峽) from the Leizhou Peninsula (雷州半島) of Guangdong, is the largest island administered by the People's Republic of China. The size of Hainan is comparable to the size of Belgium. The PRC, however, regard it as the second largest island, since Taiwan is considered the largest. To the West of Hainan is the Gulf of Tonkin. Wuzhi Mountain (1,876 m) is the highest mountain in the island.

In the official PRC territorial claim, Hainan Province includes not just one island, but also some two hundred South China Sea Islands. Whilst the containment of the South China Sea Islands means that Hainan Province has a very large water body, it has a disproportionally small land area. James Shoal (曾母暗沙 Zengmu Ansha), which is presently marked by the PRC, signifies the country's southernmost border. But the Malaysians also claim it is on their continental shelf.


Hainan has a tropical moist monsoonal climate. Its annual temperature change is less than 15 degrees Celsius. The coldest months are January and February when the temperatures drop to 16 to 21 degrees Celsius; the hottest months are July and August, and the temperatures are 25 to 29 degrees Celsius. Except for the mountainous regions in the central part of the island, the daily average temperature in Hainan is above 10 degrees Celsius, and the integrated temperature during the growing season of the crops reaches eight thousand to nine thousand degree Celsius-days. The summer in the north is swelteringly hot and, for more than 20 days in a year, the temperature can be higher than 35 degrees Celsius. The average annual precipitation is 1500 to 2000 mm and can be as high as 2400 mm in central and eastern areas, and as low as 900 mm in the coastal areas of the southwest. The eastern part of Hainan lies in the path of typhoons, and 70% of the annual precipitation is derived from typhoons and the summer rainy season. Major flooding occurs due to the typhoons and they can cause many problems for the local residents.

Rivers and lakes

Most of the rivers in Hainan originate in the central area of the island and flow radially in different directions. The Nandu River in the northern part of the island is 314 km long, and its tributary, the Xinwu River, is 109 km long, the Changhua River in the west is 230 km long, and the Wanquan River in the east is 162 km long. Evaporation during the dry season around the coastal areas greatly reduces the flow of the rivers.

There are very few natural lakes in Hainan. There is a well-known artificial reservoir, the Songtao Reservoir, in the central-north area.


Even while Hainan was a part of Guangdong it had a considerable amount of local autonomy; the southern half of the island was an autonomous prefecture. Hainan's elevation to provincial level in 1988 increased its accountability to the central government, but by designating the new province a special economic zone the central government expressed its intent to allow Hainan maximum flexibility in devising programs to facilitate foreign investment and economic growth. Administratively, the province has been divided into five economic major districts.


Hainan's economy is predominantly agricultural, and more than a half of the island's exports are agricultural products. Hainan's elevation to province-level status (1988), however, was accompanied by its designation as China's largest "special economic zone", the intent being to hasten the development of the island's plentiful resources.

Prior to this, the province had a reputation for being a "Wild West" area, largely untouched by industrialisation; even today there are relatively few factories in the province. Tourism plays an important part of Hainan's economy, thanks largely to its tropical beaches and lush forests.

The central government has encouraged foreign investment in Hainan and has allowed the island to rely to a large extent on market forces.

Hainan's industrial development largely has been limited to the processing of its mineral and agricultural products, particularly rubber and iron ore. Since the 1950s, machinery, farm equipment, and textiles have been manufactured in the Haikou area for local consumption. A major constraint on industrial expansion has been an inadequate supply of electricity. Much of the island's generating capacity is hydroelectric, and it is subject to seasonal fluctuations in stream and river flows.

Its nominal GDP for 2007 was 122.96 billion yuan (US$16.2 billion), making it the 4th smallest in all of the PRC and contributes just 0.5% to the entire country's economy. Its GDP per capita was 14,631 yuan (US$1,909).


Hainan is home to the People's Liberation Army Navy strategic nuclear submarine naval harbor . The naval harbor is estimated to be 60ft high, built into hillsides around a military base. The caverns are capable of hiding up to 20 nuclear submarines from spy satellites. The harbor houses nuclear ballistic missile submarines and is large enough to accommodate aircraft carriers. The US Department of Defence has estimated that China will have five Type 094 nuclear submarines operational by 2010 with each capable of carrying 12 JL-2 intercontinental ballistic missile. Two 950 metre piers and three smaller ones would be enough to accommodate two carrier strike groups or amphibious assault ships.

Natural resources

Hainan has commercially exploitable reserves of more than 30 minerals. Iron, first mined by the Japanese during their occupation of the island in World War II, is the most important. Also important are titanium, manganese, tungsten, bauxite, molybdenum, cobalt, copper, gold, and silver. There are large deposits of lignite and oil shale on the island, and significant offshore finds of oil and natural gas have been discovered. Virgin forests in the interior mountains contain more than 20 commercially valuable species, including teak and sandalwood.


Paddy rice is cultivated extensively in the northeastern lowlands and in the southern mountain valleys. Leading crops other than rice include coconuts, palm oil, sisal, tropical fruits (including pineapples, of which Hainan is China's leading producer), black pepper, coffee, tea, cashews, and sugarcane. In the early 20th century Chinese emigrants returning from Malaysia introduced rubber trees to the island; after 1950, state farms were developed, and Hainan now produces a significant amount of China's rubber.


Marine products contribute a significant share to the provincial economy. Shrimps, scallops, and pearls are raised in shallow bays and basins for local use and export. Grouper, Spanish mackerel, and tuna constitute the bulk of the catch from the rich offshore fishing grounds.


Before 1950 there were practically no transportation links with the interior of the island. The first roads were built in the early 20th century, but no major road construction was undertaken in the mountains until the 1950s. Parallel north–south roads along the east and west coasts and through the interior of the island constitute most of Hainan's road network. The freight-handling facilities of the island's ports have been improved, and Haikou has an international airport, the Haikou Meilan International Airport.

Railroad ferry link was established in early 2000s connecting the island's railroad network to the mainland. In 2005, Ministry of Communications allocated 20 million yuan (US$2.4 million) to set up a committee to research and study the possibility of a bridge or tunnel link connecting the island to the mainland.

Culture and education

Hainan has always been on the fringe of the Chinese cultural sphere. Traditionally, the island was a place of exile for criminals and disgraced officials. As a frontier region celebrated by such exiled poets as Su Tungpo, Hainan acquired an air of mystery and romance. The influx of large numbers of mainlanders after 1950 - particularly in the 1970s, when young Chinese from southern Guangdong were assigned to state farms to help develop Hainan, and in the 1980s, when thousands more came to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered - has perpetuated the frontier atmosphere on the island. The level of primary and secondary education has improved since 1949, but facilities for higher education remain somewhat inadequate.



In 2000, the ethnic groups of Hainan included the Han Chinese, known as the Hainanese, who currently make a majority (84% of the population); the Li people (14.7% of the population); the Miao (Hmong) (0.7%) and the Zhuang (0.6%). The Li are the largest indigenous group on the island in terms of population. Also found on the island are the Utsuls, descendants of Cham refugees, who are classified as Hui by the Chinese government.

There are 90,000 Buddhist Hainanese, and 6,500 Muslims. Most, if not all, of the Muslims are Utsuls living near Sanya. Because Hainan was a point in the travel route of missionaries, there are many Christians: 35,000 Protestants and 4,100 Catholics.


The Han Chinese of Hainan speak a variant of the Min Nan Chinese language, known as Hainanese. In addition, the national standard Putonghua is understood and spoken by most people, and Standard Cantonese is understood by many local Hainanese. The Li people have their own language, as do the Miao and Zhuang. The latter three groups would usually speak Standard Mandarin as a second language.

The villagers in Huihui and Huixin can all speak their native language Cham fluently. The adults have quite high literacy skills in Chinese. Most of the adults, including women, speak several Chinese dialects, and some also speak Li. In old Yacheng City and its vicinity as well as for several dozen miles west of Huihui and Huixin, the so-called military speech (the official language of the southwest among the northern Chinese dialects) is spoken. In Yanglan Village to the northeast, two Min dialects, both closely related to Cantonese, are spoken: the Mai dialect and the Danzhou dialect, spoken in Haipo Village in the south, which is the same dialect as the dialect spoken in Danzhou in Dan Country in the northern part of the island. From the east to the west along the seashore, the Hainanese dialect is used. In Sanya City itself one sometimes finds speakers of Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.

The general public can also use Mandarin Chinese to communicate with mainlanders. When Chams interact with the Hainanese dialect speakers from within Hainan Province, they use the Hainanese dialect, though youngsters generally use Mandarin Chinese. Not many can communicate in Li when interacting with the Li, so the Hainanese dialect or Mandarin is often used. In the market place and within the Sanya Municipality, the Cham speakers use Cham among themselves, and when they interact with speakers of other languages, they mostly use the Hainanese dialect. However, in the market places near the government seat of Yanglan Township, the Chams either use the Hainanese dialect or the Mai dialect. Some of the Cham speakers also speak the Danzhou dialect, a Cantonese dialect .


The poet Su Dongpo (1036-1101) popularized Hainan's isolation and exoticness when he was exiled there under the Song dynasty. The Dongpo Academy was built on the site of the residence where he lived in exile.

Hai Rui (1514-1587) was a famous Chinese official of the Ming dynasty. His name has come down in history as a model of honesty and integrity in office.

The most famous native of Hainan is Chinese-American Methodist minister, Charlie Soong (Sòng Jiāshù), father of the Shanghai born Soong sisters: Soong Ai-ling, wife of H.H. Kung (once China's richest man); Soong Ching-ling, wife of Sun Yat-Sen; and Soong Mei-ling, wife of former ROC President Chiang Kai-shek.


Hainan cuisine is said to be "lighter, with mild seasonings." A lot of local taste is mixed with the Han Chinese taste. Seafood predominates the menu, as shrimp, crab, fish and other sealife are widely available.

Hainan chicken rice, a famous dish in Southeast Asia bearing the region's name, can be found on the island though it is not as popular there as its name would suggest.


As Hainan Island is not heavily industrialised, its greenery, together with its beautiful beaches and clean air, make it a popular tourist attraction. The island is accessible through ferry links with Guangdong province, as well as air links. There are two airports, Meilan Airport in Haikou, and Phoenix Airport in Sanya.

In December 2004, the Guangdong-Hainan passenger railway link opened, connecting Guangzhou in Guangdong province on the mainland to Hainan Island. The complete trip, which includes crossing the Qiongzhou Strait by ferry, takes a total of 12 hours. The project cost $583 million US and is expected to greatly enhance Hainan's tourism and economic development. This is important because Hainan currently lags well behind Shenzhen and Zhuhai special economic zones, which border Hong Kong and Macao, respectively.

Hainan Island is often divided into eight regions for tourism purposes: Haikou and area (Haikou, Qiongshan, Ding'an); the Northeast (Wenchang); the Central East Coast (Qionghai, Ding'an); the South East Coast; the South (Sanya); the West Coast (Ledong, Dongfang, Changjiang); the North West (Danzhou, Lingao, Chengmai); and the Central Highlands (Baisha, Qiongzhong, and Wuzhishan/Tongzha).

Haikou is the province's capital and contains interesting historic sites. Also known as Coconut City, Haikou is a major port. The Five Official's Temple consists of five traditional temples and halls that were built in honour of five officials of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. These officials were banished to Hainan for periods ranging from 11 days to 11 years for speaking out against what they felt were wrong practices by the Emperors. (It is perhaps significant that the establishment of the Five Officials Temple in the late 19th century coincides with a time when China's territorial integrity was under threat, and that several of the officials honoured here were exiled for espousing aggressive policies on the recapture of the north of China from the Jurchens during the Southern Song dynasty.)

Xiuying Fort Barbette was built in 1891 to defend the southeastern corner of China during the Sino-French War. The Xiuying Fort Barbette covers about a third of an acre. Its five large cannons are still intact and viewable at the site.

Hai Rui Tomb is a key national cultural protection site. Hai Rui was a compassionate and popular official of Hainanese origins who lived during the Ming Dynasty. He was famous for his lifelong honesty and his willingness to speak out on behalf of local people. In later life, Hai Rui was persecuted and fell out of favour with the emperor. His admirers built the Hai Rui Tomb after his death to commemorate his great works. Construction of the tomb began in 1589.

The best known tourist attractions of Hainan Island are its world class beaches, luxurious hot springs, and beautiful scenery. With white sand beaches, tranquil green waters and areas of lush vegetation, Hainan has much to offer. Some top scenic sites are Yalong bay National Resort; Dadonghai Tourist Resort; Qizhi Shan (Seven Finger Mountain), Guantang Hot Spring Resort, Shishan Volcanic Garden; Wanquan River, Baishi Ridge Scenic Zone and Baihua Ridge. Visitors should be aware that once they get to Hainan, there is a dearth of tourist information in English (or Mandarin), so finding how to get to the top tourist sites is not always easy. Compounding this is the abundance of inferior tourist attractions that are rapidly springing up to take advantage of the new tourism economy.

Some attractions in Hainan include:

  • Qiong Opera
  • Yalong Wan (亞龍灣 Crescent Dragon Bay), Sanya City, southern Hainan: seven-kilometre beach.

The province has initiated a visa-upon-arrival policy for foreign tourist groups from twenty-one countries in 2000, in order to attract visitors. It received 380,000 overseas tourists in 2002.

Space centre

China announced in October 2007 that it would build its fourth space launch centre, just a week after it fired off its first lunar orbiter. The new launch centre, to be built on the eastern island province of Hainan, is scheduled to be completed in 2012 and starts operating in 2013. The location of the launch centre in Hainan, a low-latitude region, will displace more than 6,000 residents that will be relocated to make way for the space centre, which will occupy 1,200 hectares. The site will be mainly used for launching various kinds of satellites and large space stations. The plan has been approved by the government. A 407-hectare space themed park will also be constructed near the new launch centre.

Miscellaneous topics


Further reading

  • D'Arcy Brown, Liam (2003). Green Dragon, Sombre Warrior: travels to China's extremes. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-6038-1

See also

External links

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