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Anji

Zhejiang Province, 58km (36 miles) SE of Hangzhou

Tourism has exploded in and around Anji during the last 5 years, partly due to the lip service that China is currently paying to the newly introduced concept of eco-tourism, but mainly due to the fact that a handful of scenes from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed here in 1999.

There are some who contend that the vast swaths of bamboo have only appeared in the last few decades and that before the mass deforestation of the Great Leap Forward, this area was mainly mountainous stretches of majestic pine forest. It is clear that the influence of foreign missionaries on Moganshan had a significant impact, as many of the mountain smallholders still hold quasi-Christian beliefs, and this might even stretch back as far as the Taiping Rebellion, when heavenly troops used these inaccessible areas as a stronghold against the imperial forces. More recently, the tortuous mountain passes provided safe havens for refugees fleeing the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and other large cities.

The most popular sights lie south of the city, although the rest of the county would be great for extended exploration if you have the time and inclination to get away from other travelers.

Moganshan

Moganshan (719m/2,360 ft. high) was first built as a vacation destination in 1890 for Western missionaries and their families to escape the Shanghai summer furnace. By its peak in 1930, some 160 Western-style stone retreats dotted the cool bamboo glades, including 32 occupied by wealthy Chinese, and even Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek bought his new bride Soong Mei-ling to Moganshan for their honeymoon in 1927. The Nationalists, never far behind, established their own resort called Wuling on the northeast side of the mountain.

The area's architecture is of an impressive variety, from the over-the-top Western opulence of the Chiangs' villa and the sprawling Chinese-style compound of Du Yuesheng ("Pock-marked Du," the notorious Green Gang boss from Shanghai who helped Chiang massacre the Shanghai workers' movement in 1927), to the simpler elegance of the Western vacationers' stone mansions. There were two churches, a swimming pool fed by icy water, seven tennis courts, and an amateur dramatics society. Many of the original houses, built by Western architects using the local gray dressed stone, still survive.

Mao Zedong was a frequent visitor to the area, and used a group of old stone foreign villas throughout the 1960s. By then Moganshan was a secret retreat for "the leadership" in case of war, with air-raid shelters for the Big Potatoes. Some of the houses even have secret tunnels that go right down to the valley.