Travel guide to Haikou, China

Haikou is the capital of Hainan Province and Special Economic Zone, a tropical island just south of Guangdong. Separated from the mainland by the 30-kilometer-wide Qiongzhou Channel, Haikou is the main port and business center for the island, a tropical city with streets lined with palm trees.

Hainan Island has a long and complex history. The indigenous Li and Miao ethnic peoples each have distinct cultures and customs. Hainan was administered as part of Guangdong Province until 1988. Since then it has been designated a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and has become a magnet for investment and has developed a large tourist infrastructure. Known as “China’s Hawaii,” Hainan attracts visitors from China and beyond, especially to its southern beaches around Sanya. The tropical climate of Hainan results in very hot summers and frequent heavy rains, including typhoons. In the south of the island, the annual rainfall can be as much as 80 inches.

Historically, Hainan was considered a remote and exotic place of exile. For Chinese officials banished there, Hainan was “the gate of hell,” a place of discomfort, backward in culture, and full of perils and diseases. The island came under Chinese control as early as the 2nd century BC, usually administered by Guangdong or Guangxi Provinces to the north. It was a place of independent Li ethnic peoples and a center for coastal piracy. Many officials were banished here during the Tang and Song periods, when Haikou was developed as a port. The most famous exile was the Song poet Su Shi (Su Dongpo). In the 15th century during the Ming period, the indigenous Li people were driven into the mountains and forests of the south by Han Chinese immigrants from the mainland. The Japanese occupied the island in 1939, and killed a large percentage of the island’s male population in retaliation for ongoing resistance fighting. The island was closed to access during the Vietnam War period. Hainan was named a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1988.