In Eastern China, the past's rich legacy and the challenges of, and aspirations for, China's future combine in a present that is dizzying in its variety and speed of transformation. Zhejiang and Fujian, often overlooked on the standard Beijing–Shanghai–Hong Kong tourist trail, offer some of the country's most verdant scenery and a plethora of diversions, like hiking through ancient villages, bicycling along lush tea fields, and lounging on lively beaches.
Zhejiang has always been a hub of culture, learning, and commerce. Its cities, with their elegant gardens, elaborate temples, and fine crafts, evoke the sophisticated and refined world of classical China's literati. Since the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–79), large numbers of Fujianese have immigrated to Southeast Asia. As a result, Fujian Province has strong ties to overseas Chinese. In 1979, Fujian was allowed to form in Xiamen the first Special Economic Zone (SEZ)—a testing ground for a capitalist market economy. Today, although Xiamen is a wealthy place with a vibrant economy, the city has managed to retain its old-world charm.