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The Yangzi delta was inhabited over 7000 years ago and archaeologists have found the remains of advanced agricultural communities. By the 7th and 8th centuries Hángzhōu, Níngbō and Shàoxīng had become three of the most important trading centres and ports. The Grand Canal (Dà Yùnhé) ends here – Zhèjiāng was part of the great southern granary from which food was shipped to the depleted areas of the north. Their growth was accelerated when, in the 12th century, the Song dynasty moved court to Hángzhōu in the wake of an invasion from the north. Because of intense cultivation, northern Zhèjiāng has lost most of its natural vegetation and is now a flat, featureless plain.

Níngbō was opened up as a treaty port in the 1840s, only to fall under the shadow of its great northern competitor, Shànghǎi. Chiang Kaishek was born near Níngbō, and in the 1920s Zhèjiāng became a centre of power for the Kuomintang.