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For three millennia, this city on the Xiang River (湘江; Xiāng Jiāng) flourished steadily as a centre of agriculture and intellect. In the 1920s it was still so well preserved that British philosopher Bertrand Russell is said to have compared it to a medieval town, but not long after, the Sino-Japanese War and a massive fire in 1938 gave Changsha (长沙; Chángshā) an irreversible facelift, leaving little of its early history. These days it's a modern, energetic city, known mainly for sights relating to Mao Zedong, but with its magnolia-lined streets and riverine aspect, it's a pleasant enough stopover.

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